Back in February I found myself in front of a judge appealing against what was in effect a restraining order secured by the defensora on behalf of her client, the spouse and accomplice of the Australian citizen — himself a small-time comerciante in La Antigua — who had long been targeting my wife, Verónica's tocaya, with a campaign of sexually-aggravated aggression.
This had resulted in actual psychological harm, as documented by INACIF in August 2019 and had included incidents of sexual exposure accompanied by verbal abuse.
The Magistrada Suplente and her clients had tried, and failed, to stitch me up with the crime of Femicide at the Fiscalía de Mujeres in February this year. I had soon afterwards visited that organisation in La Antigua and found that the fiscal who had received them there broadly shared my conviction that the motivation behind that denuncia was one of obfuscation on behalf of my wife's aggressor, to the level of a carefully-plotted legal vendetta.
Even so, by then they had already secured protection measures on behalf of her client, because — as explained to me by the judge — the same law that had been deemed not relevant to the case, permits any woman in Guatemala to request them if she feels that she needs them, regardless of whether or not they are deemed objectively necessary — and they can be imposed at a hearing about which their proposed object has not been informed, nor indeed invited along to.
And in this case they had been, regardless of the fact that my own wife has long been the victim of well-documented acoso callejero* by this same woman's husband and not been granted similar protections, which has allowed him to carry on as he pleases.
I made quite an impassioned speech in the courtroom that morning in which I suggested to everyone present that the use thus being made of the femicide laws could be considered a GROSS INSULT to every Guatemalan woman who has ever genuinely suffered from masculine abuse and violence...such as Verónica.
The crime they had been trying to pin on me was, coincidentally enough, that of psychological violence, by virtue of the account I had written in this very blog — in my own language and published in my own country — of the protracted abuse that my wife had suffered — and continues to suffer — at the hands of this individual Jason Wade Lever (below) and many of those close to him, including, but not limited to, his spouse and other close family members and employees within his household.
This account accurately replicated testimony that I had already formally provided to the Fiscalía de Mujeres.
Image credit: Carlos de León
Lever's wife had, according to her testimony, suffered her acute psychological ill-effects within hours of reading my truthful descriptions of her husband's deviance and her seemingly limitless spite for his victim. A crisis nerviosa, she informed the judge.
She had spent months mocking this platform via her personal Instagram account during the course of the previous year, and yet had fibbed in her denuncia that she had only just discovered it via a tip-off — when the truth was she had been stalking me and trolling me online in a particularly sick and disturbing manner for months. (And when the judge was apprised of this, his opinion was that this kind of cyber-abuse could indeed constitute a delito.)
To back up this specious and intimidatory complaint against me, Mrs Lever and her lawyer had made use of a bogus (and legally invalid, according to the judge) translation of my writings in her attempt to have me labelled a criminal in Guatemala. Key passages were omitted, while others were mis-translated in a manner that was all too convenient for her.
In the sala that morning in front of the judge, the Magistrada Suplente bizarrely chose to read out this particular post from August 2019 — above all others — as an example of my violent misogyny.
Herewith the court audio – Paniagua reads out her translated version.
Posted by Colectiva Feminista Artesanas
Anyway, have a read. Its subject was plainly men, at least a certain insalubrious sub-set of the not-so-fair sex here in Guatemala. It even occurred to me that it might have slipped her mind that morning who she supposed to be representing, the wife or the husband.
Ask yourself, would the author of the piece deserve a prison sentence here as an abuser of women?
Why should I even have to defend these observations in a Guatemalan court? My freedom of expression is guaranteed by the laws of my own nation. You might not agree with the perspectives, but do I deserve this kind of legal harassment here?
The original intent had rather obviously been satirical, but these days I find La Antigua's 'big fish' far less of a laughing matter. They tend to manifest as a compact clique of largely foreign-born men around town, not all but mostly lifelong mediocrities that wash up here with enough capital to start a business, and are soon acting like a self-imposed, near untouchable elite, when not carrying on like an actual mafia, plugging themselves into the endemic system of impunity, as if by right.
I did not mention any of them by name in that post, but it is rather obvious that I had a perhaps concise multitude in mind. Almost anyone like me, with more than three decades of intermittent life experience in this town, will surely have plenty of examples to draw upon.
The small ponders now appear to possess a superstar wrongdoer in the form of accused rapist Diego Ariel Stella, an Argentinian best known locally as the public face of the Ni-Fu Ni-Fa steakhouses.
The parrillero, said by some to treat women like pieces of meat.
