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Latin America Human Rights, Security & Gender Update January 30, 2015


The Inter Press Service‘s  reports an increase in femicides in Argentina, particularly among women under the age of 18. Many of these cases of gender-based violence have been linked to domestic violence on the part of current or ex-boyfriends and husbands. As Frayssinet points out, “in most Latin American countries, the lack of broken-down official data on femicides – a term coined to refer to the killing of females because of their gender – makes it difficult to identify the victims by their ages,” but more detailed reporting of these crimes in Argentina allows for independent organizations to track trends in the age of the victim, the relationship of the victim with the perpetrator and the type of violence committed.

Between 2008 and 2013 there were 1,236 gender-related murders of women, according to a report by La Casa del Encuentro’s “Adriana Marisel Zambrano” Observatory on Femicides. The observatory’s most recent report indicates that 295 women were murdered in Argentina in 2013, the equivalent of one femicide every 30 hours. In 38 percent of the 2013 cases, the murderers were husbands, boyfriends or sexual partners of the victim.

According to Fabiana Túñez of La Casa del Encuentro, “half of all femicides involve sexual abuse followed by murder. The other half are associated with violence among couples, cases that are often referred to by the media as ‘crimes of passion.’” This trend of increased domestic and gender-based violence has been observed throughout Latin America, including in Guatemala (described below) and in Honduras (discussed in yesterday’s news update).

The article notes that “Argentina is among the Latin American countries where the most progress has been made in raising awareness on gender equality and women’s access to education and decision-making positions,” but women’s rights activists continue working to “denaturalize” the “aggressive, sexist culture” pervasive in Argentina (and throughout the region), expressed most seriously in the form of femicide.

Argentina does appear to be taking some legal steps to protect women, in 2012 the Argentine Congress passed an amendment to increase penalties for gender violence. But, the amendment did not include specific terminology referring to femicide, and organizations like La Casa del Encuentro are pushing for further updates to the Penal Code as well as for the government to provide official statistics on violence against women, including femicide rates.


The Administration of President Evo Morales (who has just been sworn in for his third term, making him the longest-serving Bolivian leader) seeks to exchange intelligence with the United States’ Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), without the DEA returning to the country. In November 2008, Morales kicked the DEA out of Bolivia, accusing them of espionage” and “conspiracy” against his government. The same year, Morales also expelled the top U.S. diplomat, leaving both countries without ambassadors since 2008.

Government Minister Hugo Moldiz calls for intelligence exchange based on an agreement signed with the United States in 2011 to establish a relationship of mutual trust without interference and a shared responsibility in the fight against drug trafficking. Moldiz says Bolivia does its part in the fight against drugs to reduce coca cultivation and increase interdiction without US support, but the U.S. must also do its part by controlling demand from their drug-using population.

Though U.S.-Bolivia relations have been tense in recent years, both countries appear to be moving toward more normalized relations. A U.S. delegation chief even attended Morales’ third inauguration. Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski said after a meeting with Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca Paz that it’s a “step-by-step” process and he hopes Morales and U.S. President Barack Obama can soon meet.

For more on the U.S.-Bolivia drug policy relationship, read this blog by Mike LaSusa and myself for the Security Assistance Monitor.


On Latin Correspondent, Anna-Claire Bevan highlights “How one Guatemalan woman’s quest for justice inspired a regional anti-violence movement.” Kimberly Bautista, a Colombian-Irish-American woman who went to Guatemala to make a documentary about domestic violence and femicide, was propelled into a “Central American-wide movement to demand an end to gender-based violence.”

Bautista’s documentary, Justice for My Sister, “tells the story of Rebeca, a Guatemalan woman desperate to seek justice for her sister, who was beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend, in a country where the rule of law is weak and impunity reins.”

In 2008, the Guatemalan government assigned a specialist prosecutor to investigate the murders of women and take alleged perpetrators to trial, but less than 10 percent of cases have been prosecuted. Guatemala was the first country in Latin America to legally define femicide as a punishable crime, as well as the first to establish government-funded women’s shelters in 2009, — with El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua following suit in 2012– however, with a 90 percent impunity rate, violence against women continues unpunished.

While producing the documentary in Guatemala, Bautista herself was targeted and raped at gunpoint in her home. As such, Bautista considers the film to be more than an advocacy piece, she’s described the project as “part of a larger solution to actively prevent gender-based violence through leadership development, so that participants are trained to become resources to their peers.”

Bevan reports, “while on a regional tour with the film, Bautista and the Justice for My Sister Collective launched 16 short documentaries on their YouTube channel to address the issue of domestic violence and chronicle the stories of survivors to encourage others to break the silence.” The Justice for My Sister team “has also produced materials and trainings in domestic violence prevention tailored towards a variety of audiences, including police, judges, lawyers, indigenous communities and men who work in male-dominated industries.”

Justice for My Sister has launched an online fundraiser on Kickstarter to “expand the campaign’s transnational work and supply various women’s organizations with educational material to end gender-based violence.”

Follow Kimberly Bautista on twitter for updates on her project and information about gender-based violence at @ARTEVISTAFILMS and @Justice4Sister. And visit the Justice for My Sister website for more on the initiatives accompanying the film.

Puerto Rico

The Tico Times reports the topic of Puerto Rican independence was discussed by several Latin American leaders during the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit on Wednesday, including Cuban President Raúl Castro and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega even ceded his time to address the summit to pro-Puerto Rican independence advocate, Rubén Berríos.

Another pro-independence group, the Sovereign National State of Borinken (ENSB), told The Tico Times they had presented a letter requesting an official seat at the 2016 summit.

Puerto Rico has been under U.S. rule since the end of the Spanish American War in 1898.

Regional Human Rights Reports

Human Rights Watch released their World Report 2015 yesterday, the organization’s 25th annual review of human rights practices around the globe. HRW’s Americas chapters include reports on Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. The chapter on Mexico focuses on enforced disappearances, military abuses and impunity, torture, the criminal justice system, autodefensas, womens’ and girls’ rights, among other issues.

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