Today, two-time Oscar nominated director, Bryan Buckley of Hungry Man Productions joined Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) and Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15) on Capitol Hill to discuss the next phase of the campaign to bring justice to the 56 young girls who were victims of the Virgen de la Asunción Safe Home fire in Guatemala. The group was joined by Estephany Raquel Arreaga Jimenez, a Guatemalan activist who was one of the first responders the day of the fire and who has worked to support the 15 surviving girls throughout their strained road to recovery.
Nearly three years since the tragic fire in Guatemala that killed 41 teenage girls, the country is still embroiled in a fight for justice. In the aftermath of the fire, there have been reports of sex trafficking and egregious abuse by the officials responsible for protecting the children in their care. As legal efforts work their way through the Guatemalan courts to hold responsible actors accountable, this meeting marks a turning point in the US' commitment to justice.
Earlier this week, Reps Espaillat and Gonzalez sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to call on the Guatemalan government to investigate the whereabouts of the surviving children and take steps to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
Academy Award nominated filmmaker, Bryan Buckley has released a docu-drama called SARIA, that powerfully visualizes the story. With the film now nominated for this year's Oscars in the Short Film (Live Action) Category, Buckley is joining forces with Reps Espaillat and Gonzalez to call for justice for the surviving victims.
Said SARIA Director Bryan Buckley, "Those who prey on the young and the vulnerable must not be allowed to walk freely. No matter what corner of the world they are in. The Guatemalan officials who are accountable for the deaths of the 41 orphaned girls must pay for their unthinkable crimes. I am encouraged by the meeting with Congressmen Espaillat. A trial must happen. And justice served. I directed SARIA because the world needed to see the story of what happened to these girls and with the efforts of the Congressmen and advocates within Guatemala, we truly have hope of bringing justice."
"The wounds left from the fire at Virgen de la Asunción Safe Home have continued to manifest across Guatemala and the rest of Latin America nearly three years later," said Congressman Adriano Espaillat. "The orphans who lived in that home suffered systemic abuse, exploitation and terror, with the fire marking a tragic miscarriage of a primary tenet shared throughout the international community: the safety of our children is paramount. I am optimistic that President Giammattei will refocus the gaze of lady justice, and ultimately compel the answers that the victim's families, the Latino community, and the survivors deserve."
"A society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable," said Congressman Vicente Gonzalez. "The new Giamattei administration has the unique opportunity to seek long overdue justice for the victims of the fire and secure the welfare of the survivors of this horrific accident. It is my hope that President Giammattei and Secretary Pompeo will seize this opportunity to address the safety and health needs of children and orphans in Guatemala and prevent such tragedies from happening ever again."
SARIA opens Friday in theaters across the nation through "Shorts TV Presents 2020 Oscar Nominated Shorts" screening program. The film's wider release coincides with an effort to raise awareness in the US and serve as a catalyst for action in Guatemala.