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A Day Without a Woman

For anyone who thinks there is no need for an International Women’s Day, here’s one reminder from a death squad in Central America that I cannot forget.

At dawn on February 20th 1982, I head off to ship film at the international airport, but I first encounter the victim of a right-wing death squad, later confirmed to have been a 30-year-old woman. What’s left of her body tells the rather complete story of her last hour of life. That is, for anyone willing to look long enough at it, and contemplate all the indignities collected there.
Her underwear is still stretched tight, clinging below her knees. Her attackers must have started off with that, since otherwise it would have been pointless and much more difficult to pull the cloth down after everything else that happened.
On her left hand, still in relatively fresh condition, all the finger tips have been cut off, and then the hand itself is also cut off. The muscles of her left arm are removed down to her wrists. The remainder of her left arm is burned and then also cut off. Long strips of skin are peeled off from her left leg, again an effort unlikely to have happened if she was past caring. The heel of her left foot is the one part of her body to show how hard it dug into the sand. She is finally disemboweled, then scalped. Pieces of her skull are scattered about, and then her head is cut off, which is missing from the scene.
The vivid and still glistening condition of the blood suggests that all this was done only a few hours ago.
Once she was unconscious, why did they continue to work on her? I suspect for the impact it was having on someone else watching, someone who was forced to watch, someone who had been refusing to talk.
It has become increasingly rare in recent months for death squads to leave their victims lying about in well-traveled public areas, as had been the tactic last year, meant to intimidate working-class or pro-guerrilla neighborhoods.
This is different. If her body had been dumped here, no one would have bothered to rearrange so many tiny pieces again so precisely. All of her parts are still aligned in the way and in the order in which they came off. In other words, all this was done right here, on this spot, and it took some considerable time to do all of it.
Her remains are on the shoulder of the main highway connecting the capital to the airport, beside the outbound lanes. Why would her attackers do it here? Perhaps they had no worries whatsoever about authorities interrupting them.

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This text comes from pages 389-390 of ANGLE, my recently published memoir.


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