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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 November, 2004, 12:45 GMT
Prostitutes play the beautiful game
By Nick Caistor
Regional analyst, Guatemala

Nick Caistor goes to the Guatemalan town of Flores to meet a women's football team who are swapping the red light district for the red card.

Women footballers
The football team get dressed for a training session

The commentator for local radio is working himself up into a frenzy.

"Goal!" He shouts into the microphone. "Goooaal!"

He goes on for at least a minute after one of the football teams scores.

It might not seem unusual or newsworthy that I'm watching a game of football in Latin America. Here in the small town of Flores in the tropical north of Guatemala, close to the border with Mexico, they are as crazy about the sport as anywhere else on the continent, especially now that their national team is doing well in the World Cup qualifying competition.

What makes this game particularly unusual is that it's between two women teams. And more unusually than that, it's between two teams of prostitutes.


In red and white stripes are the La Linea All-Stars from the capital, Guatemala City, their rivals in midnight blue are the Tigers of Desire, representing the pride of the local Flores brothel.

The game is part of a countrywide tour that the La Linea All-Stars have embarked upon. They are named after the railway line that runs through the centre of the city, which is where they normally ply their trade, in miserable wooden shacks lit by kerosene lamps.

The 150 prostitutes who work in these shacks, and the streets around the railway line, formed their football team earlier this year. The first thing they did was enrol in one of the newly-formed women's soccer leagues in the capital.

So far this year, as many as 50 women a month have been killed, and many of them have been prostitutes
The All-Stars' first game was against a team from a high class private girl's school.

The game had only been going for a few minutes when the horrified parents of these girls discovered exactly who their opponents were.

They immediately insisted on stopping the game and getting the All-Stars thrown out of the league.

Vilma is the diminutive captain of the All-Stars team. She is wearing more make-up for the game than any Spanish millionaire footballer and tells me that the insult did not end there.

According to her, the parents insisted on hosing down the benches where the team had been sitting, "in order not to catch Aids from our sweat".

Brutal murders

This attitude is part of the reason why the All-Stars are now touring Guatemala, playing against teams of other prostitutes. They insist their aim is to gain more respect and acknowledgement that all of them are women, like anyone else.

Most of them, they argue, have been forced into prostitution because they have no alternative, or need to work to support their families.

Guatemala City street scene
Violent crime in Guatemala stems from four decades of civil war
Above and beyond this, the All-Stars are also seeking to draw attention to a much more serious problem affecting Guatemala at the moment - the number of women who are brutally murdered.

So far this year, as many as 50 women a month have been killed, and many of them have been prostitutes.

Since 2001, more than 1,300 women have been killed in Guatemala.

The situation has become so bad that the Organisation of American States (OAS) recently sent a special envoy to Guatemala City to investigate the problem and make recommendations to the government.

The OAS special representative, Susana Villaran, spoke of a "spiral of assassinations". She complained that in a traditional, conservative society such as Guatemala, where women are still expected to marry and to look after their household, "many of them are almost invisible" and "violence against them causes little outcry".

Lack of respect

Over the past eight years, Guatemala has been emerging slowly from four decades of civil war. During that time, more than 150,000 people were killed.

Although much of the killing was ostensibly for political reasons, the vast majority of those killed had nothing to do with political struggle.

A few old women come scurrying across, looking neither right or left, and rush into the church
But a lack of respect for human life became generalised throughout the country, and although a peace agreement was signed at the end of 1996, political strife seems merely to have been superseded by random violence.

There are armed robberies every day. The latest fashion is for gangs of youths - or maras - to hijack buses and shoot anyone who refuses to hand over their wallets and other valuables. And at night, prostitutes and other women become the victims either of sexual attacks or domestic rage.

Back at the game, the final whistle has blown.

The La Linea All-Stars have beaten the Tigers of Desire 2-0.

Vilma leads her triumphant team on a lap of honour, blowing kisses to the crowd of curious spectators.

'Casual attitude'

Whether by accident or by design, as the football finishes, the bell sounds for Mass at the small whitewashed church next to the concrete pitch.

A few old women come scurrying across, looking neither right nor left, and rush into the church.

The Tigers of Desire are quickly shepherded off by their stern-looking madam, before anyone gets the wrong idea. But that seems to be exactly what has happened with the radio commentator.

He is rounding off his commentary on this "famous victory" with the suggestion that his listeners could get lucky tonight and enjoy a free session with the jubilant All-Stars, which is precisely the kind of casual attitude that has probably contributed to the problem the footballing prostitutes are trying to combat.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 30 October 2004 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

Prostitutes score with football
17 Oct 04 |  Americas
Murderers prey on Guatemalan women
06 Dec 03 |  Americas
Country profile: Guatemala
02 Jul 04 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Guatemala
23 Sep 04 |  Country profiles

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