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The Blindfold's Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth by Dianna Ortiz (Marknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002)
In Sister Dianna Ortizs The Blindfolds Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth, an Hispanic nun from the U.S. is kidnapped and tortured by Guatemalan army officers with a U.S. citizen named Alejandro apparently in charge. This very long, absorbing memoir attempts, among other things, to understand who the individuals (especially Alejandro) are, and, crucially, what Alejandros relation to the United States government is.
But Blindfolds Eyes is much more than a who is Alejandro? political mystery, important as that endeavor is. Indeed, Blindfolds Eyes might be one of the best accounts ever provided of the psychological impact and aftereffects of torture. Some torture victims end up committing suicide because torture often eviscerates ones trust in life. Also, it continues traumatizing the victim for years. Ortiz to this day sleeps with lights on and dreads the onset of night and sleep because flashbacks of her torture and torturers recur then, as well as the screams of Guatemalans being tortured within earshot. She jumps when someone gets close to her unexpectedly. Nor can she stand individuals staring at her. Climactically, she inherits a shaving razor from another female torture victim and keeps it under her pillow or otherwise close by. At one point, several years after her November 1989 torture, she cut her wrists. During the numerous interviews and conference speeches and in meetings with U.S. political officials, Ortiz is virtually forced to re-experience flashbacks of her torture and often breaks down. Yet part of her enormous courage and integrity is that, over the years, she continues to try to discover the identity of her tormentors and the ultimate political or institutional context for her torture. Pursuing this harrowing path, her scope of victims continually enlarges as she becomes more aware of the torture and massacre of hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans carried out by Guatemalan security or army forces over decades.
After being burned on her back 111 times by cigarettes no matter what answer she gave to questioning, being gang-raped by 3 Guatemalans, hung by ropes naked over a lime-covered pit of dead and dying, groaning men, women, and children, and having rats dropped on her head, her faith gets ravaged. Further, the rapes led to her pregnancy. Feeling she would have given birth to evil, Ortiz got an abortion.
Now this is an Ursuline nun who not only has made a vow of chastity and comes from a traditional Catholic New Mexican family, but also has to face the reaction of priestslet alone her orderto getting an abortion (one priest informed another rape-torture nun that her abortion was a mortal sin). She asks where God was when she was being tortured, but gradually feels his presence through the support community she builds, including the courageously persistent Jennifer Harbury whose Guatemalan guerrilla-officer husband, Everardo Bamaca, was captured, tortured, and finally executed by the Guatemalan army, again with Washingtons knowledge, pretense of ignorance, and tacit approval.
Perhaps Ortizs most profound form of psychic self-exploration and networking arises from one of the most horrendous events during the torture. Besides being filmed during the rape from angles that falsely indicate her complicity, Ortiz cuts another womans body with a machete guided by a coercive torturers hand and fears that she killed her. She attempts to exorcise this diabolical enforcement by giving archetypal status to this woman in her mind and in all her campaigns to shed light on Guatemalan political victims and the officials and institutions complicit in such terrorization. Further, in an act of propitiatory exorcism, Ortiz dedicates Blindfolds Eyes to her woman friend. One of the forces that in fact sustains her sanity and crusade is dedication to that female image.
The primary U.S. obstacle to Ortizs vindication is the ambassador to Guatemala, Thomas Stroock. His office first became sensitive to Ortizs account of her extreme abuse when she mentioned that Alejandro was from the U.S., and that he might have some connection with the State Department. Stroocks reaction is one of outrage that turns to assailing the basis of Ortizs torture, claiming Ortiz was never burned or raped and questioned whether she was or even is a nun. (One State Department official, Lew Anselem, claimed that Ortizs burns and bruises resulted from a lesbian sado-masochistic involvement. Anselem also claims that Ortiz kidnapped herself).