Ever since he was formally accused of a violent rape, it has become clear from emerging testimonies that Stella has perhaps long been exploring his sociopathic and misogynistic urges in a land that offers way too much scope for that sort of thing.
When Verónica Molina went to the police and all the appropriate tests were thereafter conducted by the relevant authorities, the next step was the initial audiencia at the Juzgado, which functions in Guatemala as a way of formally registering the case file and charges.
The Magistrada Suplentes's tactics during this session were sadly all too familiar to us. It would seem that when the evidence lines up against her often noxious male clients is damning — behaviour simply unacceptable in any decent society — she presumes to counter-attack with a string of spurious allegations, in effect distracting attention from the concrete facts of the case in a manner that will subsequently allow her client to play the victim — whilst demeaning the actual victim.
Now, I am not one of those commentators who would deny even the worst offenders their right to a proper legal defence, but there are some manoeuvres that surely ought to be excluded by that qualifier: proper.
For a start, foreign residents and tourists in Guatemala should ideally not be permitted to take cynical advantage of the well-documented weaknesses of the local justice system. This is not just a quibble, it is an important distinction that should be more than obvious to anybody honoured enough to sit on the C.C., even as an understudy.
When my wife sought the support of the Fiscalía de Mujeres in July 2019, she requested certain reassurances of discretion and conduct on their part due to the nature of the abuse she had been submitted to and because she felt physically endangered. Her aggressor had been tracking her around our village.
She understood at the time that she had secured these, and was also given — unsolicited — a promise that if convicted, Lever could be expelled from Guatemala. And she had the supportive conclusions from INACIF.
Yet soon afterwards the Fiscalía started ghosting her and she was later informed curtly and electronically that her case had been shunted down to a lower court — before she had been given any opportunity to review this decision in person (and the case file submitted), as was surely her right as the victim.
Unfortunately, something similar undoubtedly happened to Verónica Molina at the Juzgado last month where her aggressor secured a handy, yet highly improbable judgement from presiding juez Mélida Esmeralda Vásquez de Orellana at the first audiencia, which adjusted the charges faced by Diego Ariel Stella from rape to sexual violence.
My own interpretation of this turn of events is that the downgrade will likely work to the victim's detriment, and not just because the sindicado was set free and the penalties at sentencing would almost certainly be less serious for him.
Sexual violence is typically covered by the Ley de Femicidio, which sits on a different part of the statutes and has been, one has to say, rather crudely fashioned to operate across a somewhat limited set of circumstances — which therefore provides an opportunity for any defence lawyer with circumscribed scruples to throw up technical obstacles (many of which will tend to have been laid down by yes, the Constitutional Court), of the kind that can ultimately undermine the whole prosecution case.
The Ley de Femicidio is to some extent the contrivance of local and foreign NGOs, crafted specifically to protect Guatemalan women from the violence of men who might be said to possess some sort of 'power' over them, domestically or in the workplace. So, one can easily see how its use in the case of a rape involving a pair of acquaintances might lead to diversionary objections geared towards effecting a long delay or indeed collapse in the entire proceso.
An unscrupulous lawyer will find the cracks and squeeze the cases through them.
In the specific case of my wife's denuncia, INACIF determined that she was had been victim of a violent, sexually-aggravated crime. Yet when the Femicide Law was duly applied, it was then commented that the Corte Constitucional has ruled that it cannot protect women from sexual violence committed by a neighbour (?!).
And by way of this dodge my wife's abuser has seen the charges he faces switched from delito to falta, — in effect a far more minor civil offence — deceptively covering up the fact that it had already been determined during the investigation that a crime probably did indeed take place.
My wife and her lawyer have spent many months contesting the consequences of this judgment — with an appeal currently under consideration by the higher court — and it should be noted that it can already be considered up-ended by key legal precedent.
This involves another Guatemalan woman who successfully argued that the violence she suffered was not directed at her by virtue of her status as a neighbour but because of, and very specifically targeting, her gender. Precisely what Lever has done.
And, when not inflicted by states, violence is surely always a crime no matter what prior relationships pertain, nor how much time has elapsed. Just as NO always means NO when the accusation has been rape.
As a background to all this, attempts have been made to bully my wife into dropping her allegations via a series of denuncias presented against her for delitos, actual crimes, which are of course contrived and/or utterly fictitious.
Take, for instance, a denuncia filed last year in September at the Ministerio Público by her aggressor, Jason Lever. In it he accuses her of xenophobic discrimination against him as a foreign resident in Guatemala, thus moving on from the victim-shaming that had hitherto characterised his defence, to an utterly crass attempt to play the victim.
