Mother of Venezuelan killed abroad demands justice
More from the series
Venezuela’s deadly migration
More than 40 young women who fled economic turmoil in Venezuela hoping to improve their lives elsewhere in Latin America have wound up dead over the past 18 months.
Women are fleeing Venezuela for a better life. They’re turning up dead.
They left Venezuela with dreams. They were met with forced prostitution — and their deaths
They want justice after their daughters were killed abroad. But it’s like the murders never happened
More than 40 women who fled Venezuela wound up dead. Here are some of their stories.
Every week, Mireya Finol visits the cemetery in Venezuela where her daughter Kenny is buried, trying to fill the vacuum left by her brutal slaying in Mexico. She desperately wants justice — jail time for the killer who took away her happiness and her desire to live.
Sitting on a wooden chair in her modest home in Maracaibo, in northwestern Venezuela, the 64-year-old mother said that one year after the murder, Mexican authorities have yet to give her any information about the investigation on the crime.
“I received no official response from the state of Mexico. Nothing. I know nothing. They haven’t given me any answers,” Finol told el Nuevo Herald.
The body of her youngest daughter, Kenny Finol, 26, was found Feb. 25 in Ecatepec, near Mexico City. A plastic bag covered her head and she had been savagely beaten, tortured and raped. Her face was disfigured with acid. The cause of death listed on official documents was suffocation.
“She went to work in Mexico to help me, because I have a heart disease. She was a normal girl. She was studying. But because of the situation we’re living (in Venezuela), she was forced to leave,” she said between sobs. “Every week, she sent me money.”
Kenny Finol, who worked as an escort in Mexico, is one of at least 41 Venezuelan women murdered in Latin America between February 2017 and November of this year, according to news media reports around the region.
Many of those cases have yet to be solved, causing angst among relatives seeking closure. Experts say impunity is all too common in Mexico.
“If only eight out of 110 crimes in Venezuela are punished, the really bad news is that in Mexico the level of impunity is 98 percent. So it’s not very encouraging,” attorney and criminologist Fermín Mármol García said in a telephone interview from Caracas.
Kenny’s mother said she’s seen Mexican news reports identifying a man nicknamed “El Pozole” as her daughter’s violent boyfriend and alleged killer.
“She lived with threats, and I listened to a lot about that. She told me, ‘Mom, I am very scared. He’s going to kill me,’’’ said the mother, her voice breaking and tears rolling down her face.
The green-eyed blonde recorded videos in which she showed the bruises from the brutal beatings she suffered.
Her brother, Terlis Alfonso Alvarado Finol, identified “El Pozoles” as Bryan Mauricio González, who has been labeled in press reports as a member of a drug and extortion cartel.
“We have not seen the Mexican authorities do anything about this case, even though they have his photo, which I sent to them,” the brother said.
“Bryan Mauricio González is Mexican, and we know that because of the young woman who was with my sister the day of the murder. She was allowed to leave, came to Venezuela and told us that it was him [who committed the act] with a group of seven men. She saw his face,” he added.
Kenny Finol was killed after attending an electronic music concert. She had planned to return to Venezuela two days later.
“For me, happiness and the will to live are finished,” said the mother, who now goes to church every day to pray for her daughter’s soul. “What I want is justice … so that the death of my daughter does not go unpunished.”
Some cases disappear
One relative of Andreína Elizabeth Escalona lives with the ghosts left by the slaying of the 27-year-old Venezuelan woman, who was shot multiple times last Christmas Eve in Monterrey, in northeastern Mexico. The relative, who asked to remain anonymous because of fears of reprisals, claims to suffer from nightmares and tries to speak as little as possible about the case.
“This is a complicated issue for me. I am not well. I have nightmares … All of us felt bad. It’s something that is hard to accept, no matter how hard you try to understand it,” the relative told el Nuevo Herald. “If you don’t see it, if it doesn’t happen in front of you, you might wait for her to call you and tell you it’s a lie.”
The relative added that even though one of Escalona’s brothers was in contact with Mexican prosecutors in charge of the case, the family should keep a low profile because involvement in the case would be “dangerous.”
Escalona was in a car with her boyfriend when she was shot several times in the head. The boyfriend, Rodrigo Ovidio Salas, was also shot but survived. The young woman, born in the state of Barinas in southwestern Venezuela, was a model and worked in Mexico as an escort, like Kenny Finol.
Mexican news media reported that the attack was sparked by an argument Escalona’s boyfriend had with customers at a discotheque where she worked. Other reports allege she was executed on orders of a former boyfriend with alleged ties to organized crime.
Unlike other Venezuelan women murdered abroad, Escalona’s remains were returned to Venezuela because the Nicolás Maduro regime handled the costly and complicated arrangements. One of her brothers serves in the country’s armed forces.
