Editor’s note: The Washington Blade published a Spanish version of this article on July 31.
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Three police officers in El Salvador have been sentenced to 20 years in prison for the murder of a transgender woman in 2019.
“20 years in prison for three PNC (National Civil Police) officers for the murder of a member of the LGBTI community,” wrote El Salvador Attorney General Raúl Melara on his Twitter account after announcing the San Salvador court’s verdict against Carlos Rosales, Jaime Mendoza and Luis Avelar for kidnapping Camila Díaz Córdova on Jan. 31, 2019.
Díaz was found hours later with various injuries to her body. She died at Rosales National Hospital on Feb. 3, 2019.
Díaz’s friend, Virginia Flores, told the Washington Blade the U.S. deported her in 2017 after she migrated because of the danger the LGBTQ community — especially trans people — face in El Salvador.
“It is personally the least that I expected, but it is still no fair. It is half justice,” said Flores. “It was immediately clear that it was a hate crime, but I am pleased that they have sentenced these killers.”
The three police officers had their first court hearing on July 5, 2019, after they were charged with kidnapping and aggravated homicide as a hate crime. The judge did not admit the aggravating circumstance in the case.
“By not admitting the aggravating circumstance, the sentence did not reach 50 years in prison,” Mónica Linares, director of Aspidh Arcoiris Trans, a Salvadoran trans advocacy group, told the Blade. “Two previous hearings removed the aggravating circumstance because of lack of evidence.”
“It is regrettable that the reform to the criminal procedure code has yet to be applied and they do not consider hate crimes as such, since society in some way continues to validate violence against trans women,” Ambar Alfaro, founder of the Feminist Association of Trans People of El Salvador, told the Blade. “The judiciary sent a very clear message to the trans community and our struggles, but we obviously celebrate the fact that this is the first case to be prosecuted and that there is a conviction, although it was not what we believe is fair.”
Aspidh Arcoiris Trans in previous press conferences has said prosecutors have not charged anyone with a hate crime based on sexual orientation and gender identity since the provision was added to El Salvador’s Penal Code in 2015.
Aspidh Arcoiris Trans since 2017 has documented more than 20 murders of trans women between 16 and 32-years-old. Aspidh Arcoiris Trans also says a trans woman’s life expectancy in El Salvador is 33 years.
Although LGBTQ activists are partially satisfied with the results of Díaz’s case, there is still a fear these officers may appeal and their sentences will be reduced. They are also worried the officers could be released from prison early because of good behavior.
“As an institution, it is gratifying that at least they sentenced the murders of Camila Díaz Córdova, a trans woman, although it does no refer to the same prosecutor who used Camila’s name each day when referring to her,” said Linares.
The prosecutor always used Díaz’s birth name to refer to her.
“It is ugly to have a fight for the recognition of trans people’s identity, while a law doesn’t exist,” said Linares. “The authorities are those who are disrespecting (us).”
Díaz’s mother, Edith Córdova, in statements to Agencia Presentes, a Latin American press agency, said justice was done for her daughter because authorities captured those responsible and they received due process. Córdova nevertheless said the sentence will not take away the pain of her loss.
“My greatest feeling is that she will never be with me again, nobody will be able to erase that from my mind and my heart,” she said. “It is something very hard for me, it is difficult to accept.”
“Camila’s case will be the first crime against a trans woman that goes to trial and ends with a conviction,” Flores told the Blade. “This sets a precedent in El Salvador, a positive step in recognition of so many hate crimes that have gone unpunished.”