Cindy Erazo left El Salvador’s Ilopango Women’s Prison. She should have never been there.

Cindy Erazo

“The witch-hunt, then, was a war against women; it was a concerted attempt to degrade them, dehumanize them, and destroy their social power. At the same time, it was in the torture chambers and on the stakes on which the witches perished that the bourgeois ideals of womanhood and domesticity were forged.” Silvia Federici

On Wednesday, Cindy Erazo, 29 years old, mother of a 10-year-old child, walked out of Ilopango Women’s Prison, that special hell El Salvador built for women. Cindy Erazo spent the last six years in Ilopango Women’s Prison for a crime she never committed, and even now her freedom is conditional. Given her story, every woman’s freedom in El Salvador and beyond is `conditional.’

In August 2014, Cindy Erazo suffered an obstetric emergency. She has said she was not aware at the time that she was pregnant. She was at a mall and started bleeding. She went to the restroom where she passed out. When Cindy Erazo regained consciousness, she was in a hospital bed, chained to the bed. She was immediately charged with having an illegal abortion. Cindy Erazo was promptly sentenced to 30 years in prison, in that special hell Ilopango Women’s Prison. Later, her sentence was reduced to 10 years, for aggravated assault. After six years, this week, Cindy Erazo won `conditional’ freedom. In so doing, she joins women such as Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz, released in 2019, and Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín and Teodora Vasquez, both released in 2018. Since her release, Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz has been informed that the State seeks to charge her yet again. Freedom for women, and not only is El Salvador, is `conditional’ to the extreme.

Starting in 1998, El Salvador banned all abortions. Previously, abortion had been illegal but generally not prosecuted.  El Salvador is one of six countries to ban all abortions. El Salvador opened hunting season on pregnant women; any woman who suffered a miscarriage was suspected of both having had an abortion and of having committed murder. Between 2000 and 2014, over 250 women were reported to the police. 147 women were prosecuted.  49 women were convicted – 26 for murder and 23 for abortion. Salvadoran women’s groups, such as the Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic and Ethical Abortion and Abortion for Reasons of Fetal Anomaly and the Feminist Collective, have waged a mighty campaign. Cindy Erazo’s release is in large part due to their persistent organizing.

Cindy Erazo leaves behind at least 18 women, caught in the overcrowded, toxic conditions of Ilopango Women’s Prison, none of whom have done anything wrong or illegal other than being women. Cindy Erazo was given `conditional’ freedom. When will she be free, and who will pay for the years of captivity? When and where does the witch hunt end? Where is the global outrage at the torture being visited upon women, especially young women, in El Salvador and beyond? 

(Photo Credit: BBC / Centro de derechos reproductivos)

Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín leaves El Salvador’s hell for women, Ilopango Women’s Prison

Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín and her father embrace

Around the world this week, the news reported that Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín was finally free … or at least out of prison. Headlines read “Salvadoran woman jailed for stillbirth set free after 14 years”; “El Salvador woman freed after 15 years in jail for abortion”; “Salvadoran Woman, One of ‘Las 17,’ Freed After Spending 15 Years Behind Bars Following a Miscarriage”. Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín is 34 years old. In 2003, Marroquín became pregnant and suffered a late-term miscarriage. She was arrested and convicted of aggravated homicide and sent to Ilopango Women’s Prison. Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín has spent more than half her life in Ilopango. This week, her sentence was commuted, though not overturned, and she walked out and greeted her family, friends and supporters. Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín was greeted by Teodora Vasquez. In February, Teodora Vasquez was released, after ten years in Ilopango Women’s Prison. Teodora Vasquez is 35 years old. In El Salvador, the intersection of women’s rights, women’s autonomy, and the State is marked by el Centro de Readaptación para Mujeres de Ilopango, the Ilopango Center for Women’s Readaptation. Call it the Ilopango Women’s Prison, El Salvador’s special hell for women.

Starting in 1998, El Salvador banned all abortions. Previously, abortion had been illegal but generally not prosecuted.  El Salvador is one of six countries to ban all abortions. El Salvador opened hunting season on pregnant women; any woman who suffered a miscarriage was suspected of both having had an abortion and of having committed murder. Between 2000 and 2014, over 250 women were reported to the police. 147 women were prosecuted.  49 women were convicted – 26 for murder and 23 for abortion. Salvadoran women’s groups, such as the Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic and Ethical Abortion and Abortion for Reasons of Fetal Anomaly and the Feminist Collective, have waged a mighty campaign, and the release of Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín and Teodora Vasquez owes much to their persistent organizing.

Meanwhile, the absolute and total ban of abortions is predictably only partial: “The majority of the cases were referred to the police from hospitals—specifically, from public hospitals. Indeed, not a single hospital report to police came from the country’s private practice doctors or private hospitals.” The “totality” of the ban applies only to those women dependent on the public health system.

This is Ilopango Women’s Prison three years ago: “Ilopango is squalid and cramped: Overcrowding stands at nearly 1,000 percent, according to some estimates. Women sleep some 40 to a cell; one prison guard told me that over 100 children under five live there with their mothers.” In 2015, Ilopango held 2000 women; it was designed for 225 women, maximum. Women slept five to a bed, or on the floor. Water was scarce, and medical care even scarcer. Prisoners relied on their mostly impoverished families for pretty much everything. Since then, the situation has only worsened. Everyone “operates between resignation and despair.”

This week, Teodora Vasquez and Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín embraced and celebrated freedom. They also decried the 24 women convicted of homicide abortion who remain in Ilopango and promised to “continue supporting those women trapped inside who are paying for a crime we never committed.” For the women who suffered miscarriages, the viciousness of the State is a crime. For the women, all the women, who ended up in Ilopango, the sentence of death-in-life is the crime, not abortion, not miscarriage, not this or that act, not being a woman. Ilopango is the crime.

Ilopango Women’s Prison

 

(Photo Credit 1: Univision / Reuters / Jose Cabezas) (Photo Credit 2: New York Times / Meridith Kohut)