This blog post was first published on Todos Los Caminos on 27 April 2014. It has been translated without permission by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.
Criminalizing Childbirth in Mexico: The indigenous woman prisoner who wants to remember what the weather is like in the free world
By Rodrigo Soberanes (TODOS LOS CAMINOS)
A twenty-three year old indigenous woman gave birth alone, in the half-light. Nobody even knew she was even pregnant. Her mother-in-law heard the child’s cry from the bedroom. And then the baby died.
Eight years after that sad dawn, Reyna asks from her cell what the weather is like outside the walls of Veracruz’s Zongolica Prison. “Is it hot outside?” and then there’s a brief silence, since nobody understands the logic of her question.
The thermometer crests 30 degrees, inside and out. The temperature doesn’t change behind bars, just the rest of the reality. After years of being locked up, only Reyna knows how her life has changed.
“I hope I can go soon,” the now 31-year-old woman says.
Reyna Panzo was accused of aggravated homicide and sentenced to 35 years in prison. An appeals court reduced her sentence to 20 years.
The events occurred in the community of Tzacuala in Tehuipango, one of the country’s poorest townships. Reyna’s husband had migrated to the US, fleeing from the misery in this part of Veracruz.
According to the case file, Reyna’s mother-in-law realized the baby had died and told the young woman’s parents who took her to the township’s leader. He then took her to the Public Prosecutor.
The woman’s lawyer asserts that, for obvious reasons, she did not want her in-laws to know she was pregnant. But she also says that how she became pregnant has never been documented.
Reyna was born and grew up in a region where women’s rights are never fully applied, and there’s systematic violation of women’s access to justice.
Adriana Fuentes Manzo, lawyer to the NGO Equifonia explains things in the following way:
Her mother in law assumed the baby was the result of an infidelity and that Reyna killed it. That’s what she told her parents. They assumed the same thing and they took her to a public official.
That official took on judicial functions and took Reyna – who does not speak Spanish – to the Public Prosecutor. She was never given a translator. In her preliminary statement, she was unable to provide a clear version of what had happened.
“Nobody cared about her health. No value was placed on presuming her innocent. Did they giver her due process? There’s no explanation of the circumstances. There are many doubts. Far from whether they did this or didn’t do that, nobody guaranteed her rights. From the moment she went before officials, they made value judgements. She had no right to the presumption of innocence,” the lawyer told this reporter.
Brain surgery on the baby indicated the cause of death was a traumatic head injury. It also states that the recently born baby had a wound on its face caused by scissors.
Equifonia’s laywer – who works to protect women’s rights – believes that if Reyna had wanted to lose her baby, she wouldn’t have waited for nine months.
Having just taken on Reyna’s legal defense, this non-governmental organization will try to prove that the Public Prosecutor did not provide the accused woman with a translator and deprived her of her right to be presumed innocent.
They never placed any weight behind the idea that the indigenous woman had an accident and that the then twenty-three year old was presumed guilty by the judicial system. “The main point is trying to find out if her rights to due process were guaranteed,” Adriana Manzo explains.
Reyna has two other children. One was born before she was locked up and another who is five years old who she gave birth to inside prison.
Sat on a plastic seat beside her bed, the woman has been turned upside down by the judicial system that has imprisoned her. She can’t understand why she has been locked up for eight years. She wants to leave.
“It’d be better if I could I leave already,” she says in a shaky voice. A guard watches her as she talks with Equifonia’s legal team.
Journalist Rodrigo Soberanes is based in Mexico. Follow him on Twitter @rodsantin. This article first appeared on his blog, Todos Los Caminos, under the title, “La mujer indígena que quiere recordar cómo es el clima fuera de la cárcel,” available at: http://todosloscaminospa.blogspot.mx/2014/04/la-mujer-indigena-que-quiere-recordar.html.