13 de Febrero: Mejor no hablemos de excusas
Back in November 2009, my first-ever post to this blog reflected on the problem of violence against women in Bolivia. For the past few years, feminist activists in Bolivia have been pressuring lawmakers to incorporate the term feminicidio into legal codes, to prevent men who kill their wives, girlfriends, exes, sisters, cousins, etc., from getting off with “crime of passion” defenses. A crime of passion defense usually reads like this: “Your honor, I was just so angry and heartbroken when I heard that Fulana was [insert actual or suspected infidelity here], that I just couldn’t control myself, and I [insert violent crime here].” At last year’s march commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, one of the slogans we shouted until hoarse was, “No es crimen pasional–es asesinato.” (It’s not a crime of passion–it’s murder.)
For those of us who believe that men and women are indeed equal and that both have the unalienable right to live without violence, these crime of passion defenses seem laughable–or they would, if they weren’t so dangerous. Then, why do they work? Who or what contributes to the legitimacy of this type of defense in Bolivian society?
One culprit is undoubtedly machismo and the double standards that it engenders–ie., he cheats with impunity, but she can’t even have male friends; he has a job and a social life, while she is confined to the home and to the production of offspring. As I’ve mentioned several times before, machismo in Bolivia is fierce, and seemingly endemic to both home and professional life in the country.
So, in part, we have everyday interactions between Bolivian men and women to thank for crime of passion defenses. But perhaps more perilously, we also have the press. This week, the La-Paz daily La Razón covered the story of one man’s brutal murder of a sex worker in an El Alto motel room. (As always, all translations are my own.) Evidently, when the young woman Zulma Apaza refused to have sex with her would-be client, he strangled her and used a broken bottle to cut her vagina. In a statement to police, the murderer Óscar Condori Vargas said, “The señorita turned up dead, I got up and I don’t know, I don’t know anything, I didn’t see anything; I don’t know in what moment they did [killed] her; I had fallen asleep, I was drunk.”
My first reaction after reading Condori’s statement was to ask, “Well, which was it??” But no–it’s better to not talk about excuses. Because the fact is, there is no excuse for murder. That is why we call a person’s “reason” for committing murder a motive, not an excuse that absolves the murderer of responsibility for the crime. And yet, this article traffics in excuses, rather than motives, offering them up like sacrifices. In the Condori case, the reporter informs us that the excuse was the sex worker’s refusal to seal the deal. (Violence against sex workers is a pervasive and troubling phenomenon that I cannot cover in detail in this post, but see here for recent treatment of this problem in the U.S.)
In its closing paragraphs, the La Razón article reviews other crimes that were recently perpetrated in El Alto motels, offering an excuse for each. Last Christmas Eve, one man decapitated his girlfriend with a kitchen knife before attempting to escape, carrying her head with him inside a cardboard box. “The motives of the crime were passionate, according to the [local police],” assures the reporter. “In two other cases [of murder in El Alto motel rooms],” the article continues, “the victim unleashed her lover’s jealousy by calling him by the wrong name.” Are these “motives”? Explanations that we can add to a case file before locking the bastards away for 25-years-to-life? No–these are excuses. In this article, La Razón is, perhaps unwittingly, justifying the crime of passion defense and ultimately excusing the absence of just prison sentences for male perpetrators of feminicide in Bolivia. So please–no more “passionate” excuses. Just give us cold hard motive, evidence, trial, and finally–justice.