“When I decided to be free, my ex-partner paid to have me killed”: María Elena Ríos, the Mexican saxophonist who survived an acid attack
In 2019 I survived one of the most painful expressions of extreme violence: an attack with acid in which they burned more than 70% of my body. My name is María Elena Ríos Ortiz, I am a saxophonist and I just turned 30 years old.
Since the attack, I have had to go through all types of violence, from physical and digital re-victimization, smear campaigns and the violation of my human rights and those of my family.
I was born in the town of Santo Domingo Tonalá, in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca and since I was 9 years old I had a very special contact with music. In this state, as a child, you can only choose two types of hobbies: playing a sport, like soccer or basketball, or going to the municipal band to learn a musical instrument.
My parents took me to the municipal band, where I learned to play the saxophone and this link with music no longer came off. But it was precisely my love for music one of the multiple conflicts for which I suffered the attack with acid I survived.
To my ex-partner Juan Antonio Vera Carrizal, a politician and gas station businessman from the state of Oaxaca, was very annoyed that I was a musician. One of the patriarchal symptoms in a person is when they feel they own another, especially a woman.
Music makes me feel very free, very full, happy. It makes me feel powerful and complete. That did not like my attacker. That’s why I was subjected for almost two years in a relationship with him.
They threw acid in his face, he accused a Mexican politician and seeks justice: what happened to María Elena Ríos
I am going to tell how the violence with my attacker escalated, but I will not give more details about the attack because I think it is re-victimization.
“You are mine, you have to dress as I say”
I started a relationship with Juan Antonio Vera Carrizal in which the first weeks were friendly, the first stage where everything is beautiful. But soon the first signs of violence began to appear, in which he told me: “you are mine”, “you are not going out”, “you have to dress as I say”, “you can’t talk to anyone else”“when you leave you have to let me know and send the location”.
I think that was no longer right. I, for my part, did not tolerate it, but when I dared to say that I was not comfortable and that it was not correct, he told me that it was my decision if I wanted to leave him.
Then he reminded me that he knew where my parents lived, what car they had, or what day my mom went out. She also told me about the life of my brothers and their schedules. She told me: “You know… if something happens to them…”
I had no choice but to agree to what he requested, allowing him to appropriate and own my body, my life, my thoughts, my feelings, inactivating me until I became a submissive woman.
When I decided to be brave, free, to recover my life, my body and the spaces to which I aspired, it was when he paid to have me attacked with acid outside my home.
I was hospitalized from the day of the attack, September 9, 2019, until February 2020 and, in the process, I had several surgeries due to the negligence of the hospitals, because in Oaxaca there are no specialized doctors, there are no adequate rooms or sanitation.
those conditions they caused my skin grafts to begin to break down. I remember very well the stench of my body. She was rotting.
Later they transferred me to Mexico City, but the process cost me a lot of work, because I became unemployed.
“I want to live, I don’t want my attacker to kill me”
One is never prepared to fight for justice. I, at no time, thought that she was going to become a defender of my rights, an activist or that she was going to generate a thought beyond what I had been socially educated.
How I did it? It is a question that even I cannot answer. The only thing I can say is that I want to live, I don’t want my attacker to kill me. Now I have to take care of him all the time.
precisely in this process of wanting to survive is when your body or your being forces you to act out of inertia. That inertia is what has brought me forward and, of course, my parents, who never leave me.
I feel very sad every time I see them again because their eyes are so sad and the last thing I want is for them to be sad. That’s why I know they’ll be less sad if they see me strong.
Three and a half years have passed since the day of the attack, between rehabilitation and social reinsertion processes, but unfortunately I am still left with many desires and bitter pills in my search for access to justice, when the judiciary only waits for the highest bidder to be able to exercise the laws, according to their perspective and their way.
I have had to face judges, magistrates, the president of the Superior Court of Justice of the state of Oaxaca and, recently, a control judge due to bureaucracy and the exhausting processes that victims have to go through in their cases.
I am a faithful believer that the justice system or the judiciary in Mexico is designed to protect aggressors.
It is a very strong emotional drain when you decide to carry out a judicial process. There are days when I don’t sleep. I don’t even know how God helps me to live each day and have the ability to resolve one situation or another.
In my case there is a very noticeable asymmetry of power between me and my attacker, since he is a gas station businessman. His economic power allows him to have a position with the backing of politicians who apparently have favors to pay.
The Amparos imposed by my aggressor are immediately attended by the authorities despite the fact that I have had to wait months for the Superior Court of Justice of the state of Oaxaca to assign me a courtroom.
My case has also been minimized for the simple fact that, after the attacks and after many surgeries and treatments, the quality of my skin improved. Now they say that my injuries are not that serious, although I will definitely not be the same again. They are injuries that violate the life and dignity of a woman.
I have had to endure revictimization and attacks on social networks, especially because of hate campaigns that my attacker promotes because he has money to pay for them. They have hurt me a lot in every way. To my family too.
That is how extreme this violence is, a violence that has not been fully understood because since the Penal Code they have been reduced and minimized. In Mexico, these attacks are considered only injuries with chemical agents and not attempted femicide.
For me, these acid attacks seek to erase women twice over. The first is when you suffer an attack with any chemical agent, because they erase you from life; but, if you survive, your identity is erased.
It had to happen to me to understand it. I learned about sorority (solidarity between women) thanks to other women because, although I don’t know all of them, I know they were there.
Women who brought my theme to their table, with their friends, sharing, making coffee and for me that is very important because in reality I have always said that if I am alive, it is because of other women.
Due to the power of my attacker, the relationship he has with governments and the way I have denounced everything, I know that he would have already killed me if it weren’t for the attention I received.
“I have no short or long term plans”
In the midst of my personal struggle, I did not think that my case would affect other women.
A few days ago I went to the state of Puebla and a young woman was waiting for me with some documents. She told me that they took her land from her and threatened her that if she keeps trying to get it back, they are going to throw acid on her.
I feel guilty because the judiciary is so rotten that, when I have asked for justice for three years, I think that I have fallen into advertising a way of how to attack a woman.
Sometimes I have a feeling of guilt, sometimes that responsibility and that commitment not to fail.
What’s next for me? That is a very frequent question that I am asked, but the truth I have no short or long term plans because I don’t know if, when I leave, someone will be waiting for me and they will hurt me.
I just try to live the most profitable and happy day that I can. I can’t make plans for the future, make things happen and take them with gratitude.
Currently, María Elena Ríos continues to fight for a sentence to be handed down to her alleged attacker, who at the end of January was placed in home detention after arguing health problems. He assures that he is innocent, despite the fact that the alleged perpetrators of the attack, two construction workers, confessed that he and his son hired them.
In recent weeks, the so-called #Malena Law was promoted, in honor of María Elena, a bill that seeks a change in Mexican legislation to prevent and punish acid attacks not only as injuries, but with charges of femicide or attempted murder. femicide and become one of the most serious crimes in Mexico, which would give up to 40 years in prison for the aggressors, depending on the state where it is applied.
It also seeks reparation for the damage to the victims and guarantees the human rights of the survivors of these attacks.