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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.
Z Magazine Archive
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Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
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Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
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CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
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Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
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Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
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