The transgender community in Guatemala, along with the stigma and discrimination associated with their gender identity, are facing murders, violence in all its many forms, forced disappearances and even extrajudicial executions.
About two years ago, a transgender sex worker named Katherine Michelle disappeared. There is still not the slightest clue as to her whereabouts, despite the case being taken up by the Human Rights Office, which carried out search operations nationwide. A few months ago, three transgender girls were kidnapped in their own neighborhood, and turned up some days later bearing severe marks of torture and mutilation. The case received no more than the usual sensationalist coverage from some press and media, and local protest groups could not get any more involved in the follow up because of the danger implicit in pointing out the alleged perpetrators, who are linked to gangs and extortion networks.
In Xela – the second city – a ‘security plan’ has recently been implemented which includes raids and harassment of transgender women. These women have been physically assaulted by the security forces and even mistreated in the male prison, where their hair is cut off and their clothes stripped from them. About a year ago, Cinthya – a transgender sex worker – narrowly survived being burned alive in her neighborhood just for being transgender. However, a few weeks later she was shot in her place of work, and to date the authorities have done nothing to follow up the case, despite demands from local action groups.
Recently Johana Ramirez (executive secretary of the Transgender Queens of the Night Organisation) visited Xela to show solidarity with the protests and propositions of the transgender lobby groups. She was detained by national police and spent a night in prison, where she suffered heavily at the hands of other inmates, who cut off her hair as is now becoming customary. In recent months she has also been the victim of a succession of threats and harassment, which have increased in the last few days. She has publically denounced the persecution targeted at her and expressed fears for her life and personal safety.
Despite the hostile atmosphere, the collectives of transgender women that make up the Guatemalan REDTRANS are driving forward measures to effect substantial changes, such the recent national consultation on human rights and the sex industry and the national diagnosis of requirements for the health sector. But there is still a lack of political procedures to guarantee the endurance of these measures and in particular to consolidate a support network which guarantees the safety of the activists and women leaders.
Currently Guatemala is immersed in a social and political juncture where the national human rights agenda has been relegated to a secondary plane, and atrocious events like the genocide perpetrated against the indigenous communities during the civil war have been denied, which offers an example of the state perspective on human rights.
Despite this and other adverse nuances complicating the situation, the social and legal network, which guarantees the safety of the activists and transgender sex workers is still fragile. Now more than ever, we need every agent who can influence those men and women responsible for the national justice system to have a proper overview of the situation and to take action.
As I write it is confirmed that another well-known national activist, Bibi Valle, has been missing for ten days, and her case will probably be just one more statistic that fuels the impunity, indifference and transphobia so entrenched in Guatemala.
Let’s hope that this is the last transgender activist in the country to be assaulted and spirited away. Let’s hope that the agencies of participation, the national justice system, the social movements and other agents in the social and political scene can come to terms with and react to the fact that there is not and there will not be equity nor justice whilst we continue to leave out and ignore one of the most forgotten and debased realities of our national context.
Let’s hope that Johana Ramirez’s call takes effect and reaches the ears of those it needs to reach, and that they offer her the necessary protection. Let’s hope that Johana and her companions can go on exercising their activism, their leadership and, above all, their right to life.