February 25, 2017 at 12:42 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
State Department ‘supports’ El Salvador trans murders investigation

Daniela and Yasuri were two trans women who were killed in San Luís Talpa, El Salvador, on Feb. 18, 2017.

Daniela and Yasuri were two trans women who were killed in San Luís Talpa, El Salvador, on Feb. 18, 2017.

A State Department spokesperson on Friday said it “supports” the investigation into the recent murders of three trans women in El Salvador.

The spokesperson told the Washington Blade the State Department cannot specifically “comment on an ongoing investigation.” The spokesperson then offered “our sincerest condolences to the friends and family of the transgender women who have recently been murdered.”

Three transgender women have been killed in San Luis Talpa, a municipality in La Paz Department that is roughly 25 miles southeast of the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador, since Feb. 18. Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First on Thursday said in a statement that the murders are “just one example of the extreme violence, homophobia and transphobia that is prevalent in the country.”

“The United States should promptly condemn these acts of violence and press the Salvadoran government to thoroughly investigate these incidents,” he added.

Reports indicate other LGBT Salvadorans may have been killed in recent days.

Ana Isabel Nieto, coordinator of El Salvador’s Ministry of Health’s National HIV/AIDS/STI Program (CONASIDA), in a broadly worded press release that her office released on Thursday expressed “concern over the acts of violence against the LGBTI population.”

The National Civic Police described the two trans women who were killed in San Luis Talca on Feb. 18 as men who were wearing women’s clothes. Nieto in her statement did not describe their murders as hate crimes.

“We understand that El Salvador’s National Civilian Police (PNC) and the Attorney General’s Office are fully engaged in this case, and other human rights entities are closely monitoring the developments,” the State Department spokesperson told the Blade. “The United States supports the search for those responsible in all cases of crime and violence, including those where human rights may have been violated.”

Hate ‘always’ a factor in trans murders

El Salvador, which borders Guatemala and Honduras, has one of the world’s highest murder rates. Rampant homophobia, transphobia, discrimination and poverty are among the factors that have made lesbian, gay, bisexual and especially trans Salvadorans particularly vulnerable to violence.

Karla Guevara, director of Colectivo Alejandría, a trans advocacy group, told the Blade earlier this month during an interview at her San Salvador office an average of 16 trans people are killed in El Salvador each year.

Francela Méndez, a prominent trans rights activist who was a Colectivo Alejandría board member, was killed in May 2015 while she was visiting a friend’s home in the city of Sonsonate. A large banner with pictures of Méndez hangs inside Colectivo Alejandría’s offices.

“There is always this hate is how these trans women were murdered,” Guevara told the Blade.

Francela Méndez was a member of Colectivo Alejandría who was killed at a friend's home in 2015. The transgender rights organization has hung this tribute to her at its offices in San Salvador, El Salvador. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Francela Méndez was a member of Colectivo Alejandría who was killed at a friend’s home in 2015. The transgender rights organization has hung this tribute to her at its offices in San Salvador, El Salvador. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Bryam Rodríguez of the San Salvador-based Generación de Hombres Trans de El Salvador told the Blade on Friday that his organization is “outraged by incidents of discrimination, violence and principally the reported and unreported hate crimes that are taking place in the area of San Luis Talpa.”

“There is no doubt that the actions committed by these criminals are promoted by transphobia, machismo and the government’s lack of interest (in urging) the police to conduct an exhaustive investigation to find those responsible and punish them for their acts,” added Rodríguez.

Trans Salvadoran woman in D.C. seeks meeting with ambassador

Salvadoran lawmakers in 2015 approved an amendment to the country’s legal code that enhances penalties for hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Karla Avelar of Comunicado y Capacitando a Mujeres Trans (COMCAVIS) and other activists have met with government officials this week to discuss the murders of the trans women in San Luis Talpa and the broader issue of anti-LGBT hate crimes and violence.

Avelar told the Blade that she appeared on a Salvadoran television station with Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad (ESMULES) Executive Director Andrea Ayana and Cruz Torre, director of the country’s Secretary of Social Inclusion’s Sexual Diversity Office, to “publicly denounce the authorities’ lack of action” in the case of the murdered trans women and to “demand they publicly declare the murders as hate crimes.”

Paty Hernández, a trans woman who works at Casa Ruby in D.C., fled El Salvador because of violence and threats that she received. She requested a meeting this week with Salvadoran Ambassador to the U.S. Claudia Canjura de Centeno

“We want to request an urgent meeting with you to address LGBTI issues of Salvadoran citizens who live in the DMV area,” wrote Hernández, referring to the D.C. area.

Ana Cisneros, an independent LGBT activist from El Salvador, told the Blade on Friday during a Skype interview from Toronto that nobody within her country’s government “has shown enough leadership” in addressing anti-LGBT violence and hate crimes.

The Blade’s efforts to reach the Salvadoran government for comment on Friday were unsuccessful.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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