Archived: Guatemala: Puppets Get Strings Crossed, Abduct U.S. Nun

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Rich Winkel

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Apr 7, 1995, 3:00:00 AM4/7/95
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[From: Heartland Journal, July-August 1990]


Puppets Get Strings Crossed, Abduct U.S. Nun
============================================

GUATEMALA By Patti McSherry

The abduction and torture of U.S. nun Diana Ortiz in Guatemala
last fall generated little press interest here. Yet the reactions of
the Bush administration, the State Department, and the U.S. Embassy in
Guatemala -- especially towards a recent religious delegation visiting
Guatemala on behalf of Sister Diana -- suggest that the case is
political dynamite.

These developments have thrown into sharp relief once again the role
of the U.S. in Central America -- particularly the relationship
between the Embassy and mysterious foreigners who work with Guatemalan
"death squads." Sister Diana's torturers were interrupted by a man who
burst into the room and halted them. The nun swore under oath that he
was an American.

Sister Diana was forced away from a retreat house last November by two
armed men. They took her to a deserted place where a member of the
National Police was parked. The three then took her, blindfolded, to a
warehouse where Sister Diana could hear screams and moans of men and
women in pain. There they taunted her, sexually molested her, and
burned her 111 times with cigarettes. When Sister Diana said she was a
U.S. citizen, the men just laughed. In her affidavit, Sister Diana
said, "The men who had stopped me in Guatemala City [previously] knew
I was a North American nun, so I knew their laugh was from their sense
of power, not disbelief."

The terror abruptly stopped when the fourth man entered, uttered a
common U.S. expletive in English, and then said in Spanish, "Idiots,
she is a North American. Let her alone. It's already on the news on
television." The foreigner took the nun out of the place and put her
in a car, saying he would take her to "A friend from the U.S. Embassy"
who would help get out of the country. However, Sister Diana escaped
from the car in heavy traffic.

The case was immediately met with hostile responses from the Guatemalan
government. on November 10, _Prensa Libre_ reported that Guatemala's
President Cerezo expressed doubt as to whether the attack had
occurred at all. Defense Minister Hector Gramajo -- the de facto head
of state -- stated the case was a self-kidnapping, staged in order to
conceal a lesbian tryst. Interior Minister Morales (also a General)
repeated the same accusations and officially closed the case.

Not only did the U.S.Embassy fail to defend Sister Diana -- at least
one official was reported to be making jokes to journalists about
"the lesbian nuns" -- but the State Department and President Bush have
maintained a deafening silence about the case. The State Department
told me November 20 that no protest had been filed, as the case fell
under Guatemalan jurisdiction, and the Guatemalan police were
investigating. This despite the fact that one of Sister
Diana's kidnappers _was_ a policeman. Moreover, according to human
rights organizations like the International Human Rights Law Group
and Amnesty International, the Guatemala National Police function as a
virtual arm of the Guatemalan army's counterinsurgency apparatus.
Members of the police often comprise the "deaths squads," usually
under direct orders from their superiors. Further, the U.S. remained
silent after the Guatemalan investigation was terminated.

When the U.S. Ambassador Stroock complained about the level of human
rights violations the Guatemalan government last February, Sister
Dianas' case was conspicuously absent from his list of abuses.
Despite complaints from Father Joseph Nangle and Paul Soreff, Sister
Diana's lawyer, this "omission" was never corrected in the official
record, despite their complaints to the State Department.

In April, the Ursuline community in Kentucky, Sister Diana's order,
sent a delegation to Guatemala expressly to protest the false
statement by Guatemalan officials and the U.S. Embassy's indifference.
Soreff reported that the delegation was immediately summoned to the
Embassy where, "evidenced by the array of stone cold faces and the
tone with which the encounter began, the Embassy people were most
upset with the Ursulines." The Embassy aggressively defended its
conduct in the case and protested allegations of collusion, arising
from the foreigners' comment to Sister Diana about his "friend from
the Embassy."

Father Nangle, another member of the delegation, expressed dismay at
the conduct of the Embassy. He reported that the Embassy was silent in
the face of public accusations by top Guatemalan officials that Sister
Diana was lying, and the Embassy inexplicably failed to publish
medical finding of cigarette burns on sister Diana's body -- clear
evidence of torture.

Father Nangle continued, "It must be said that once Sister Diana left
Guatemala, the U.S. official presence there was inimical to her good
name and interests. The Embassy did seem to show concern for her
safety while she was in captivity and again before she took lease of
Guatemala. But it is my distinct impression that afterward the chief
concern of U.S. representatives in that country was `damage
control'... Further, I am left with the strong impression that the
identity of the mysterious American, named by Sister Diana under oath
as the one with sufficient authority to take her away from her
torturers, has the Embassy so upset that their chief concern is to
sweep this case as far away from them as possible."

The total impunity with which Sister Diana's captors operate gives
direct evidence of several of the shady structures of Guatemala's
national security state. The Guatemalan government has long denied
the existence of secret places of detention and torture -- places
beyond the reach of the law. Yet the nuns' testimony is proof of such
clandestine centers, and the involvement of the national police.
Inevitably, questions about the precise U.S. and CIA role in
Guatemala's national security structures again arise.
-----
Patti McSherry is a human rights activists and a doctoral student in
political science. She writes frequently on Guatemala and
counterinsurgency

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