Social organizations in Guatemala and dozens of artists from six different countries joined forces to launch a campaign Monday to commemorate the victims of a recent fire at a youth shelter while raising awareness about the crisis of femicide in the Central American country.
The campaign, titled Nos Duelen 56 — which roughly translates to "We're hurting for the 56" — comes as a stand against impunity in the case of a deadly fire that broke out on March 8 at a government-run home for abused teens about 15 miles southwest of Guatemala City. A group of 56 girls had been locked up in a room after dozens of residents had attempted to escape from the overcrowded home amid a strike over mistreatment, and despite calls for help, authorities did not open the door as flames engulfed the shelter.
Unable to flee from the blaze, 41 of the girls burned to death and 15 more were seriously injured, sparking national and international outcry and series of protests to call attention to the crisis of government negligence and demand that staff at the Virgen de la Asuncion shelter and state authorities be held accountable for the fatal fire.
Now, still clamoring for meaningful justice over two months after the tragedy, relatives of the victims together with activists kicked off a campaign to publish the artistic interpretations of the girls' portraits in 50 national and international media outlets and with 15 other organizations.
A total of 58 artists from Argentina, France, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico and Spain painted the faces of the girls with different styles and colors in honor of the victims and their families. The organizers have called for broad support of the campaign on social media using the hashtag #NosDuelen56.
"It's a cry for justice from art, journalism, media activism and feminisms," announced a statement unveiling the campaign. "It is an exercise of collective memory and dignity of the 56 girls of Guatemala. It is a contribution against impunity and forgetting."
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales acknowledged the responsibility of the state in the tragic fire, and Guatemala's top prosecutor charged three former officials with wrongful death, breach of duties and mistreatment of minors. Relatives of the victims and outraged Guatemalans have demanded Morales’ resignation after the deaths, dubbing the incident a case of state-sponsored femicide.
Officials say the fire at the shelter was started by a group of young people at the center as an act of public mutiny and an attempt to escape. Local media said more than 800 children lived there, despite its capacity to hold only 500.
Since 2015, human rights organizations in Guatemala have raised alarm over alleged abuses at the shelter, including sexual, physical and psychological abuse, and even human trafficking and prostitution inside this shelter.
According to the campaign, little is known about the 15 survivors of the blaze, some of whom were taken to the United States for medical treatment.
"Unfortunately, in this country, little by little this terrible event has started to be forgotten," warned the campaign statement, highlighting the death of 41 girls and serious injury of 15 more one of the "most atrocious massacres" in Guatemala's history.