Angie Noemí González Santos is one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year, a recognition of women across the country who have made a significant impact. The annual program is a continuation of Women of the Century, a 2020 project that commemorated the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. Meet this year’s honorees at womenoftheyear.usatoday.com.
Angie Noemí González Santos didn't set out to start a movement.
The 29-year-old, a nurse and mother of three girls, just wanted to be safe. And free.
So in January 2021, she left her mom a voicemail, saying she was leaving her partner, even if she had to call the police.
Three days after Angie left that message, her partner, Roberto Felix Diaz, reported her missing. Five days later, he confessed to her murder and led police to where he'd thrown the body in a ravine after strangling her to death.
It was the first femicide of 2021 in Puerto Rico, where violence against women is a longstanding problem.
Following Angie's death, women in Puerto Rico took to the streets: Her murder set off a movement. Feminist collectives tweeted about her killing and denounced the character assassination of her on social media during the days that she was missing. People, women, were outraged, and the government was listening.
Weeks after Angie's murder, the governor declared a state of emergency for gender-based violence.
It's been just over a year since Elba Santos, Angie's mother, lost her daughter. She lives in Connecticut, where she cares for her granddaughters, Angie's daughters, full time. Toward the end of our conversation, Elba began to sob like only a mother who has lost a child can sob. The sadness and anger – it's all still there.
After we hung up, Elba sent me time stamped voice messages in Spanish that her daughter sent her three days before she was killed. In one message, Angie says that she's leaving Diaz, but he won't stop crying. She tells her mom that she will call the police to get him out of her house if she has to, even if her daughters hate her for it. In the message, Angie explains that Diaz keeps swearing that they can start over.
"We've been starting over for a lifetime," Angie says to her mom at the end of the voice message. "I just want to be happy."
Elba says little has changed on the island where machismo, or toxic masculinity, reigns. According to the Organization of American states, across Latin America and the Caribbean (which includes Puerto Rico) femicide is the "most serious manifestation of discrimination and violence against women." In 2021, there were 53 femicides according to the National Observatory of Gender Equality in Puerto Rico (Observatorio Nacional de Equidad de Genero). In 2020 there were 60. So far this year there have been two reported femicides in Puerto Rico.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell me about who she was?
Angie was the diamond that just walked in a room and shined. Even though she had so many problems she did not demonstrate that to anybody. She was the happiest person ever.
She loved her job. She loved her viejitos [elderly people]. Her priority though was first her daughters and then everything else.
What was your reaction when you saw women take to the streets?
I loved what they did. I loved when they went to the street. I wanted to be there with them, too.
Do you think that things have changed in any way since her femicide?
Things will never change. Just after Angie's death, I told the cops "It's him." They didn't have him as a suspect because he was compliant. Second, when she was missing, before they found her body, the cop in charge of the investigation told me that "she's young, she has three kids, she probably just wanted to breathe." How dare he say she abandoned her three daughters?
We're talking about a place where there's so much machismo.
We were told that if you take this to trial, since he does not have any prior criminal records, the could charge him with second degree [murder], that he did it as a passion crime and that could reduce his years. They told me he regrets what he did. He got 50 years but he will probably do 12 years for killing my daughter. He threw her over a cliff like she was trash and the DA tells me he's regretful?
This [gender-based violence] is not going to change because this machismo is too prevalent in Puerto Rico. How many men said, "I would have done the same thing." A lot of police officers said that.
What do you want to say to women in the same situation as Angie was?
She [Angie] always wrote stuff on Facebook. Sometimes it wasn't even personal. 'Todo lo que mereces, todo lo que suenas, esta justo detras del miedo.' 'Everything you deserve and dream of is right there behind the fear.' I thought she'd read it somewhere but she was like 'No, Mom, that's me. I don't do what I want to do and I'm stuck because of fear.'
She never thought he would murder her. She always thought that he would murder the girls, because he would say 'you're too easy. I'd rather kill the three girls, kill myself and let you suffer all your life.'
That phrase that she wrote, a lot of people women were like that's true what she's saying. This machismo has to finish.