Latin America & Caribbean

Lucia Perez murder: Mother's plea to end Argentina gender violence

Lucia with her brother Matias Image copyright Matias Perez
Image caption Lucia and her brother Matias were very close, their mother Marta Montero told the BBC

In the dining room of a house in Mar del Plata, Argentina, there is a photograph of a smiling two-year-old girl. Her hair is long and she is playing with a dog.

Marta Montero glances at it. And that everyday act of glancing at something that crosses her field of vision sparks a memory that she cannot let slip away, even if she wanted to.

"Ever since she was little, she liked animals. She wanted to be a vet," Marta tells the BBC about her daughter, Lucia Perez.

Marta has gone from having a "happy" and "beautiful" 16-year-old daughter to being the mother of a girl whose horrific rape and murder moved and mobilised an entire region.

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Last week, Lucia was drugged, repeatedly raped and killed. Two men who left her at a hospital, freshly washed and dressed, tried to pass her state off as being the result of a drugs overdose. But doctors found evidence she had been subjected to extreme sexual violence.

It was the straw that broke the camel's back in Latin American women's struggle against gender-based violence.

On Wednesday, women from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Mexico, Guatemala and various other countries in the region took to the streets to condemn gender-based violence and shout to the world: "Ni una menos", Spanish for "not one woman less".

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The biggest protests were in Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, with marchers chanting the slogan "Ni Una Menos" (Not One Woman Less).

And leading the march in Mar del Plara was Marta herself.

"My son and my nephews have shown me (photographs of the international marches). The whole world showed us solidarity. I saw it and I appreciate what they did for Lucia so much," Marta said.

But for all those thousands demonstrating, and the dozens of journalists calling her, and the many friends taking turns to be with her, nothing can change the fact that Marta's daughter is no longer here.

Her companion and friend, the girl who talked with her every day over bitter mate (typical Argentine tea), who rubbed her feet when she was tired - Lucia is one more in a long list of femicides that have put Argentina and the region in mourning.

"Things like this have happened to many Mar del Plata families and they haven't even been listened to," Marta tells the BBC by telephone.

"We have got used to living like this. It can't go on. The world has got to know," she says.

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Lucia Perez was 16 years old and a high school student when she suffered the rape that killed her

And she points out that, while the world echoed to chants against femicide and rape, another teenager became a victim in Mar del Plata.

On Wednesday, three men attacked and raped a 19-year-old.

"Terrible things are happening. Terrible," Marta says.

"What happened to my daughter was horrific and it needs to be the pivot that change turns upon.

"We cannot continue like this."

As Marta's son, Matias, denounced in an open letter, the family have received death threats. And although she cannot say where those threats come from for legal reasons, Marta says she is not afraid.

"[Drug trafficking] has invaded our children, they have invaded their minds, sickened their minds," she said. "We can't have this anymore. I'm not afraid of anything or anyone, but the world has to know what is happening in Argentina.

"My husband and I always looked after our daughter, our two children. My husband would take them to school and then they would come home for lunch on their own. If I can't leave a girl of 16 years old to come home on her own, what are we talking about?"

Image copyright Facebook Lucía Pérez
Image caption Lucia with her dog, Gema

The girl's father, Guillermo, is a sheet metal worker and her mother is a nurse. Lucia, the youngest sibling, liked to draw and had won a school scholarship for it. Her room is full of her drawings of animals, faces and eyes.

Matias, her only brother, studies law at university in Mar del Plata. Lucia was close to him, his close companion, his mother says, and he is devastated.

"Her brother is missing a limb..." Marta begins and then breaks down, in one of the few moments in the interview when she leaves a sentence unfinished.

Matias used to take her to school in the mornings and he was her confidante. "She would tell me nearly all her secrets," Matias tells the BBC.

Now, when he gets up, he still looks for her. At night when the family is ready to eat, he waits for her.

He is not the only one.

Gema also wanders around the house too, looking for Lucia. Gema is a German shepherd that Lucia's godfather gave her as a present a year ago. The two became inseparable.

"That dog misses her like crazy, she keeps looking for her," Marta says.

On one of the many times Marta visited her daughter's room over the past week, she saw Gema asleep under the bed.

It was the last time. Since then the dog has not wanted to enter the room.

"Now she sleeps in our room," the mother says.

In that same room, on Guillermo's bedside table, another photograph crosses Marta's line of vision. It is of a "sweet" baby, "completely surrounded by pink". It is one of the first photographs of Lucia, taken when she was less than one month old.

Translation by Nalina Eggert

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