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Killings of Women Soar in Guatemala; 'Rage, Hate' Cited

Advocates blame poor legal protection, lack of respect to explain deaths of 300 since January.

September 12, 2004|Sergio De Leon | Associated Press Writer

GUATEMALA CITY — Some are victims of gangs, others of domestic abuse. Many are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

More than 300 women have been slain in Guatemala since January, compared with 250 in all of 2003 and 184 in 2002, according to local media and the National Statistical Institute.

United Nations representatives visited last year and expressed concern. Women in both Guatemala and Mexico have called on the government to stop the wave of violence.

The killings may appear random, but women's rights advocates blame laws that are stacked against women, especially victims of domestic violence, and a culture that lacks respect for women.

"The form of expression is rage and hate," said Andrea Barrios of Guatemala's Legal Action Center for Human Rights. The women "have been tortured, raped, mistreated."

Prosecutor Sandra Zayas said many women were killed by people they knew, such as spouses or boyfriends they had previously reported to police for abuse.

Women abused by someone they know get no physical police protection. Women's rights advocates have long demanded a change in the law so that offenders can be put in jail.

Nearly a third of all female homicides in Guatemala City are related to domestic violence.

Carolina Claveria was fatally shot in January and left to die in a fast-food restaurant bathroom. Her ex-boyfriend, who had been in trouble for attacking her before, was arrested.

Zayas argues that the overall spike in female killings is simply a reflection of the growing violence in Guatemala, where people in small towns often take the law into their own hands and where a culture of violence persists eight years after peace accords ended 36 years of civil war.

One recent victim, Brenda Garcia, 20, was found fatally shot Aug. 3 in front of the factory where she worked as a secretary. Police have no idea why she was killed.

Officials hope to slow the violence by appointing more prosecutors.

Right now, 10 attorneys are handling a monthly average of 1,500 cases of crimes against women -- from homicide to assault.

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