Translated by Richard Brown, EntreMundos
Just one member of Guatemala City’s municipal government, opposition councilwoman Rosa María Botrán, has spoken up about the accusations against Bruno Campo. She has asked the city government for explanations and urgent action to prevent violence against children. But the city government and the managers of the Municipal School of Music remain silent about the accusations against Bruno Campo and the scholarship that helped him on his way to Europe.
Since Nómada’s article was published three weeks ago, four more women have decided to report abuse by Bruno Campo. Women from the first group of accusers are advancing in their legal action, but the Public Ministry refused to accept a statement from the first of the new accusers. Prosecutor Humberto Mencos explained that her testimony was not part of Nómada’s original investigation and he wanted to wait until Nómada published its second report. The women are receiving legal assistance from a team of lawyers from Mujeres Transformando el Mundo, an NGO that specializes in addressing violence against women. They strongly criticized this inaction from the prosecutor.
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Nómada’s first report, published June 6, 2019, included testimonies from Rosanna Paz, Azucena Salinas, Maru Amato, and María Libertad Saénz about the sexual abuse Bruno Campo inflicted on them from 2008 to 2012. It also included testimonies from three victims who shared their stories anonymously. Further, teachers and administrative staff who worked with Bruno Campo in the Municipal School of Music confirmed his inappropriate conduct with young girls and his abusive treatment of Youth Orchestra children, teenagers, and teachers. Parents’ complaints about Campo piled up, and in 2012 they sent a letter about him to Mayor Alvaro Arzú Irigoyen. Meanwhile, internal staff complaints reached the office of City Manager Ricardo de la Torre. The city government’s response was to support Bruno Campo with a scholarship from the youth program MuniJoven to study in Europe.
Read Nómada’s investigation that uncovered the story of harassment and sexual abuse of the orchestra conductor protected by the Guatemala City government.
Click here for the Spanish version.
1. Carmen and the project in La Verbena
“I’d never had a boyfriend. He took my first kiss from me.”
It was December, 2005, before Bruno Campo arrived at the Municipal School of Music. Carmen Leiva had just turned 13 and decided to enroll in a music program in the Intecap vocational school of La Verbena in Guatemala City’s zone 7. The program was led by Bruno Campo, who was 23. Ten years older than Carmen. From the start, Campo treated Carmen differently. He scolded her often, even during recess because he didn’t like that she made friends with boys.
One day, after a meeting in which the students listened to the piece they were rehearsing, Campo asked Carmen to stay in the room. She was just a child, but Carmen remembers how Campo pushed her against the wall, how he held her arms fast with his hands, and how he started to kiss her. On the nose, on the cheek, on the other cheek, and then on the mouth.
“I didn’t know what to do. I was so little. I remember that someone else walked in, one of the teachers, and Bruno quickly got off me and started talking to him. I stayed against the wall in shock. Then he pulled me to him and stroked my hair, as if he were comforting me. As if it were normal.”
Carmen ran out of the room as soon as she could, her face bright red. A friend asked her what had happened, but right then, Campo came out of the room and winked at her. From that moment on, Carmen couldn’t say anything. Not even to her parents. She left the Verbena program.
Carmen says, “I went to a Catholic school, so we never had any sex education or anything. It wasn’t something that I knew how to talk about with anyone.”
Three years later, in February, 2009, Carmen wanted to take violin again and enrolled in the Municipal School of Music in zone 1, where Bruno Campo was in charge.
There, Campo attacked her again. She was 16. He harassed her constantly. He humiliated her in front of all the other students and scolded her whenever he could. One day in class, Carmen couldn’t take it anymore, and she talked back. Campo sent her to the head office to wait for him until class was over. When he arrived, he asked the secretary to leave and entered with Carmen. He closed the door and the wooden office window blinds.
He started speaking to the teen. He was calm. He wanted to know why Carmen had arrived late to class. As she explained, Campo moved closer and closer until he was on the edge of the desk in front of her. He stared at her. Carmen felt uncomfortable, and when she got up, Campo grabbed her and tried to corner her. He tried to kiss her again, but this time Carmen protested and managed to escape.
