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Latin America

'My daughter did not commit suicide. Here's how I proved that her husband killed her.'

When her daughter died in 2010, Irinea Buendía Cortez was not familiar with the word femicide. But she knew her daughter had not committed suicide. Cortez fought to bring the case to the Supreme Court, where her daughter’s husband was ultimately declared responsible for murder.
7 Mar 2017 – 05:32 PM EST
Irinea Buendía Crédito: Adriana Zehbrauskas

Mexico City - I am Irinea Buendía Cortez, mother of Mariana Lima, a young woman who was murdered on June 28, 2010, at the age of 29 by her husband Julio César Hernández Ballinas, a police officer from the State of Mexico. My daughter's is the first femicide case the Supreme Court heard and ruled on. But at that time I did not know what it was to demand justice for a murdered daughter; I did not even know what femicides were.

Mariana was the third of five children. She always liked going to dances and had many friends. At the end of high school, she also began to have boyfriends. We allowed it because it was a way of building relationships. Her goal was to become a lawyer because she realized that there was no justice for the poor. She vowed to help people who did not have enough money to pay a lawyer.

In 2006, she moved to Chimalhuacán, where she met Julio César Hernández Ballinas. Although it was a destructive relationship from the beginning, we never could have imagined what might happen. Two years later, Julio Caesar came to my house and told me he wanted to marry Marianita. I did not really approve because the previous two years showed he was not to be trusted.

But they set a date for the wedding and Julio César told my daughter that if she wanted to marry him she had to prepare the food for all the guests. He seemed very unreasonable because he demanded a lot while giving nothing in return. A marriage should be a commitment on both sides – not just from the bride.

We always disagreed about the police because, in the State of Mexico, instead of protecting the community, the police seem to treat the people as the enemy.

One day, when my daughter took him out to eat, Julio Caesar called me and said, "You know what lady? I’ve got Mariana and I have her handcuffed here and I’m going to commit her to a madhouse so that you'll never see her again." I was really angry but my daughter asked what he had said, took the phone and wanted to know what was going on. I didn’t say anything.

Three weeks after my daughter married, she received her first beating. I remember that I asked her to file a complaint but she told me: "No, Mom, he told me that if I file a complaint they will not listen to me because he's a cop and if I insist he'll kill me he's going to drown me."

Marianita later told me he asked her to forgive him and she had decided to give their marriage another chance. I warned that a man who hits once never stops with the beatings. And that is how it turned out. He always abused her verbally and psychologically. He told her she ate like a pig and was no good at anything, including in bed. My daughter suffered every indignity. I could only imagine how she lived on her own with him. It was a living nightmare.

The whole ordeal full of violence lasted 540 days. At first she loved him. But that soon changed so that the only feeling she had for him was fear. She always felt she was being watched, monitored. She always worried that one day he would just turn up and kill her. And that is what he did.

"Mariana hanged herself"

On July 28, 2010, my daughter came home sad, angry and happy. Sad that she could not make her relationship work, angry over all the things he had called her for so long and happy because she had finally dared to defy him.

She told me she planned to resume school, that he would do her thesis and that she would get a job. She was making a life plan that no longer included Julio Caesar. At 12:30 pm, my daughter left the house happy. That was the last time I saw her alive.

The next day, in the morning, the telephone rang. It was Julio César. He said: "Mariana hanged herself."

When we arrived at Mariana's house no one was there; my daughter's body was in one of the rooms. I never saw her hanging, she was lying on the bed. Her body was completely beaten. I started looking for where she had hung herself and saw nothing. I only saw a couple of scratches on her neck.

I do not remember crying. I felt a lot of pain, but I also had courage and said: 'This son of a bitch dared to murder my daughter.' What I saw in that body, in Marianita’s face, was all that she had suffered just a few hours before. I could see the sadness in her heart because my daughter knew he was going to murder her.

Being a police officer, Julio César could have called the police to seal off the place. He could have called the public investigators. But he didn’t. He just left my daughter's body there. He said that Mariana hung herself with a ring used to hang up the curtains, with a cord about 20 inches long and two inches in diameter. But he said he had lost the cord and any other evidence.

The authorities did not cordon off the place at the time. They did not collect any evidence. And although they knew there were different channels available to carry out an investigation, they did not even consider opening one.

The long battle for justice

I believe that there is an unwritten code between public officials: ‘I am guilty now but protect me and, later on, if one of you commits a crime, I will do the same for you.’ They always protected him. Suicide was the only line of inquiry and things never moved beyond that.

From the beginning, I accused Julio César of murdering my daughter and I accused him of subjecting her to a life of violence. But they did not want to take notes on anything I said.

It took until November, four months after Mariana's death, for me to be able to see the file. That was when I realized how they had done absolutely nothing, when I realized how impunity operates. In December, they began to look at the case again and summoned Julio César to indict him. But a year later they decided not to accuse him of a crime. Julio César was free.

Cargando galería

I decided to go to the National Citizen Observatory of Femicide and Catholics for the Right to Decide, the only organizations that believed what I was saying. We launched our fight. I knew that the authorities had taken advantage of my lack of legal knowledge so I began to read up. I bought crime books and law books. I knew I had to raise my voice if I wanted to be heard.

We took the case to three instances of appeal in the State of Mexico and in 2012 we reached the Supreme Court. Three years later, on March 25, 2015, we recorded a historic achievement when the Supreme Court decided in our favor.

In its ruling, the court acknowledged that there were omissions in the investigation and a total obstruction of justice. The court called for the investigation to start from scratch and ordered the creation of a special group that would take into account the woman’s perspective. That group did what should have been done from the beginning and determined that Julio César was responsible for the murder of Mariana Lima. At last, they recognized that my daughter did not die by hanging, but was strangled to death.

I had always said that. But they did not believe me because I was 'Mrs. Nobody.’ It was an achievement, a landmark case because it became emblematic, a watershed in the fight against violence against women.

The case exposed all of the elements of impunity, of the whole scheme used by the authorities to avoid executing justice. That is why the Supreme Court decided to take the case.

I know that nobody is going to give me my daughter back. But there will be justice because Marianita continues to cry out and not only her but all the women killed. The only mistake my daughter made was to fall in love with a murderer.

Now we have an association of mothers of victims pushing their cases.

I do not consider myself an icon. I consider myself simply a mother seeking justice. And I think there must be a cultural change. The patriarchal system has kept women down, and that has to be defeated. We have to take away the power that men feel they have over women.

For any woman reading my story, I would tell you: Fight. Do not keep quiet. We need to make noise, we need your voice, we need your presence. Don’t give up.

Interviews and editing by Janet Cacelín in Mexico.