Just where to start with that? Imagine Harvey Weinstein had counter-sued the women he violated for anti-semitism. It is pathetic whilst it is heinous.
And the MP should have put it in the bin, not the case folder.
Lever said he feels 'threatened'. Of course he did, because a year earlier he had been caught on CCTV and in front of witnesses making a death threat against me (below), and has worked tirelessly to make my wife feel utterly unsafe in her own home — and in the streets outside in the community where she grew up — so one of the first things that his defensora apparently does is to try to even things up to the point of reversal between the agraviada/victim and the sindicado/criminal, however farcically.
"So easy to 'clean' you..."
My wife is anyway not some small-minded chapina resenting the presence in her home town of outsiders. She is a talented, cosmopolitan woman who had a successful career in the City of London, working with and making lasting friendships with individuals from all over the world. And, for the record, when our neighbour first exposed himself to her, he was almost certainly not already a resident here, but instead still a tourist.
But the really disturbing thing about this denuncia is the way that it was first fabricated and then utilised.
We discovered it quite by chance during an informal chat with the fiscal-auxiliar at the Ministerio Público. It was secluded within the case file and he was obviously reluctant to show it to my wife. She had never been duly informed of its existence (as is her inviolable right) until that moment, some eight months after it was first concocted.
It was typed on Magistrada Suplente Claudia Paniagua's letterhead, not that of the MP and had not been sealed or signed by any representative of the state. At no point had my wife been asked to attend a citación at the MP along with her accuser as per the legal requirement.
Yet — and this is absolutely crucial — it had by then already been used in a flagrant violation of her fundamental, constitutionally-guaranteed human rights as a citizen of Guatemala. For the fiscal-auxiliar had, previously in 2021, requested that she attend a psychiatric exam in the capital, along with the Levers.
At the time I had asked him whether it was customary in this country for the victims of violent/sexual crimes to be obligated to attend such an examination — to be treated thus on a par with their accused — especially as my wife had already been attended by an INACIF psychoanalyst at the time of the alleged abuse.
He became seriously evasive. He certainly knew of the accusation against her on the file, but was apparently not prepared to share it with her even when challenged about an unidentified case number appearing on informal documentation we had received.
The day before the psych-evaluation Lever all too conveniently presented a positive covid-19 test result which would necessarily prevent him from attending.
He did not however observe any form of obligatory quarantine for the subsequent week or so, and his household staff and other regular visitors continued to come and go. Later, when informed of this, the fiscal-auxiliar merely shrugged. The irresponsibility was mind-blowing.
The MP then contacted my wife to say that it was vital that she should not back out now herself from the trip into Guatemala City. The fiscal-auxiliar had still not informed her that her psychiatric examination would be tied to a denuncia against her, and that as a result she would not be attending in the capacity of victim. She sensed his ruse and declined, as she was entitled to.
How is this anything other than a shameless and illegal attempt to shanghai the victim of gender violence into a process designed to cast doubt on her mental state?
And we can now see that it all formed part of the standard heavy-handed approach to the female victims of gender violence, and that in this the Ministerio Público have been complicit.
Indeed, the fiscal-auxiliar later admitted on the record that when he had visited our home under the understanding that he was investigating the protracted abuses against us he had in fact been there on behalf of the Levers and their all-too-obviously fabricated claims, in effect gaining access to our home using a false pretext.**
And this when the MP have ample examples on file of the campaign against us, including some compelling evidence of a dialogue during which Jason Lever self-incriminated, describing to two known associates — a Dutchman and a compatriot of mine — his plan to criminally conspire against us during the course of 2020.
This was held before he was even aware of my wife's formal complaint against him, back at the start of August, 2019 — and we possess a more complete and fully incriminating record of this conversation.
We were thus left with little alternative but to make a formal protest to our embassy and at the same time, given the violations of her rights, my wife also proposed to place a denuncia relating to the mal manejo of the whole process.
The more senior fiscal at the MP had once, in a call to our lawyer on speaker-phone, indiscreetly referred to the Levers as 'los mios' — my people. His underling had always been careful to judiciously reassure us with all the usual platitudes about his independence as an employee of the state.
I cannot say that any of that has helped to a significant extent, but it does appear to have focused some minds on the relative risks and rewards of proactive impunity.
I have anyway described here what is really just a limited selection of all the delaying tactics and other tricks deployed against us both.
Magistrada Paniagua was expelled from my wife's case as a result of some of these, yet soon afterwards had herself reinstated after an apparently behind-closed-doors intervention with a judge.