Later, Campo tried again in a rehearsal room, this time with more force, squeezing her shoulders so hard it hurt. Carmen pushed him with so much force that Campo accused her of being aggressive and left the room, furious.
Carmen finally gave up on violin. The confusion, the unjustified guilt, and the power Campo had over her were so overwhelming that she remained silent about the abuse for 14 years. She felt that she couldn’t tell her parents, who looked up to Campo as an artist. They, like many other mothers and fathers from the community in La Verbena and other low-income communities, saw him as a savior for giving their children an opportunity to study music.
In 2013, Campo sought out Carmen on Facebook. She blocked him. A few years later, Campo was visiting Guatemala City and emailed Carmen, insisting that they meet. To convince him to finally leave her in peace, Carmen had to lie and say she had a boyfriend whom she was about to marry. He replied that he was available for her bachelorette party.
Carmen took up another interest: cycling. In 2015 she and her friends from an urban cycling organization had a meeting with Mayor Alvaro Arzú, now deceased. The meeting ended, and he stayed for a little while to chat informally with the group. Carmen Leiva mentioned to the mayor that she had been a student at the Municipal School of Music, which appeared to make the mayor happy. He asked her about her experience there. When Carmen told him she had left the school because of Campo, the mayor ended the conversation.
For years, when Carmen saw photos of Campo or media reports congratulating him, her mind went blank and she got goose bumps out of fear. But not anymore. Now, 26 years old, she has decided to tell her story and report him to law enforcement.
2. Bruno’s “games.”
Déborah and Mariana met in the choir of the Municipal School of Music in 2006. They were both 17 when Bruno Campo began to harass them. He groped them and suggested threesomes. He sometimes followed Mariana when she was alone in the parking lot and insisted on giving her a lift home. On occasion he would call Déborah at night insisting that they meet.
At school, he would look for them in the hallways to slap their behinds. He would grab them by the waist and hold them against him by force. “So, what’s it going to be, girls?” he would say.
The situation culminated in one of Campo’s “games.” The girls were at rehearsal and went to make photocopies in the school library. They didn’t know Campo was there. He closed the door behind them and locked it. He began to undo his belt. “Let’s have a threesome,” he said, as he approached Déborah and Mariana. He put his hand in his pants and took out his penis. “Who wants to start?”
Déborah says, “I’d never had sex. I’d never even seen a penis before. I just thought, ‘What’s happening?’”
She remembers that Campo laughed and began to joke that he was “hunting” them around the office furniture, until Mariana managed to grab the keys from him and open the door to escape.
The girls decided to leave the Municipal School of Music because they were afraid Campo would rape them.
The two remember the school with mixed feelings. They adored it, but they were also very afraid.
“You’d walk down the hall and in one room they’d be playing one instrument, in the next room they’d be playing another, in the next room, ballet rehearsal. It was a dream to be there. But I think the fear of saying anything [about Campo] was because if you told your parents, they’d take you out of the school. If you confronted Bruno Campo, he’d expel you.”
Déborah says she decided to speak out now for her kids. She wants them to enjoy the dream of music and art without having to experience or cover up abuse.
3. “You’re still so little.”
Estefanie studied in the Municipal School of Music from 2007 until 2008, when her father decided to take her out because of an incident with Bruno Campo. Estefanie asked that her last name be withheld in this article.
For some time, Estefanie felt that Campo respected her because of the respect he had for her father. He never made her take an orchestra entrance exam as he did with the other students, and he asked her opinion about rehearsals. She says that perhaps that’s why she didn’t speak out sooner.
“Really, I didn’t want to cause a scandal, so I only told my dad.”
She remembers the long nights of rehearsal. Coolers full of energy drinks that Campo used to put off the students’ physical and mental exhaustion. Fingers that bled because they had to continue even past midnight, even with six- and seven-year-olds in the orchestra.
Estefanie also suffered sexual violence at the hands of Bruno Campo.
