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Used wife, one owner…

2 July 2008

I still do not “get” the people who defend “usos y costumbres” as a progressive cause (I’ve had run-ins with the Oaxaca Studies Action Group people over this — the upshot being I subscribe to that yahoo group any more, and I seriously question the journalistic integrity of Narco News Bulletin, which was printing reports by some of these people without fact-checking).  As best I can understand, the traditionalists were among the many who opposed (and still oppose) the Ulises Ruiz administration, and the PRI political machine.  Some on the progressive side seem to think voting by consensus (as opposed to a “free and secret ballot” in the words of the Mexican Constitution) among communities that reject PRI is “good” … and that among those who back the PRI is the result of manipulation.

Setting aside individual rights within traditional communities was probably the worst thing the Fox administration did. I know there are those who defend the constititional change (a capitulation to the Zapatistas — which for some odd reason enjoys wide support from the left) on the grounds that it preserves native culture, but as a human rights issue, I’m not sure it should be supported by these progressives.  Most of them would scream bloody murder if they had to live in small towns run by “traditional family values” rules.

People either have rights just as people, or they don’t.  I don’t see how a modern state, and our modern concept of individual rights can coexist with these “traditional values”… and seriously doubt that preserving them is worthwhile.

My translation is from a 24 June 2008 article in Milenio by Blanca Valadez

Follwing the uses and indigenous customs of the pueblo of Santa María Asunción, Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca, Guadalupe was sold by her family on two different occasions, .The first time, as a 17 year old, she sold for seven thousand pesos. The second, having been forced to return home when he husband no longer wanted her, her parents sold her for 3,500 pesos, “slighly used.”

She had been married for six years to the first husband. Her son was left behind. A few days later she was “acquired” by Manuel, who refused to pay the full price to his in-laws, alleging his purchase had been mislabeled as a virgin.

Manuel’s in-laws complained about the non-payment, and a few months later filed a legal demand befor the municipal agency for payment of the 3,500 pesos.

Municipal authorities would not stop the sale. On the contrary, they obliged Manuel to pay up immediately, or risk being sent to jail. The court procedings in this community are in the first langague, Mazateco.

“In Santa María Asunción when a man sees a woman who doesn’t have a boyfriend, he doesn’t try to get to know her, but buys her. He goes to her parents and asks “what do you want for her, and what can I afford?’.”

“In many families, they also require you to feed the family on the wedding day, but not everyone adds that condition,” said Yolanda Bartolo Cortés; whose mother, Cecilia Cortés, was sold by her father over 20 years ago.

Yolanda said that some men have tried to avoid paying for women, as did Ramiro Bartolo Cortés, who refused to pay the 5,000 pesos demanded for Eva, with whom he now lives in Mexico City.
However, under pressure from his in-laws, who tracked them down to their home in colonia Santa Domingo in delegación Coyoacán, he had been obligated to pay at least 3000 pesos.

Now Ramiro wants to send Eva back home, and to live with Maria, a teenager from that same Oaxaca town he met when Eva went back to Santa María Asunción to have their first child.

“Even though Maria’s parents knew Eva was my pregnant sister-in-law and Ramiro was her husband, they offered to sell him their daughter for ten thousand pesos. The only reason he didn’t buy her is that he didn’t have the money. In fact, he’s not working, and his wife is supporting him,” Yolanda Bartolo Cortés related.

“My brother told Eva, “Get lost. I don’t want you any more. I want the other girl,” but my sister-in-law stayed, even though he beats her, not caring that he is pregnant.”
Although the sale of women is practically a custom in that community, not everyone accepts their destiny, and some try to flee.

Cecilia Cortés is 39 years old. At 14 she was sold to Hipólito Bartolo, a year older. “My mother tried to flee when she found out the negotiation. One of her uncles found her down by the river, and dragged her back by her hair.

“There was no way out. To leave, she’d need a boat to get out of that palce, since thee wasn’t any bridge. And my mother had no money or help. There was no other option for her, but to marry my father both in church and in a legal wedding, and to spend years in a living hell.”

Lupita, Eva and Cecilia not only have in common being sold by their families, but being the victims of abuse and family violence as well.

Yolanda saw her alcoholic father knock her mother to the ground several times, as was she several times when she tried to defend her mother.

There is hope for legislative change.

A government agency, Inmujeres – the Women’s Institute — has denounced the mainly poor and indigenous communities of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Campeche and Guerrero, that by use and custom allow women to be sold, often for as little as two cases of soda pop and one case of beer.
A study by Inmujeres finds that in these states the criminal penalities for cattle theft are more severe than for attempting to sell a woman, sexual abuse, holding a woman against her will, or holding her peonage.

Liliana Rojero Luévano, the Executive Secretary of Inmujeres, says the institute is working with the individual legislators in the state congresses to modify the penal codes and civil procedures in these matters.

“In places like Campeche, a man usually is absolved of rape charges if the woman lives in the same house. The same result happens in child abuse cases, if he is able to manipulate the child’s testimony.”

In Oaxaca, for example, there has been in increase in the number of women murdered by their husbands, family, or other men have been increasing, and the legal sanctions are missing.
In the last several months more than 30 women have been murdered, leading to to formation of a commission to recommend a series of changes.

In Oaxaca, women who have attempted to change their situation, or spoken out on the matter have been murdered, as were communal radio journalists Teresa Baptist Merino and Felícitas Martinez Sanchez.

There have also been intimidation in these communities against women like Eufrosina Cruz, whose election first as municipal president and then edil of Santa María Quiegolani were nullified despite votes in her favor.

“If the states do not modify their penal and civil laws, they will not receive a single one of the seven million pesos earmarked for anti-violence programs. In San Luis Potosí major modifications in the law that protect women have been implemented, and, what is important, they were done without targeting any communal uses and customs,” Rojero Luévano said.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mr. Rushing permalink
    5 July 2008 1:57 pm

    I guess that we are guilty of cultural imperialism here. This is the same BS that we get when we judge other cultures, especially the Muslim ones. It is amazing that Mexico allows this sort of thing to happen to this day. I sometimes think that those who label themselves as “progressive” are some of the biggest authoritarians in the world. It is like they argue for whatever is not popular simply to look like they have thought of this. Amazingly Women selling is something so primative that the only way that a progressive could defend it is if the woman was an adult and willingly selling herself. As far as the Amerindians committing “honor killings”, I am shocked that Mexico has this problem as well.

    There are still some true progressives out there. The Penn Jillette’s and Teller’s of the world (you absolutely have to watch thier P&T Bullshit! Episode on illegal immigration to see how awesome that they are.), the Christopher Hitchens’ and the James Randi’s of the world who are the truely progressive. These people who want to tell you how to live, where you can live, what you can and can’t smoke, and what you can and can not drive are nothing but willing servants to an authoritarian government. They also attract just as many kooks as the libertarian party does (which is sad, because there are more atheists and rational thinkers per capita than any other political party in the US)

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