Last week, 35-year-old Carmen Virginia Tuez Franco was found murdered in Guatemala City alongside her niece Silvia Matilde Gaitan Franco. Murders in Guatemala are among the most frequent in the world, but the nation was shocked when Carmen’s two daughter’s bodies were found on the outskirts of town. Carmen’s daughters, Rosiaro and Andy, were only six and eleven years of age.
Rosiaro and Andy’s death has infuriated Guatemalans and led to public backlash against gender-based violence in Guatemala. According to TrustLaw, in the first three weeks of the year, “the government has tallied 33 femicides – defined as gender-related murder of a woman by a man.”
Guatemala’s justice system is inconsistent. The country’s murder conviction rate is one to four percent. When less than five percent of all murders result in legal consequences, crime rules the streets and organized criminals can use fear and the threat of violence to manipulate officials and citizens.
But cultural gender tensions also contribute to poor conviction rates. Like in other nations, victims of femicide are blamed for the crime due to the way they dress.
Amid the gloom, it is worth pointing out some important context: appalling crimes such as this are becoming less common. In 2009 Guatemala saw 46.3 murders per 100,000 people, according to the UN. In 2010 the rate fell to 41.4, and in 2011 it dropped again, to 38.5. And last year it declined for a third consecutive year, to 34.2. This adds up to a reduction of more than a quarter in three years.
What of the murders of women? They have been falling at about the same rate. According to Amnesty there were 695 murders of women in 2010, 631 in 2011 and 560 last year. It would be premature to call this a trend. But it also seems odd to say, as Amnesty does, that there has been “no let-up” in killings of women and girls. In fact, the numbers have dropped by a fifth in the past two years.
Such trends are encouraging, yet the remnants of the civil war, organized crime, poverty, a partial justice system, and tense gender relations can be seen in violence, and reforms to the country must address all fronts.