It was Linda Loaiza’s dream to study veterinary medicine when she arrived in Caracas at 18. Those plans were shattered when she was abducted, repeatedly raped and tortured for four months.
By the time she managed to escape, her ears had been destroyed, her jaw dislocated and one of her nipples had been cut off. Her malnourished body was covered in scars from cigarette burns. She had a ruptured spleen and could no longer bear children.
In the 14 years since, Loaiza has undergone more than a dozen surgeries to try to repair the physical damage she suffered at the hands of her abductor and she continues to receive psychological support.
Now she is trying to address the injustice she feels she suffered at the hands of the Venezuelan court system.
“My abductor caused me a lot of damage, but the Venezuelan justice system did as well,” says Loaiza, now 32.
In 2004, after years of investigations and court dates, her abductor, Luis Carrera Almoina — the son of a powerful political figure — was acquitted of all charges for lack of evidence. The statute of limitations was almost reached because of multiple pretrial delays.
The ruling was overturned and Carrera Almoina was eventually convicted for “grievous bodily injuries and the illegal deprivation of liberty,” but not on the rape and attempted murder charges. After serving six years in jail, he is now free.
However, Loaiza is not free of her torment.
“There were a series of abuses and irregularities, omissions and delays that affected the investigation and trial process,” she said, with a lawyer’s detachment.
After her abduction, she decided to study law and now specialists in international human rights law.
Her studies gave her the courage and strength to challenge the Venezuelan state before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which began hearing arguments on the case on Tuesday.
Loaiza’s lawyers argue that the criminal investigation and subsequent trials were deeply flawed. Lawyer Juan Bernardo Delgado, who is arguing the case before the commission, said that 59 judges declined to hear the case.
“The accused was the son of a person with a lot of power in Venezuela and nobody wanted to hear the case,” he said.
He says the state failed Loaiza repeatedly. For example, Loaiza’s sister had reported that she was missing during the abduction, but there was no investigation. The lack of due diligence in investigating and punishing Carrera Almoina constituted a form of discrimination, Delgado said.
In 2013, Venezuela withdrew from the Inter-American Human Rights system, which includes the commission and the Inter-American Human Rights Court.
However, the nation is still subject to the jurisdiction of these bodies because the complaint was filed before that date.
A ruling in Loaiza’s favor would represent a great moral victory, but would also mean that the case would pass to the Inter-American Human Rights Court.
This court could then impose a financial award, and might require Venezuela to change its policies on gender-based violence, or to ensure adequate funding for its existing programs.
In documents filed before the commission, the government said that it was not responsible for the abuses Loaiza suffered at the hands of her attacker.
The documents said that delays in the case were also caused by the victim, who could not attend hearings because she was hospitalized.
The government paperwork also points out that, in 2007, legislators passed the Act on Women’s Right to a Life Free from Violence, which created specialized police units, prosecutors and courts dedicated to cases of gender violence and women’s shelters.
“Venezuela is at the forefront of normative instruments in defense of the women,” Venezuelan Minister for Women Andreina Tarazon said at an event last year, adding that the law lists 19 types of violence against women as crimes and recent reform added the crimes of femicide and incitement to suicide.
However, women’s rights activist Ofelia Alvarez says the law has not been implemented fully. At the end of last year, for example, only six shelters were up and running in the nation.
“It does little good to write up a magnificent law and then not appropriate the money to fund all the institutions it creates,” Alvarez said.
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