“I noticed how he’d always touch me. Supposedly to correct my posture, or how I held my instrument. But he always brushed up against my breasts with his elbows or with his arm. Or he would grab me by the waist, at the hip.”
Estefanie has avoided thinking about her time in the school for many years. However, as with other women, Campo left a phrase seared in her mind that she has never been able to forget.
One night in February, 2008, after a rehearsal, Estefanie helped Campo put the instruments away in a dark storage room. They were alone when Campo approached her from behind. He started to touch her back. He got in front of her and touched her breasts. He said, “You’re still so little, but I like you. We’ll try later.” He was 25. She was 13.
4. The children “rescued” by Bruno Campo and Mayor Arzú.
Academic Silvia Trujillo’s daughter was in the municipal choir and later the Youth Orchestra. She never suffered sexual abuse by Campo, but Trujillo confronted Campo repeatedly about other types of abusive behavior. She says that everyone was afraid of him, even other mothers, and that’s why they never confronted him when he required the Orchestra to rehearse long hours, even until midnight, for city concerts.
The worst shock for Trujillo was when she realized that Campo and the city government were using the choir and the orchestras for their political campaigns.
She remembers that they once organized a concert in the Francisco Marroquín University auditorium for a fundraiser. At the end of the concert, they played a video with scenes of boys and girls in the streets washing car windows and shining shoes.
“The message of the video was that these kids that you just saw in the choir are the boys and girls from the street who are now singing after Arzú took them in. I cannot express to you the indignation that all the mothers there felt. Not because they compared our children to the children in the street, because we understand the lack of opportunities in this country. But because of the dirty use of our children and their time.”
Trujillo confronted Campo. She was furious. She explicitly told him not to use her daughter for political purposes ever again and threatened to complain publicly. Campo justified it by saying it was just publicity.
But Mayor Arzú did not only use the children for political purposes by the Unionista Party, but also for personal events. In 2010, for example, Trujillo’s daughter and the other children in the choir were made to sing at the wedding of Alvaro Arzú Escobar, Arzú’s son and the current President of Congress.
“The Unionista Party used the choir constantly during the six years my daughter was in the choir. I always wanted to take her out. But she was a child, and she liked being there with her friends. So it was hard, because of course when I told her I was going to take her out, I felt like the evil mom from the movies.”
The preparations for the choir’s concert at Arzú Escobar’s wedding were held in secret. Not even the mothers and fathers were informed where their children were going.
Silvia Trujillo also had an intense confrontation with Bruno Campo when a girl, another member of the choir, told her that after a rehearsal in the National Theater, Campo had dropped his pants in front of her and other girls.
“She told me, ‘Silvia, you’ll never guess what Bruno just did. We were finishing rehearsal and he dropped his pants in front of us.’ He said it was to fix his shirt. I went to speak with him. ‘You know perfectly well that what you just did is abuse, that you can’t do that,’ I told him.”
Campo responded that she was interpreting things the wrong way, Trujillo remembers.
“He had a bunch of excuses. That everyone’s tired after rehearsal, that all he did was adjust his clothing, that he was incapable of doing what I was insinuating.”
Trujillo says that she can completely attest to Campo’s verbal abuse and screaming at and verbal abusing the children, and that he threw things at them. She asserts that Blanca López, the current director of the Municipal School of Music, knew what has happening but always defended him.
“I can say with absolute certainty that Blanca López is complicit. She didn’t just defend him. She was like a shield for him.”
During the 2011 election season, Trujillo didn’t allow her daughter to sing in a concert for Mayor Arzú’s campaign. The Municipal School of Music responded that if her daughter didn’t participate in the concert, she could no longer be in the choir. That’s when Trujillo took her daughter out of the School of Music, like other mothers did during those years.
“These were the options that we had as mothers, fathers, parents, or as the students themselves. Allow our kids to stay in the orchestra experiencing all this violence, putting up with his outrageous behavior, the humiliation, his tantrums, the yelling, the shoe-throwing, the political campaigns. Or take them out and they lose the opportunity to advance and do what they love. Both are terrible. Many of us chose to take them out.”