There’s little public information about her case and officials in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, where she was killed, told el Nuevo Herald that her case did not appear in their legal records.
“It does not show up under the date or the name. Sometimes they are entered as ‘no name’ and they don’t turn up,” Claudia Padilla, a staffer in the prosecutor’s office, said in a telephone interview.
It’s like the murder never happened, even though Mexican authorities seized “everything of value” that Escalona owned as evidence, including her cell phone, according to the relative.
The relative tried to find a lawyer to push for an investigation, but had no money to cover the cost.
“The lawyer told me that unless I pumped some money into that process, I would get nowhere,” the relative said. “These kinds of crimes should not go unpunished. The worst part of it is that the relatives are intimidated, they make us see that we can do nothing.”
Rosamar López and her boyfriend, Julio García, were shot to death on March 29 on a road near the Las Uvas region of Panama. Her relatives in Venezuela don’t know whether the case is still under investigation because Panama officials have stopped contacting them.
Prosecutors in Panama initially kept in touch with one of López’s brothers who lives there, but weeks later silence shrouded the case.
The prosecutors “communicated with us at the beginning of the case, but never again after that,” one relative, who asked to remain anonymous because of fears of reprisals, told el Nuevo Herald.
López left the town of San Felipe, in the north central Venezuelan state of Yaracuy, with a girlfriend in mid-2015. They settled in Panama City and she started working in a restaurant.
“She left because of the country’s situation. Everything was starting to get ugly when she decided to leave,” said the relative.
Despite the crisis, López planned to return to live in Venezuela with her boyfriend, who was born in Mexico and is citizen of Panama. The couple had even bought a house in the oil-producing country.
Death put an end to their plans.
The relative said that initial evidence gathered by Panamanian authorities showed a third person in the car shot the boyfriend first, then shot López in the head when she tried to escape.
“I think he could have been some friend of the boyfriend, some business partner, I don’t know,” said the relative.
The relatives have not been given information on the results of the investigation, so they have pinned their hopes for action on a higher power.
“The divine justice of God will be the judge of that case,” said the relative.
An official in the homicide section of prosecutor’s office in Panama said no information on the case could be released because the murders remain under investigation.
Meanwhile in Mexico, at least one case involving the slayings of Venezuelan emigrants has resulted in an arrest.
The alleged killer of Graciela Cifuentes and her daughter Sol is in jail. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 120 years in prison.
Sol’s former boyfriend, identified only as “Alan N,” is accused of stabbing the women and burning their bodies in their home, apparently because Sol wanted to break off the relationship, according to investigators.
Graciela Cifuentes, a native of Caracas, had moved several years ago to Mexico City, where she lived with her 22-year-old daughter and taught photography at the National Autonomous University (UNAM).
“It broke my heart. Such a cowardly, terrible and appalling act. It’s something I cannot imagine,” Graciela’s sister, Cleila Cifuentes, told el Nuevo Herald, adding that she had to see a psychologist after the murders.
Between sobs and impunity
Many families have had to deal with the death of relatives in a foreign country, and the knowledge that their demands for justice are unlikely to be satisfied.
Lacking the money to hire a lawyer or to travel to the place where the crime occurred, or even to make long-distance phone calls to prosecutors and other investigators, are just some of the obstacles they face.
Attorney Mármol García said the situation is worse when the case involves human trafficking, because the victims stop “having rights” and are turned into mere “merchandise”.
“When merchandise is damaged, it’s thrown away. That’s why we see truly atrocious, abominable crimes. For those criminals, what they are getting rid of is merchandise,” Mármol García he said.
He added that human traffickers closely study the people they want to recruit.
“That’s why we see victims whose families cannot pay for the airplane ticket to go where the crime took place, or pay for lawyers to push for results. Sometimes they can’t even afford to bring the bodies home,” he said.
Mármol García said Venezuelan diplomats abroad should demand the crimes be solved, contact the families of the victims and help to bring the bodies home.
El Nuevo Herald was unsuccessful in various attempts to contact Mexican authorities and Venezuelan diplomats for comment about the cases. A formal request to Mexico City prosecutors, filed under the General Law for Transparency and Access to Public Information, did not get a response.
An appeal for review was submitted and the judicial body responded that the deaths of Génesis Uliannis Gibson Jaimes, 24, and Wendy Vaneska de Lima, 26, — both of whom were killed at different hotels in Mexico City — were “classified” information and if made public could “risk the progress of an investigation underway.”
The response added that there would be no comment on the cases of Andreína Elizabeth Escalona and Kenny Finol because their deaths occurred outside of Mexico City. They were killed in Monterrey and Ecatepec, respectively.
Mexican journalist Claudia Ocaranza contributed to this report.