40 Guatemalan Girls Burned to Death in Government-Run Shelter
March 13, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Thousands of Guatemalans protest in front of the National Palace in Guatemala City March 12, demanding justice for the 40 girls who burned to death in a government-run shelter. (AP photo)
Funeral procession for one of the girls who perished in the fire at the children’s shelter near Guatemala City. (AP photo)
At least 40 teenage girls between the ages of 13 and 17 burned to death on March 8—International Women’s Day―trapped inside an overcrowded government-run shelter in Guatemala. The shelter housed poor, abused, including sexually abused, and orphaned children, together with youths released from custody with no place to go. Boys and girls were housed in the shelter, which some reports say had a capacity of 500, but held close to 800 youths. Al Jazeera reported that UNICEF and the prosecutor for human rights had called for the home’s closure last year after complaints of overcrowding along with physical and sexual abuse.
There had been a rebellion the day before the fire by a group of young women against the intolerable conditions—and 40 or so had attempted to escape. One of the survivors told her father the girls said they had been raped, and in protest, they escaped. (Washington Post) Riot police were sent in, and eventually all of the young women were caught. They were brought back, and 52 of the protesters were locked inside a small room.
There are some reports that mattresses were set on fire in the dormitory the next morning to continue their protest. But the 52 young women remained locked inside the small room; and the authorities did not unlock the doors until well after the fire started. The mother of one of the victims said that the authorities didn’t do anything to get the girls out, even though they were screaming. Nineteen of the young women perished inside the room, and at least 21 more have died since arriving at hospitals with catastrophic burns.
“Guatemala is full of violence. They are raping and killing the poor’s girls.”
The tremendous poverty and systemic violence that grips Guatemala is a direct result of the monstrous crimes committed by U.S. imperialism and its lackeys in the 1980s, and its continued military, political, and economic domination down to today. (See “American Crime Case #95: Reagan’s Butcher Carries Out Genocide in Guatemala.”) Guatemala has the worst rate of malnutrition in all of Latin America; 70 percent of the children under age 10 are living in poverty.
Another direct consequence is that the crimes against women in Guatemalan society are horrific. Guatemala has the third highest rate of femicide in the world. And only four percent of murders of women result in a conviction. The mother of one of the young women who survived the fire was quoted by the Post: “Guatemala is full of violence. They are raping and killing the poor’s girls.” These conditions, together with the intertwining of state violence and widespread gang violence, have made it impossible for a vast number of the people to survive there.
And so, since 2014, 10s of thousands of refugees from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have come to the Mexican border seeking asylum from the conditions wrought by this system. And now the Trump/Pence regime’s “America First” war on immigrants is targeting the refugees from Central America they are required by law to accept. This includes new plans in the works to tear apart refugee mothers from their children, in order to “send a message” as they put it—that yes, this imperialist monster has set fire to your countries—but we have locked the doors, and there is no escape.
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