Seventeen Years On, Linda Loaiza Seeks Justice Long Denied

In 2001, she was the victim of a harrowing set of crimes that shocked the nation. Today, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights begins to hear her case.

Photo: A Tu Salud En Línea

If you lived in Venezuela between 2001 and 2006, the name Linda Loaiza is one you’ll remember. Hers was the iconic case of violence against women in Venezuela’s recent history. It shook the nation, both because of the abhorrent nature of the injuries she sustained and the preposterous delays she faced in her quest for justice.

Now, 17 years after she was brutally beaten, raped, tortured and kidnaped over a period of almost 4 months, Linda’s case will be finally heard before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It’s the first case of violence against women from Venezuela to make it there. It will also be among the last: following  Hugo Chávez’s decision to withdraw Venezuela from the Inter-American Court, Venezuelans are no longer allowed to bring new cases.

Linda was only 18 when she was kidnapped by a man called Luis Alberto Carrera Almoina. He moved her around several locations and threatened to kill her if she tried to alert someone about what was happening. He would move with her under cover of night, so nobody could see them. Wherever they stayed, he made sure to play the TV as loud as possible to avoid Linda’s screams from being heard.

He bit and burned different parts of her body. He beat her ears so hard the blood that built up ended up making them burst. Her jaw and nose were broken and her vagina badly damaged. He brutally raped her every day between March and July 2001. She was kept tied up or handcuffed and was given little food. She became so weak from her injuries that she thought she was going to die. And so did he.

The day that turned out to be the last of her captivity, she looked so frail he decided it was not necessary to tie her up. Once he left, she mustered what little strength she had to crawl to the window to ask for help.

She was rescued on July 19th 2001 on the verge of death. She was severely beaten, had internal injuries and was severely malnourished. She weighed less than 30 kilos. She couldn’t walk for six months.

But her gruesome kidnaping is just one part of the story. After being rescued, her struggle for justice began.

Linda decided to take the Venezuelan State to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights as both crimes — rape and torture — were never tried.

Her assailant belonged to a prominent family with strong ties to political and intellectual circles, able to corruptly influence the course of legal proceedings against him. In contrast, Linda’s parents were Colombian farmers living in Mérida, where she was born and raised before moving to Caracas. And so the case was, from the start, plagued by all sorts of class and gender prejudices. But whoever thought of Linda as a malleable young girl didn’t know her iron will and determination to get justice — the same that kept her alive during her captivity.

Almost 3 years after her rescue, her case was still in some sort of legal limbo: the initial hearing had been postponed 29 times and 59 judges had recused themselves. Fifty. Nine.

Carrera Almoina had been given house arrest from where he escaped with the help of his father and his secretary. He was caught the following day.

The trial finally began after Linda, still recovering from her injuries, decided to go on hunger strike.

When the first trial found Carrera Almoina innocent, the entire country was as appalled as when the case first broke. In her sentencing, Judge Rosa Cádiz explained that there was not enough evidence to prove that he was the author of Linda’s many injuries, including sexual violence. To be sure, these crimes were never properly investigated and evidence was poorly handled, if not completely destroyed.

After Linda’s appeal, her case was retried and her assailant was found guilty of illegal deprivation of liberty and serious injuries. The charges for rape and torture were dropped by the judge. Carrera Almoina was sentenced to 6 years and 1 month in prison in 2006. Since he had been in prison throughout the trial, he only served the remaining portion of the sentence, and was released in 2007.

It was then that Linda, already a law student, decided to take the Venezuelan State to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights as both crimes — rape and torture — were never tried.

She did so by herself, with the help only of her lawyer and her family, a remarkable accomplishment as normally victims would rely on civil society and international organizations in order to take their cases to international courts.

She gets to today’s hearing almost 11 years from the day she filed her case before the Court. It is a historic day for her and her family, as well as for victims of sexual violence and torture.