5. Learning through fear.
Sara, a Nómada reader who asked that her last name not be published in this article, shared her experiences with Nómada by email. With her permission we publish here what she wrote about the fear that the children and teens of the orchestra had of Bruno Campo.
“I remember that I started playing an instrument when I was 11. I went from the beginners’ orchestra to the Children’s Orchestra fast. For the two years I was there, my only dream, my only aspiration was to play in the Youth Orchestra and be conducted by Bruno.
“Everyone admired him, respected him. His orchestra was the best in the whole system. I remember that in a concert for [the Italian Embassy], just before Campo left for Europe, a friend and I were called up to the Youth Orchestra. I was so excited. I knew that Bruno threw shoes, his baton, and even music stands. I knew the rehearsals started very early and ended very late, that there weren’t breaks and that he yelled. I knew all this even before entering, and even so I wanted to be part of that orchestra.
“When I went to my first rehearsal, I was so happy. But someone told some kind of joke or said something funny and I wanted to laugh, and my music stand partner (who’d already been in the orchestra for a while) told me not to laugh. She looked confused, and hid her face behind her instrument. She told me, ‘He doesn’t like for us to laugh.’ I went from being so happy playing in the Children’s Orchestra to being a robot that only thought about playing correctly, keeping time, and lowering my eyes [in the Youth Orchestra].
“I didn’t know what exactly was wrong. I saw everyone doing it, so I adapted. I took it as normal. I even took him throwing shoes and screaming with rage as normal. Until one day, in one of so many rehearsals, Bruno was working on a specific part with the brass section and a string player laughed about something.
“I remember perfectly how Bruno got down off the podium and went straight at that student pushing everything out of his way to punch him in the shoulder. He hit him with anger, with a lot of force. The boy hid behind his instrument for a long time. There was a deathly silence. I remember Bruno yelling something at him like, ‘You’re going to learn to shut up!’ He went back to his podium and continued the rehearsal as if nothing had happened.
“Since that day I was terrified of him. I didn’t speak to him, I didn’t look at him, I did exactly what he said to do with my head down. I was scared of him, but I assumed that if things weren’t this way we’d never learn anything.
“Today I realize the mistake I made, and that I never should have normalized what he did, but just like so many of the other students, I also wanted to ‘triumph though music’ and that was how they told me it had to be.
“To all the girls out there who have spoken out or who haven’t yet, I say #YoSíTeCreo [I Believe You].”
6. Violence and manipulation.
One of the children who had a shoe thrown at him by Campo was the son of Patricia Flores. In 2010, he was 12 years old, but this was neither the first nor the last time he suffered abuse by Campo. Campo also threw a music stand at him, and would scold him every chance he got.
“Of my three children who studied at the Municipal School of Music, he was the quietest,” Patricia Flores says. She thinks this is why Campo picked on him.
Flores is a teacher, and she had several confrontations with Campo because she was against how he used yelling, insults, and violence in his instruction. She remembers various incidents that made her go to the administration to file complaints.
In 2008, during one of the “conciertos de barrio,” where the Youth Orchestra played in different underserved neighborhoods in Guatemala City, a percussion teacher had to leave. He asked Flores’ son to cover his percussion part. Her son was ten years old. He did the best he could, but Campo shouted at him in front of the whole orchestra. “You little shit. Why’d you try to play something if you don’t know how to play it well?”
Flores also remembers that Campo always tried to manipulate her middle son, who admired him greatly, and turn him against his brothers. In 2010, her middle son, who played clarinet, was going be the soloist in a concert at the Santa Delfina Church in zone 2. During the rehearsal a few hours before the concert, Flores saw that something was wrong with him. She asked him what was going on. Campo had told him that if his younger brother, who was 10 years old and had made a face that Campo didn’t like, didn’t change his attitude, he wouldn’t be the soloist in the concert.
Every time something like this occurred, Flores confronted Campo, and sometimes Blanca López as well.
