Character of the year 2021 | Rosa Franco: the painful moments that this Guatemalan woman lived until she achieved justice for the murder of her daughter 20 years ago

Life stopped being the same for Rosa Elvira Franco Sandoval exactly twenty years ago. A fatal blow struck her when her 15-year-old daughter María Isabel was kidnapped, raped and murdered by Gustavo Adolfo Bolaños Acevedo, who was 39 years old by then.

After two decades, justice came to resolve the question that haunted Rosa for a long time: Who and how had taken her daughter from her? The resolution was issued with a 30-year prison sentence for Bolaños Acevedo on March 1, 2021.

On December 17, 2001, a day after María Isabel Véliz Franco disappeared, her mother looked for her in different places, but could not find her. Desperate, she went to the headquarters of the National Civil Police where she filed a complaint, but it was not received.

Although officials told her she had to wait three days, the mother returned three times to ask for help. Instead, several policemen alluded that María Isabel was “just anybody” and that for that reason she had not appeared. At the fourth time to insist, Rosa’s complaint was received.

But the answer that Franco expected came on December 18, 2001, when the news revealed the body of a woman who had been found in a vacant lot in Mixco’s zone 8. It was María Isabel and her body was taken to a morgue of the Judicial Branch with identification XX.

Police officials had not contacted Rosa. It was she who came to identify her daughter. After the last goodbye, Franco did not sit idly by and began looking for a way to clear up death. Despite the impetus and sadness, the mother received only empty answers and the case jumped between several courts without a resolution.

María Isabel Véliz was disappeared at the age of 15 in 2001. (Free Press Photo: Hemeroteca)

This is how he sought help in various instances and organizations over the years to find justice. In 2014, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered investigations to be resumed.

As Rosa’s efforts and insistence progressed, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Police, and the Attorney General’s Office launched the Isabel-Claudina Alert in 2018 to expedite the search for missing women.

In February 2021, still without clarity, but with the suspicions that pointed to Gustavo Adolfo Bolaños Acevedo as the person responsible for the death of María Isabel, he initiated a trial to clarify the situation. A month later, Court A Higher Risk resolved the case by issuing the sentence against the then suspect.

Rosa Franco’s walk full of resilience, patience and effort has caused Prensa Libre to be named the person of the year in 2021.

Unwavering labor

Luis Fernández Molina, former magistrate of the Supreme Court of Justice, emphasizes that the problem of the criminal justice system in Guatemala is that “it does not pay attention to this type of public criminal action and consequently there are cases abandoned.” He adds that if it were not for the persistence of certain people – such as Rosa Franco – the cases would be abandoned.

“A sentence will never be favorable to death, but it will be satisfactory for the families of the victims. In this case, the alert (Isabel-Claudina) can be seen as a quixotic achievement for Rosa ”, she expresses.

The lawyer and writer Carol Zardetto, who has addressed issues of gender violence, points out that in a country like Guatemala, “this type of crime is hampered by the macho culture that protects the perpetrators and not the victims. (…) What this case results is the shameful discrimination and contempt towards 50 percent of the population ”, he says.

You can also read: Alert Isabel Claudina reveals the drama of women fleeing violence

Regarding the recognition given by Prensa Libre to Rosa Franco, the lawyer maintains that “her effort is heroic, since dedicating 20 years to obtaining justice deserves to be described as such.”

The precedents of Franco Sandoval’s actions during the last two decades have allowed other bodies to emerge, such as the National Institute of Forensic Sciences of Guatemala (Inacif).

Fanuel García, general director of the institution, explains that the case of María Isabel Véliz Franco had a direct impact on the approval of the law that created Inacif in 2006. “Mrs. Rosa’s persistence in demanding justice has led to advances in the matter prevention, immediate search, investigation and punishment, ”says García.

On the other hand, the social psychologist and professor at the University of San Carlos, Mariano González, expresses that situations such as the opinion of the court in Rosa’s case could give a feeling of justice and relief, even long after what happened. “There could be sensations of pain and absence for time without people but it also helps to close cycles that undoubtedly arise with these open wounds”, shares the mental health specialist.

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