By David Hutt | Special to The Tico Times
LEÓN, Nicaragua – The brutal murder of Lenin Moisés Bermúdez last month in the colonial capital of León has been a constant talking point for the Nicaraguan press. Investigators initially believed Bermúdez, openly gay, was a victim of a hate crime. Marcelo Martínez, coordinator of the Sexual Diversity Collective of León, an organization that fights for rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, announced that it was the second hate crime in the city this year.
After some good police work, Wilman Wilfredo Sevilla, 19, was arrested for the crime and confessed to the murder. He allegedly stabbed Bermúdez almost 20 times with a piece of broken glass.
According to the defendant, he arrived at the home of Bermúdez to exchange sex for money. But the victim asked for too much, an argument ensued, Bermúdez was stabbed and Sevilla fled after stealing a laptop and an iPhone.
The leading prosecutor in the case, Freddy Trujillo, does not believe Sevilla’s version of the crime. Speaking at a preliminary hearing, Trujillo said the crime was premeditated and directed against a helpless victim.
Whatever the outcome of the case, the murder was on the minds of delegates who met in late October in Managua during the Second Central American Conference for Sexual Diversity.
Among the many speakers at the conference was Samira Montiel, ombudswoman for sexual diversity, a position connected to the State’s Attorney for the Defense of Human Rights, created three years ago to protect the rights of more than half a million LGBT Nicaraguans.
According to Montiel, government statistics show that in the first nine months of this year, five people have been killed and six have been physically or sexually assaulted as a result of alleged homophobia.
This means there has been a 50 percent increase in homophobic violence since 2011.
Homophobic Culture or Institutions?
But what are the causes of this increase?
Away from the conference, LGBT rights organizations protested outside the offices of TV Channel 10 after the station broadcast an inappropriate “joke” on the show “Margarita te voy a Contar.” Demonstrators say the TV channel’s stunt encouraged violence against homosexuals.
A statement on the website of the Homosexual Community of Nicaragua, an online organization for LGBT news, stated: “violence increases every day in our country… particularly against homosexual people. We believe that it is wrong to promote the culture of violence and aggression, and we hold Channel 10 responsible for consequences resulting from actions as irresponsible as those promoted on the TV show.”
However, some say it would be wrong to place blame on Nicaraguan culture. Montiel sees the country’s society as being one of the region’s most liberal. “Nicaragua has always been considered one of the countries with high levels of tolerance, with high levels of respect for our community,” she said.
She also expressed optimism that Nicara-gua will “not tolerate this wave of violence.”
According to Montiel, the source of the problems lie in Nicaragua’s institutions, namely religious organizations and police.
The dramatic increase in homophobic crimes is linked to the “radical discourse of many religious denominations” against homosexuals, the ombudswoman said during the conference.
She also criticized police officers who respond to allegations of homophobic violence, saying, “Many officers continue taking these allegations as if they were a joke. Often if one goes to the police to file a complaint because someone threw rocks in the street, the police say it’s wrong to be gay.”
Proving a crime was motivated by homophobia is difficult in Nicaragua, since records of victims do not include sexual preference.
The stance of the government is also not without criticism. In March, Nicaraguan lawmakers drafted a new Family Code with the strict definition of a family as a union of man and woman.
However, the Sandinista government has made positive strides since returning to power in 2006. In 2008, the government decriminalized homosexual relations. Changes also were made within the Health Ministry to provide health care without discrimination in hospitals.
Also, the Sandinistas in 2009 created Montiel’s position as an ombudswoman for sexual diversity.
“In Latin America, the principal advances in the area of respect for sexual diversity have come from governments on the left, so we can’t expect anything less from this government,” Montiel said in an interview with the online English news site Nicaragua Dispatch.