"That Man Killed My Mom"

20 women have been murdered in 26 days in Venezuela, and everything in this wave of femicides points at the impunity created by an indifferent, disappearing state.

Photo: The New York Times, retrieved.

Sheyla Margarita Tovar Salinas, 43, had been seeing Juan Carlos Piña for 13 years, a man described by Sheyla’s eldest daughter, Andrea Dorta, as a beefy guy with a “killer’s stare” and a tattoo on his arm depicting a devil. The man used to hit Sheyla, but she was too scared to file a complaint, so her 21-year-old daughter, Andrea, was the one to do it when, in November, he fractured her cervical spine after striking her with a plate (on December 20th, he broke her nose with a punch to the face). The evidence wasn’t enough for the Unidad de Atención a la Víctima, and the Prosecutor’s Office didn’t proceed because they were “on holiday”.

On January 21st, Sheyla Margarita was murdered by Piña. The couple was staying at the Hotel Royal, in downtown Caracas; at around 6:00 p.m., Piña—who’s 34 years old—went downstairs to tell the clerks at the reception that his partner had a heart attack while they were having sex. The man left the building and asked the hotel staff to call the authorities, so they could take the body away.

Agents of the Cuerpo de Investigaciones Penales y Criminalísticas (CICPC) arrived in the evening. Sheyla’s family heard about what happened at around midnight, when Piña called his step-daughter and told her that her mother died of a heart attack. The girl didn’t believe him and neither did the rest of her family. While they waited for the autopsy report, Andrea said: “That man killed my mom. I know it. I don’t know if he strangled her, poisoned her or what, but he killed her. Because of him, my mom and I fought, she got upset when I filed a complaint against him because she was afraid of him.” 

Up until January 26th, 2020, there’s been 20 women killed in Venezuela already.

In the afternoon of January 22nd, the family’s suspicions were confirmed. The autopsy stated that Sheyla died as the result of strangulation. She worked as a clerk in the Finance Ministry and left behind three children: a 21-year-old, a 17-year-old girl, and an 11-year-old boy. After fleeing, the offender was arrested on January 22nd. While the state could’ve prevented this with a restraining order or an arrest, now the family is hoping that justice finally arrives for Sheyla.

Up until January 26th, 2020, there’s been 20 women killed in Venezuela already. On January 1st, 35-year-old Milagros Castillo in the Colonia Tovar, Luisanny Stephanny Hernández in Caracas and Elba Tambo in Falcón; on January 5th, Yuliana Beatriz Leota in Carabobo; on January 6th, Yuleimar Prieto in Guatire, Miranda State, and nine-year-old Anubis Manantial Contreras in Mérida; on January 8th, 16-year-old Geraldine Quintero was found dead also in Mérida; on January 11th, 24-year-old Grehisly Velázques in Tucupita; on January 13th, 52-year-old Zoraida Quiroz and 46-year-old Belkis Josefina González; on January 16th, Katerine Paola Matheus, who was 26 years old, in Trujillo; on January 19th, the death of 18-year-old Gusleiny Moncada was reported in Catia La Mar, Vargas State; the aforementioned Sheyla Tovar was murdered on January 21st; two-year-old Estefany Andreina Lugo was killed by her stepfather on January 22nd and, on January 26th, 28-year-old Estefany Ortega Zavala was shot dead by unknown assailants outside a Maracaibo nightclub, in Zulia State. 

The Centro de Justicia y Paz (CEPAZ) also reports murders in the states of Zulia (31-year-old Linera Nairi Herrera and 28-year-old Aslenys Rangel Fernández), Lara (40-year-old Brenda Carolina López), Carabobo (39-year-old Greicy Carolina Bracho), Trujillo (30-year-old María Concepción Valera), and an unidentified victim in Vargas, besides the victims in the states of Aragua, Falcón, Miranda, Mérida and Delta Amacuro.

In Venezuela, there isn’t an official report of the femicides committed since 2016 from the Prosecutor’s Office or the Ministry for Internal Affairs, Ministerio de Interior, Justicia y Paz. According to Magdymar León, coordinator for the feminist organization Avesa, in 2019, 58.6% of Venezuelan women were assaulted by their current partners and 7.7% by their exes. Only 1% of cases (those who had the courage to file a complaint) went to trial.

In 2019, 58.6% of Venezuelan women were assaulted by their current partners and 7.7% by their exes. Only 1% of cases (those who had the courage to file a complaint) went to trial.

León says that this shows how “there’s a real violation of women’s rights and this is the state’s responsibility”. According to her, the increase of femicides in the country is linked to the impunity going with violence against women, the flaws in protective measures for women filing reports, the rise on sexual violence and aggression against women, the misogynistic culture in the country and the absence of a national prevention and attention plan for violence against women.

Dorennys Angulo, from the NGO Exodo Venezuela, supports León’s statements and explains that “Venezuelan women know that, when their partners are abusive and they file a complaint, those taking the report won’t treat them very well. They still know that they have to go through with it, because it’s the only way to stop these aggressions. However, the lack of response by the state allows offenders to do whatever they want.”

Yolima Arellano, a lawyer, activist and women’s rights defender, adds that this year’s spike in femicides in Venezuela is caused by omission, negligence and tolerance from the state. “According to the statistics by the Observatorio de Femicidios of CEPAZ, in the first semester of 2019 there were 45 cases, at a rate of one femicide per day. The 2020 numbers are alarming”.

The women’s rights defender says that, from a human rights point of view, the lack of a general policy towards violence against women is a flaw from the state in its duty to prevent, sanction and eradicate violence against females, as established in international conventions. She claims that the state hasn’t adopted the measures that will allow the authorities an immediate and effective response, provoking impunity and discrimination in the access to justice, and sending a message of tolerance when it comes to violence against women. The indifference, mistrust in the institutions and the violence itself are the only winners.

Magdymar León agrees, adding that “the regime is constantly saying it’s a feminist government, but that’s not true. The poor administration of justice clearly shows the flaws in their approach; the tragic reality is an absence of political will.”

Daisy Galaviz

Journalist for El Pitazo and Monitor de Víctimas (Runrunes). Writes for Cosecha Roja, El Espectador, Revista Semana and Historias que laten.