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Quechua-Speaking Bolivian Woman, Denied an Interpreter for Years, Sentenced to Life in Prison in Argentina

Facade of the Criminal Court in Quilmes, Argentina, where Reina Maraz was sentenced to life imprisonment. Photo by Andar Agency used with authorization.

Outside the Criminal Court in Quilmes, Argentina, where Reina Maraz was sentenced to life imprisonment. Photo by Andar Agency used with authorization.

Reina Maraz was sentenced on Tuesday, 28 October 2014, in Argentina to life in prison for the murder of her husband, after three years in jail without being allowed to appear before a judge. 

“Why do they condemn me if I didn't do anything?”, Maraz asked her Quechua interpreter, Frida Rojas, after she had translated the Spanish version of the oral trial of the Criminal Court (TCO) of Quilmes, according to journalist Horacio Cecchi in his chronicle for the newspaper Página 12.

The TCO, presided over by the judges Silvia Etchemendi, Marcela Vissio and Florencia Butierrez, unanimously condemned the 26-year-old woman, who was convicted of aggravated homicide of her husband Limber Santos in November of 2010.

A few days before her arrest, Maraz had reported the disappearance of her husband. She was imprisoned while pregnant and without knowing the reasons for the criminal prosecution against her. She barely understands or speaks Spanish.

She was not allowed to see the details of her case until 2012, when she received the assistance of the Provincial Commission for Memory (CPM), a human rights NGO that demanded the help of an interpreter for the young woman.

CPM pressured the Supreme Court to officially accept the presence of an interpreter. The courts of the province of Buenos Aires lack an official registry of interpreters of indigenous languages, despite the fact that thousands of indigenous immigrants live in the area.

Through the interpreter, Maraz was able to tell her version of the story for the first time. She recounted her status as a migrant, coming from a remote village in the Bolivian Altiplano, and the domestic and sexual violence primarily at the hands of her husband Limber Santos and “Tito” Vilca, a neighbor pointed out as her accomplice. Vilca died months ago in prison of cirrhosis, according to CPM's blog.

Maraz said her neighbor had abused her when her husband offered her as currency to repay debts owed to Vilca.

In mid-October, the prosecutor demanded life imprisonment on the basis of a statement by Maraz's eldest son, who was five years old when he was interrogated by the camera system Gesell Dome, a one-way mirror under which children could be observed or interrogated without being disturbed

The Director of Strategic Litigation for the CPM, Margarita Jarque, said she regrets that the sentence reproduced the prosecutor's indictment without showing its shortcomings. Website 8300 reported:

El tribunal no ha escuchado ni incorporado la voz de Reina, su relato. Resulta inexplicable una sentencia basada exclusivamente en una cámara Gesell que durante el debate oral tres peritos especialistas cuestionaron de manera fundada y la consideraron como una prueba no válida.

The court did not listen to Reina's voice or to her story. Inexplicably, the judgment was based solely on a Gesell camera, which during the oral debate three experts declared to be an invalid test.” 

The case has generated outrage in social networks. On her Twitter account, Irene Valiente expressed the following:

Shameful case of Reina Maraz: Quechua, a victim of #violenciamachista, without an interpreter for 3 years, sentenced to life imprisonment.

The CPM republished a statement from artist and human rights activist Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980: 

“It seems that to be a poor and indigenous woman is a curse, and this court has discriminated against them,” said Perez Esquivel on the sentence against Reina Maraz.

Cesar Javier Garzón ‏commented on his Twitter account:

Deaf and blind justice: life imprisonment for Reina Maraz.

The legal obstacles that Maraz faced did not escape commentary. The author of the blog General Ramos and other herbs said:

Quiero imaginar el interrogatorio de la justicia a Reina Maraz y me doy cuenta que ni siquiera han indagado en lo mínimo, ni las circunstancias o contexto.

Sus Señorías no son solo ciegas, huelen a podrido.

I want to imagine the judges’ interrogation of Reina Maraz and I realize that they haven’t even inquired into the basics [of the case], neither the circumstances nor context.

 Your Honors are not only blind, they smell rotten.

José María Mastronardi, Maraz's attorney, has vowed to appeal the judgment.

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