On April 15, 1984, Rodi Alvarado, a 16-year-old Guatemalan girl, married Francisco Osorio, a soldier five years her senior. They had known each other only a short time, but societal pressures–the average marriage age in her province was 15–encouraged the union. Soon after the wedding Osorio moved Alvarado from her small town to Guatemala City, the capital, where he continued his often brutal army work.
“The military in Guatemala has tremendous authority,” Alvarado declared in her February 7, 1996, application for political asylum in the United States. “Soldiers have the authority to kill people, on the spot, if they commit a wrong–or even if they do not.” In her asylum application and in a recent interview, she detailed the harrowing story that follows.
Often drunk after work, Alvarado’s husband would brag to her about the many heinous acts he’d participated in. He would describe how he and his colleagues had tossed babies in the air and shot at them, how they had burned down houses with the inhabitants inside. Then he would beat her.
He would beat her mercilessly, sometimes until she was unconscious, all the while telling her that he was only treating her the same way he was treated by the military. “What they demand of me, I demand of you,” he’d say. “Nothing scares me, because of what they’ve done to me in the army.”
Alvarado endured constant verbal and physical abuse through two pregnancies and the births of her children. Her husband kicked her in the spine and tried to force her to abort. After their births he continued to beat her openly, in the house, on the street, on the bus, at the local drinking hole. He once hit her face so hard that he dislocated her jaw. A punch in the eye made her fear she might lose her sight. At times he would drag her down the street by her hair and strike her head against a car, a window or whatever was nearby. He would pistol-whip her and kick her with his boots, but since he was a soldier and carried a gun, no one could intervene, not even her own frightened family members.
The beatings soon escalated into daily episodes of rape. The rapes, both vaginal and anal, resulted in constant abdominal pain, hemorrhaging and venereal diseases.
In December 1994, ten years after she’d married Osorio, Alvarado finally tried to escape by moving to another part of town with her young children. Her husband found her, threatened her, beat her and then left. Two months later he begged her to return home, telling her he had changed. She went back with him, she says, “for the children’s sake.”
The thrashings soon started again, this time with electrical cords, machetes and knives. He would throw knives at her hands and would cut her if she didn’t move fast enough. One night he struck her on her arm with a machete and threatened to chop off her limbs if she tried to escape again.
Thinking it was her only way out, Alvarado attempted suicide by taking a handful of pills. The pills only made her sluggish, however, and she later had to flush them out of her system with water. When Osorio found out, he scoffed and told her she could die if she wanted to, but was not going to leave him any other way.
Since her husband was in the military, seeking help from Guatemalan authorities was risky, Alvarado stresses in a soft, tearful voice. Still, she filed several complaints with the police, who sent her home, saying they couldn’t interfere in family matters. With no shelters or resources for victims of domestic violence available, Alvarado felt she had only two choices left: “flee or die.”