June 17, 2010

The start of the fight for justice

Ministerio Publico, La Ceiba, HondurasMinisterio Publico Office (District Attorney)
but the wrong office for filing a complaint

The day started today with El Jefe going to the municipalidad to get a permission to bury the baby in a public cemetery. Then he had to find some guys to dig the hole and take them there with some tools to do it. Funerals are do-it-yourself affairs in Honduras unless you are rich.

Meanwhile, I drafted up a sequence of events that I hoped would help us to focus on the important points of the past 19 days when we filed the denuncia (formal complaint) with the Ministerio Publico (district attorney). I was able to do that from my blog articles and the additional things I learned yesterday. It came in VERY handy, though the translation to Spanish was....well, not very good, I'm sure. I didn't have time to ask anyone to review and correct it. El Jefe said that there were errors but that it was understandable.

I also asked for help on Facebook and received some guidance that was very helpful. As I suspected, I was told that we had to get them to perform an autopsy on the baby, which the San Pedro hospital failed to do. Especially helpful was finding out that the San Pedro hospital broke the law by not performing an autopsy − which I had to point out a couple of times to get action from the Ministerio Publico (MP).

When I told J what we needed to do, he said, "You do know that this could expose us personally to retaliation? Are you willing to accept that?" I said, "Yes, I know but we've talked before that until people are willing to put themselves at risk, nothing is going to change in Honduras. I'm willing to risk it and I hope you are, too." He was. He is my hero. I have to admit that almost 9 years in Honduras has drilled that "what's the use?" attitude into me pretty soundly, but not this time.

So many readers have thanked us for what we have done for Arexy. Up until today I really didn't believe that we had accomplished anything for her. Today I know that we did. I'm not sure that her denuncia even would have been accepted if we hadn't been there to explain/clarify/insist. At one point, a clerk said she couldn't file the complaint because Arexy didn't know the doctor's first name. I said that the doctor never told her his first name and they could get it from the medical records (which they are requesting from both hospitals). The clerk really wanted to exercise her power over Arexy, but had to admit the logic of what I was telling her. I'm fairly certain that we wouldn't have gotten the autopsy. Maybe the strain of listening to my poor Spanish wore them down. I even told the Fiscal that Arexy's case was already getting international attention.

I'm proud to say that I managed to keep my cool today, despite the rudeness, callousness, and outrageousness of some of the things that were said today. (One example − that we needed to take the baby's body back to San Pedro to get the autopsy done!) I even surprised El Jefe who has been trying for 9 years to teach me that in Honduras, "when you lose your temper, you lose the battle".

Ministerio Publico, La Ceiba, HondurasCentro Integrado de Trabajo, the right place

The one bright light of hope today was the Coordinadora de Fiscales, who came to ask Arexy a few questions, exclaimed "Que barbaridad!" (about the treatment she had received), and offered a kind expression of condolence to Arexy. Arexy and I both lost it then and started crying − I tearfully told her that she was the first and only person throughout this ordeal who has expressed any kindness or human compassion toward the grieving mother.

I said that this was a day that Arexy should have been with her family and friends and grieving for her baby and instead we had spent four hours there fighting for justice. I told her firmly, "Vamos a luchar." The attorney put her hand on my shoulder and said "Van a luchar con nosotros!" (You're going to fight along with us!). She gave us hope.

The MP sent about 10 representatives from the police, the fiscal, forensics, the criminal investigations unit, and possibly others to pick up the baby's body. El Jefe went with them (Arexy, Kenia, and I had to stay to continue to wait to file the denuncia).

He said that they were very thorough, respectfully examining the body, taking photos, asking questions and that at least six of them were taking detailed notes. One commented to J that the body had some suspicious damage, including an injured foot (?). Additionally, the tiny opening that had been made in the baby's neck to administer blood was now a huge gash of about two inches. The baby was emaciated, looking like a premature baby of at most 5 pounds, though he weighed 7 pounds, 4 ounces at birth.

I'm just too exhausted mentally and emotionally to give you all the details, but we persevered today. The autopsy will be done tomorrow, though the forensic doctor initially refused to perform it and had to be ordered by the MP to do it. I'm taking notes (and names) as we go along.

We will start again tomorrow by going to the Human Rights Commission to file a formal complaint. I hope that they will show a little more compassion and human decency than we saw today or yesterday.

To all of you who have written, I thank you. I read everything but haven't had a chance to answer anyone yet. Thank you for your prayers. Now we could use some prayers for strength because the system is designed to wear us down and demoralize us into inaction.
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