Obscure Mayan language leaves justice tongue-tied
TAMPA — He was 28. She was 11. Her parents said they gave consent, claiming cultural norms of the Guatemalan highlands. But in Dover, Florida, a little girl with a baby raises questions.
When deputies came, Teodoro Pablo-Ramirez understood only some of what they said, according to his lawyer. He speaks no English and little Spanish — just the Mayan tongue of Mam.
The indigenous language, understood by few interpreters, has stymied court cases across the country. One interpreting service in Washington resorted to recruiting a Mam speaker out of a jail lobby.
In Hillsborough Circuit Court, two cases, both too serious to dismiss, are stalled for lack of a Mam translator. In one, a 4-year-old Wimauma girl was raped. The details are locked inside her mother, who speaks only Mam. And last year, Pablo-Ramirez was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, before the judge granted a motion for retrial.
The court could provide only Spanish interpreters.
In Spanish, the word “trial” is juicio.