I have had plenty of opportunity to observe the basic MO. For instance, the day I was appealing the measures against me, she arrived early, as she habitually does, and communicated with a number of judges and officials already present in the building, perhaps in order to influence their opinions outside of and prior to the formal session. I certainly overheard her making personally defamatory remarks about me and the testimony I have published.
And on multiple occasions over the course of almost two years of extra-judiciary evasions, the expediente/case file has vanished in whole or part from the archive at the Juzgado. Quite the (serial) coincidence.
The very first instance of violent gender abuse that my wife suffered took place in a street some distance from our home. One could hardly say that it occurred in the context of any neighbourly relationship. Lever had already passed once and knew precisely where to find her, so his return and the act itself were deliberate and pre-meditated, not spontaneous. There were multiple friends and family members of ours present and he simply did not care one bit.
This is what makes him potentially pernicious to the entire community here in La Antigua: he has no natural self-restraint and apparently believes himself beyond the reach of the law. And it clearly amuses him.
Lever intimidating my wife
The first attack took place in March 2018 and V is still awaiting justice today. All through this long interval Lever has attempted to deploy nearly every artimaña in the shirker's book to avoid having to sit and listen in a courtroom as a judge examines the evidence against him.
The behaviour of accused men like Jason Wade Lever and Diego Ariel Stella is not commensurate with the dignified defence of an innocent man, though the latter does not at this stage appear to have used his wife and children as human shields, nor indeed have co-opted them as hapless accomplices ***.
María Consuelo Porras, the Guatemalan Attorney General, has been speaking about the duty of her organisation to protect the rights of everyone in a legal process, and this is of course correct.
But above and beyond that, they also have an obligation to protect the process itself from the vicios associated with abject interference.
In our case it is absolutely clear which way both the actos de revancha y odio have been directed.
Verónica Molina Lee appears to have been the victim of a far more ignominious instance of sexual abuse — violent rape, where even the violator has been seen to have admitted that she said no.
Yet it has to be noted that her aggressor has been swimming with the very same sharks that now endemically threaten the application of the law here in Guatemala, and not just for women.
Our own experience is that the injury done by the original criminal acts and the underlying conspiracy to commit them, has been compounded, again and again, by the way the system that is supposed to protect the victims of crime has been repeatedly and unashamedly turned against us.
A lack of basic rectitude in the manner in which the law is applied is tantamount to a steady augmentation of the damage done, and it is time that this country puts an end once and for all to these gruesome, poorly-camouflaged conspiracies between criminals, lawyers, prosecutors and judges.
As well as incompetence and abuse of influence, corruption is surely also almost always present, but this tends to take place under the table and is usually largely invisible to the parties most affected by it. Yet what we have here is perhaps even more alarming, a most transparent form of the absence of transparence.
In-justice, in broad daylight.
Provocative tweet by OCAC
None of us would have to be making our cases on social media if the MP had not failed in its duty of care to the victims of gender abuse. The only reason why these women have been denied the opportunity to make their allegations in full in front of a judge is because the system is being openly manipulated, and sexual violence is being dismissed at the first hurdle as lios de parejas, peleas de vecinos etc. Defence lawyers are doing it for no other reason than because they can.
Now is surely the moment for this community to take a stand, not just for existing victims like Verónica, but for those yet to come, women who deserve better from their country, who have a right to expect protection from sexual violence, in particular when perpetrated by men who are in a sense mere guests here.
In her recent media remarks Verónica Molina has been clear that those defending her alleged rapist have picked the wrong person to tussle with, and in that she is now absolutely not alone. #NoEstasSola.
In the past week la defensora del violador's dilemma has gone viral, and not in the way some 100,000 other, far more unfortunate Guatemalans have this month. It has become a key part of the developing story and the story is now international and set to last.
Questions are rightly being asked if it is appropriate for a someone on the C.C. to simultaneously act as defence counsel for common reprobates and 'celebrity' creeps, as an enabler of craven cowards.
For a woman tasked with representating of the rights all Guatemalan citizens to promote the notion that a rape that takes place within a relationship is no rape at all. And in so doing, deny the alleged victim her opportunity to make a case supported by evidence.
I hope to be able to report very soon that Verónica is back on the path to the justice she so obviously deserves. I, we, are supporting her in every way we can, for we have chosen not to be silent, whatever the risks.
* On one occasion playing to an exclusively male audience he had to hand.
** A couple of days before this official visit, the Levers had a set of children's swings and slides installed in their front yard, presumably just so they could insinuate to the fiscal-auxiliar that either my wife or I had been spying on their children. How fucking low is it possible to stoop?
*** In my country and many others, this too would constitute a criminal offence. In the specific case of the children, child abuse.