Camila Díaz Córdova, a transgender Salvadoran woman, left the house in which she lived with relatives of her best friend, Virginia Gómez, on the afternoon of Jan. 30, 2019.
Gómez, who is also a trans woman, on Jan. 25 told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview in El Salvador that her aunt the next morning realized Díaz had not returned home. Gómez said she was not initially worried, but she became increasingly concerned throughout the day because Díaz had not called or texted her.
Gómez told the Blade she called hospitals and even the morgue over the next few days in an attempt to locate Díaz. Gómez said on Feb. 7, 2019, eight days after Díaz disappeared, she learned an ambulance brought her friend to a public hospital in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador.
Two trans rights activists were with Gómez when a doctor at the hospital told her she was critically injured when she arrived at around 5 a.m. on Jan. 31, 2019.
Gómez said the doctor told her that Díaz had serious injuries to her liver and other internal organs. Gómez told the Blade the doctor also said Díaz had likely been hit by a car.
“She had to have several surgeries not because she came in with internal bleeding, but because her vital organs were in very bad shape,” said Gómez, recalling what she said the doctor told her. “She told me they operated on her.”
Gómez began to cry when she said the doctor told her Díaz died on Feb. 3, 2019.
“It was very difficult for me when she told me that she had died,” said Gómez as she used a napkin to wipe the tears from her eyes. “I didn’t even want to believe it.”
Friday marks a year since Díaz was found on the side of a highway in Soyapango, a municipality that is just east of San Salvador.
Three Salvadoran police officers have been charged with aggravated homicide as a hate crime and depravation of liberty by an agent of authority in connection with Díaz’s murder. They are expected to go on trial next month.
‘Another killer avalanche has come’
Díaz is originally from a small town in rural El Salvador.
Gómez said Díaz’s deeply religious family disowned her because of her gender identity. Gómez also told the Blade that Díaz was attacked several times because she was trans.
Gómez said Díaz in 2014 fled to Guatemala after she barely survived a brutal attack. Gómez told the Blade that Díaz also sought refuge in Mexico several times, but returned to El Salvador after a few months.
Gómez said Díaz and another trans Salvadoran woman in early 2017 decided to travel to the U.S. Gómez said they spent several months in Mexico City, working in restaurants, before they arrived in the Mexican border city of Tijuana in June of that year, roughly five months after President Trump took office.
Gómez said Díaz on Aug. 8, 2017, asked for asylum in the U.S. Gómez told the Blade that U.S. Customs and Border Protection immediately took her into custody and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained her at a detention facility in California.
A judge subsequently denied Díaz’s asylum claim and the U.S. on Nov. 7, 2017, deported her back to El Salvador.
Gómez said the U.S. deported Díaz two days before her birthday. Gómez told the Blade she found out about Díaz’s deportation when she called her from El Salvador’s international airport after her flight landed.
“They deported me,” said Díaz, according to Gómez as she recounted the phone call. “She told me that yet another killer avalanche has come.”
Gómez said Díaz arrived in El Salvador wearing the same clothes she wore when she asked for asylum in the U.S. Gómez also told the Blade that Díaz said the staff at the ICE detention center where she was detained discriminated against her and other trans women.
“They told us that we were not women, that we were men,” said Díaz, according to Gómez.
Díaz on Jan. 29, 2019, met with Mónica Linares, executive director of Asociación Aspidh Arcoiris Trans, a trans Salvadoran advocacy group in San Salvador, and asked for help to leave sex work. Linares told Díaz to return to her office the next day but Gómez said she “disappeared.”
“We are already at one year after her death, and it is outrageous to see how the courts have still not prosecuted her death,” Linares on Thursday told the Blade in a statement.
Ambar Alfaro, an independent trans activist who was with Gómez at the hospital when she learned Díaz had died, echoed Linares.
“A year from the date on which they attacked and practically kidnapped Camila, the only thing that I can really say is that it is clear that our country’s judicial system remains obsolete,” Alfaro told the Blade. “Beyond that there is also the feeling of impunity surrounding hate crimes, as well as with Camila’s murder.”
Díaz was ‘happy and sincere’
The State Department’s 2018 human rights report notes “public officials, including police, engaged in violence and discrimination against sexual minorities.” It also indicates LGBTQ Salvadorans have stated the National Civil Police and the Attorney General’s Office “harassed transgender and gay individuals when they reported cases of violence against LGBTI persons, including by conducting strip searches.”
Karla Aguilar, a trans Salvadoran activist, in 2017 fled to Europe because of threats she and her family received.
Johana “Joa” Medina León, another trans Salvadoran woman who worked as a private nurse, fled El Salvador because she had also been threatened and attacked because she was trans. Medina died at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, on June 1, 2019, three days after ICE released her from their custody.
Briyit Michelle Alas is one of several trans women who have been reported killed in El Salvador in recent months. President Nayib Bukele, who was elected on the same day Díaz died, has yet to publicly condemn these murders or violence based on gender identity that remains rampant in the country.
Gómez herself is in the process of seeking asylum in Canada. She asked the Blade not to publicly disclose the city in which she is currently living because she is afraid for her life.
“It is very dangerous,” said Gómez.
In the meantime, she continues to remember Díaz as “a happy and sincere” person.
“She was noble,” said Gómez. “She wasn’t a bad-hearted person.”