However, Stroochs rage conceals complicity. Evidence arises that Stroock played a role in the secret U.S. support for the Guatemalan army. Stroock had supervised the CIA station chief [in Guatemala] and had access to the assets list. Further, 74 arms deals from the United States were implemented by Stroock, and some of these weapons were, according to journalist Allan Nairn, used in the Santiago Atillan Massacre of December 1990. So, this high-placed U.S. diplomat, according to Ortiz, in effect helped cover-up a U.S.-supported Guatemalan-army genocide against its own people. Documents would later be forthcoming showing that Stroock as ambassador had no intention of doing justice to Ortizs case. Ortiz regards Stroock as instrumental in aiding and concealing American involvement in horrific human rights abuses by the Guatemalan government. This, in turn, according to Ortiz, facilitated the extermination of any critics of a brutally repressive regime favorable to U.S. ideological and big-business interests in Guatemala.
What about the U.S.?, she aptly asks. When will the truth be exhumed?
Two individuals crucial to moving Ortizs narrative from torture to truth are Nairn and Jennifer Harbury. At a conference in Washington in the early 1990s on torture in Guatemala, Nairns well-informed revelations about the White Houses complicity accomplished several crucial things for Ortiz first, it substantiated her certainty that Alejandro was not a figment of her imagination. Second, Nairns exposition of Washingtons complicity in destroying the democratically-elected Arbenz regime of 1954 and in aiding the Guatemalan death squads, with CIA lists targeting critics or enemies of the new regime and the United Fruit Company, became liberating and energizing for Ortiz.
Another significant figure in Blindfolds Eyes is Harbury who was on a personal crusade to save her husband from torture and execution by the Guatemalan army. Harbury contacted Ortiz as part of a campaign to bring together U.S. citizens who have been attacked in Guatemala or have lost relatives there. What makes her decide to join Harbury and further publicize their plight is her determination not to succumb to ongoing terrorization by the Guatemalan army and, most important, not to abandon the many Guatemalan victims whose screams still resound in her mind.
This decision intensifies the psychological and emotional pressures Ortiz has to confront for years. Ortiz is continually menaced externally and internally. Besides the nihilistic presence of her actual torturers, she is implicitly threatened at one point by a President of Guatemala. Further, Guatemalan agents in dark eyeglasses track her at Washington conferences and press meetings, as well as at a torture-treatment center in Chicago called Su Casa. One day a box filled with dried excrement is left at her doorstep; she also receives threatening phone calls in Spanish from anonymous Guatemalans. She is frequently bullied and vilified by Stroock and several other government agencies during meetings and investigational conferences.
It is thus not surprising that she considers leaving the Ursulines and keeps her freedom razor handy. These experiences comprise an extremely heavy burden for anyone, let alone a nun, to bear.
If Ambassador Stroock emerges as one of the salient hypocrites in Blindfolds Eyes, and the mysterious Alejandro (later tentatively identified as one Randy Capister, a CIA operative) still might roam the netherworld of CIA-State Department covert machinations, another major scoundrel is embodied in Guatemala-army Vice Chief of Staff Hector Gramajo, who conducted the scorched-earth policy of the 1980s in Guatemala and under whose tenure Ortizs torture occurred. This key senior officer actually published an article in a Harvard journal (the International Review) in which, describing Guatemalan army maneuvers, he wrote: You neednt kill everyone to complete the job . We instituted Civil Affairs, which provides development for seventy percent of the population, while we kill thirty percent. This Civil Affairs plan included, among other atrocities, killing thousands of Guatemalans and annihilating over 600 villages, which, involved murdering babies and decapitating eight-year-old children.
Gramajo, Ortiz states, was personally in charge of and supervised the 30 percent aspect of the program. Asked once if his army had a scorched-earth policy towards regime critics and suspected opponents, he described it as a scorched-Communist policy.
A School of the Americas graduate, Gramajo, after his reign of terror in which his death squads exterminated almost 2,000 civilians and disappeared around 500 more, was awarded a scholarship to Harvard by the United States Agency for International Development.
This powerful, moving memoir is not without flaws. For one thing, Blindfolds Eyes suffers from insufficient use of dates. Nevertheless, this book provides an unforgettable contribution to the literature of the aftereffects of torture; just as valuable, it also delineates a torture victim who develops the vitality and courage to pursue and expose her torturers to the top levels of two savage governments.
Donald Gutierrez has published six books and over 80 essays and articles on literary subjects.
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
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LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
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MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
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VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
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HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
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COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.