“He always said that the children had interpreted things the wrong way. ‘These are stories the kids make up,’ he’d say. He was a master manipulator. Even my husband eventually began to believe him. He tried to convince us that the problem was with our children, that they were behaving badly. This created a lot of resentment in my older son. To this day he detests Bruno Campo because he even managed to cause problems between him and his father.”
The frustration of seeing the abuse continue without consequences built up in Flores and other orchestra mothers who would wait on the benches outside for their children to finish rehearsal. Flores says that they wrote several letters to alert the city government of the situation in the Municipal School of Music, but they never got a reply.
The first version of the 2012 letter to Mayor Alvaro Arzú, which Nómada published in the first article on Campo, was written by hand and personally delivered to the mayor at a concert for his birthday on March 14, 2012. When Flores and the other mothers saw the mayor at the event, they decided to write the letter by hand and one of the women handed it to him when she wished him happy birthday after the concert.
The only change was that they shortened rehearsal, Flores says, disappointed.
7. Like the Pied Piper
Years earlier, another mother was fighting to change the atmosphere at the Municipal School of Music. She was so determined that in 2008 she decided to go to law enforcement. She filed an official report with the Public Ministry. ‘Liliana’ agreed to tell her story under a fictitious name, until it has been investigated why her report never advanced.
Liliana’s four daughters started in the music school at the beginning of 2007. From the start, Liliana was frustrated by the lack of organization and structure in the music classes. She eventually realized that Bruno Campo’s behavior with the students and the teachers of the school was abusive. She sent several letters to Campo with proposals and recommendations on how to approach teachers and children, but she never saw any changes. Things only got worse.
“He was like the Pied Piper. It’s the same thing… the power he had to manipulate the admiration of the children and the teenagers who wanted to belong to a group that would give them status, give them opportunities, income. He abused the children with violence, with profanity. But many of them came from poverty, and because they so badly wanted to fit in, they stayed silent. He didn’t respect the teachers. And the ones who spoke up left or were fired.”
Liliana remembers clearly how Campo entered in the middle of a class to scream at the teacher in front of his 4- to 7-year-old students. She also frequently saw boys and girls crying at the school. Once, she saw a 14-year-old girl crying on a balcony before a school concert. Campo had thrown her out of rehearsal and said that she didn’t play the piece well. Liliana told her she should talk to Campo, but the girl confided that she was afraid of him because he said she was fat.
Campo started to harass Liliana’s oldest daughter ‘Sofía,’ who played harp. He screamed at her to scold her, as he did with other students. He became furious because Sofía, who was 12, couldn’t pay certain pieces well.
“It was a 40-string harp. My hands just couldn’t reach. He wanted at all costs to have a harpist in the Youth Orchestra for a piece they were playing. I’d started barely four months before, and he wanted to give me a piece that was hard even for my teacher. He pressured me, but my arms were too short,” Sofía remembers.
Liliana decided to take her children out of the school. Sofía’s last activity with the school was an intensive week-long practice camp in 2008. On the second day, Campo scolded her again. He was furious because the camp’s staff hadn’t brought her the harp, which she couldn’t carry herself. Campo humiliated her in front of the entire orchestra. Sofía spoke up, but that only made Campo angrier.
After that day, Sofía stopped attending the school. A few weeks later, she stopped by to get sheet music from a friend in the orchestra. Suddenly, Campo approached her from behind, grabbed her hard by the waist, and brought her towards him. As he pressed her against him, he said, “And you, not even a ‘hello’?” She managed to escape quickly.
It was the first time that he laid hands on Sofía. Liliana, who was already incensed by Campo’s behavior, decided to go that same night to report Campo to law enforcement. She filed a report with the Public Ministry, and it was certified ten days later. The family never heard anything about it again.
For over ten years, the Public Ministry has had a report of Bruno Campo’s abuse on file. Even so, he would continue to abuse children without consequence until at least 2012.
The NGO Mujeres Transformando el Mundo is currently investigating what happened to Liliana’s report at the Public Ministry.