Updated 1 year, 10 months ago

Brutal murders show violence women face in Latin America

One was beaten to death because she got pregnant. Another was stabbed to death in a jealous rage. Another had her throat slit because she asked for a divorce.

These brutal murders show the alarming violence that women face in Latin America, a region that has begun adopting new laws to address the problem but where thousands of women are killed by their partners each year.

Statistics are incomplete and inconsistently kept across the region. But where they are available, they are startling: Domestic violence kills nearly one woman a day in Argentina, more than five a day in Mexico and 15 a day in Brazil, for example.

The issue has surged to the surface in Argentina, where a recent series of gruesome killings has raised new alarm.

One of the victims was Maria Eugenia Lanzetti, a 44-year-old kindergarten teacher in the central province of Cordoba who was separated from her obsessive husband and had a restraining order against him, as well as a panic button on her cell phone.

That did not stop him from bursting into her classroom on April 15 and slitting her throat in front of her students.

The country was also shocked by the case of a 14-year-old girl whose boyfriend is accused of beating her to death and burying her after learning she was pregnant.

Outraged Argentines have called a march Wednesday to condemn violence against women, which has killed more than 1,800 in the past seven years, according to women's rights group La Casa del Encuentro.

Marches will also be held in neighboring Chile and Uruguay.

But underlining the persistence of the problem, less than 48 hours before the march a man violating his restraining order shot his ex-partner in the back with a shotgun in the Argentine city of Santa Rosa, leaving her in serious condition.

These macabre crimes reflect "a society that is sick with machista attitudes where the woman continues to be seen as a thing to be dominated," said Fabiana Tunez, the head of La Casa del Encuentro.

"The government shows up too late to stop it. In Argentina, a woman is still dying every 31 hours."

- 'Legislation not enough' -

The problem persists despite a 2012 law in Argentina setting down harsher sentences for "femicide" -- the killing of a woman by a man when gender plays a part in the crime.

Fifteen other Latin American countries have also written it into their penal codes.

But activists say the impact of the laws is limited.

"From 2012 to 2013 we documented 3,892 women murdered nationwide. Of these homicides, just 613 were investigated as femicides," said Maria de la Luz Estrada of Mexican activist group the National Citizens' Femicide Observatory.

She said 17 of Mexico's 31 states had defined the crime in ways that were "very difficult to justify," so that police typically opted for the easier-to-prove, lesser charge of homicide.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, the country's first female president, urged women not to accept domestic violence as "inevitable" as she signed a bill into law last March establishing femicide as a crime.

But speaking out remains difficult for victims.

In Chile, where 16 women have been murdered by their partners or ex-partners so far this year, Women's Minister Claudia Pascual has condemned laws that allow third parties to report domestic violence to the police but "require the woman who has been the victim to ratify the charges."

Laws alone will not solve the problem, said Gabriela Alegre, an Argentine lawmaker.

"The current situation shows that legislation and prison sentences are not enough. We have to confront the problem by changing the culture and educating people," she said.

AFP | By Paula Bustamante