The “Cassez” of Chiapas--indigenous, poor, and monolingual
By Patricia Chandomí
In 2005 Rosa López, an indigenous Tzotzil woman from San Cristóbal de las Casas, and her five children were abandoned by her husband, Rafael López Gómez, who decided to migrate to the United States with a lover in search of better opportunities.
Without land and uncertain whether Rafael had achieved his goal, Rosa was forced to search for work as a street vendor. In order to sustain her five children, and without any assistance from her husband or his family, she would buy clothes and resell them in the neighboring communities of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.
A year later, at 33 years old, Rosa met and began a relationship with Alfredo López Jiménez, who was also involved in the resale business. Despite never having received any support from her husband’s family, one of his uncles, Rafael Gómez Santiz, originally from Oshinam, in the Municipality of Mitonic, Chiapas, went looking for her upon learning that she had met another man.
“Rosa, you are my nephew’s woman, your duty is to wait for him, even if you haven’t heard from him, you must wait for him… That is why you are his woman, only sluts go off with another man and don’t wait for their husband. Even though he left with another woman to the United States, you are his main woman and someday he will return,” commented the “outraged” Rafael Gómez to Rosa.
In spite of the uncle’s constant reprimands, Rosa kept seeing Alfredo, and the two would later join together to sell clothes and maintain her five children.
Accused of kidnapping
The incipient peace and stability that Rosa experienced with Alfredo – in contrast to the years of domestic violence that she endured at the hands of her former husband – came to a sudden halt with her arrest on May 10, 2007.
On that day, sitting on a park bench, four months pregnant, Rosa was struck in the back and fell to the ground. The individual who delivered the blow quickly lifted up her shirt and used it to cover her face.
She could discern a group of men who told her and Alfredo that they were being arrested. Alfredo requested to see the arrest warrant and, in response, one of the men struck him in the head with his pistol. Both were handcuffed and taken onto a truck.
En route, the men blindfolded Rosa’s eyes and kept her facedown in the vehicle, with one of the men holding his foot on her body to prevent her from moving.
After a half hour, the individuals brought Alfredo out of the truck and beat him. Rosa, still blindfolded in the back of the truck, could hear Alfredo moaning in pain as they attacked him. Minutes later, one of the individuals returned and stated, “the lover has confessed.”
Tortured and coerced to plead guilty
After they returned Alfredo to the truck and drove off to another location, Rosa was taken down, her eyes still covered, and told to sit on the ground. After a brief moment of silence, several men came back and one of them said, “So this is the bitch that kidnapped the girl,” grabbing her by the hair and slapping her.
“Where do you have the girl? Fess up, bitch,” he demanded, “Where is Claudia Estefania? Don’t play dumb, you kidnapped her,” while continuing to beat her in the face.
When they asked her again about Claudia Estefania, Rosa responded, “Well, she must be at home.” As a punishment for this response, the men placed a wet rag and plastic bag over her head and told her, “Whenever you’re ready to confess that you’re guilty, move your head.”
As they suffocated her, she heard one of the men call to another, “pass me that stick over there,” and began to strike her with it in the stomach, insisting to know the whereabouts of Claudia Estefania. Rosa asked them not to hit her in the stomach because she was pregnant.
“If you say it was you, we will let you go,” they told her, and as she did not respond, they took her to another location, which she presumes was another room. There, they took off her clothes and groped her all over her body. One of them threw her to the ground and got on top of her. She began to scream desperately for them not to rape her. Then her attackers said, “We aren’t going to rape you if you tell us what we want you to say.” Rosa replied, “Yes.”
After putting her clothes back on, Rosa was instructed to admit that she had kidnapped the young woman Claudia Estefania and that she had asked for a ransom of 800,000 pesos.
As soon as she left the room, Rosa heard the voices of Alfredo, Pedro López, and Juan Collazo—Alfredo’s cousin.
Rosa was then transported to a cell and on the following day she was taken to issue her confession. A recorder was placed on her, into which she confessed to the kidnapping of Claudia Estefania. There, in the presence of Alfredo and his cousin, Juan Collazo, Rosa learned that Juan had in fact “stolen” his girlfriend and that he had asked to borrow Alfredo’s bodega, which he used to store his clothing and merchandise, for their honeymoon.
Claudia Estefania, the daughter of Rosa’s ex-husband’s uncle
Claudia Estefania turned out to be the daughter of Rafael Gómez Santiz, the uncle of Rosa’s ex-husband who had demanded that she end her relationship with Alfredo.
Rosa had no prior knowledge of motive that had forced her to undergo such an experience, when she was handcuffed and transported by several police officers to the CERESO #5 state penitentiary in San Crisóbal de las Casas.
Before they put her in the truck that would later take her to the CERESO #5, the police officers warned, “If you say that we hit you, we know where your mother and her children live, and we will make them pay.”
Rosa was accused of the illegal deprivation of freedom in the category of abduction and kidnapping, and criminal conspiracy, along with Alfredo, Juan Collazo, the boyfriend of Claudia Estefania and cousin of Alfredo, and Pedro López Jiménez, who were found guilty and sentenced by Judge Guillermo Enrique Calvo Beutelspacher, citing the flagrancy of the crime.
Rosalindo Moíses Díaz Vázquez, a social advocate, advised Rosa and Alfredo to maintain a guilty plea, as this would make it possible for the judge to pardon them in the future.
Rosa, exercising her legal right to confront her accuser, asked her advocate to secure a face-to-face confrontation with her husband’s uncle. On January 14, 2009, Judge José Luis Jiménez Quevedo issued a definitive sentence, basing his decision principally on the complaint issued by Rafael Gómez Santiz.
Rafael stated that he gave Rosa and Alfredo a black plastic bag containing 30,000 pesos in the Mexicanos Square of San Cristóbal de las Casas. He claimed to be accompanied by his nephew and the police chief. His nephew testified against Rosa, Alfredo, and Juan, as well as Claudia Estefania.
Rosa’s testimony regarding her lack of knowledge about her boyfriend Alfredo and his cousin Juan Collazo was never taken into account. Juan stated that he did in fact “steal” his girlfriend without her consent: “We were already dating, but her dad never liked me because I was a relative of Alfredo, Rosa’s boyfriend.”
Rosa never had access to a translator of her native language, Tzotzil. According to her dossier (index number 056/2007), she received a sentence of 27 years, six months, and 17 days in prison.
The birth and death of her son while in prison
After five months in prison, her sixth child, Natanael, fathered by Alfredo, was born. Due to the torture she experienced during her arrest, the baby was born with cerebral palsy, which initially went unnoticed by the hospital’s medical staff.
At four months old, a reexamination of Natanael revealed that he had developed a mass in his spine due to a fracture originating from Rosa’s attack.
During this time Rosa’s mother cared for Natanael. But after a series of complications of her own and running from hospital to hospital, Natanael died on October 26, 2011.
“My son died, a kind of living dead, four years and fifteen days after his birth. I did not want him to die, I wanted so much to watch him myself, if God had only given me my freedom, but it never happened,” says Rosa, who was not able to say goodbye to her son.
After issuing several complaints about the lack of medical attention in the prison, Rosa underwent an operation for an inguinal hernia.