Archive | Guatemala

Guatemalan Water Protectors Persist, Despite Mining Company Threats

by JEN MOORE

Photograph Source: Esmée Winnubst – CC BY 2.0

The hard work of protecting water and land from the long-term harms associated with gold and silver mining takes place daily on the frontlines of tenacious struggles throughout Latin America and around the world.

Indigenous people and affected communities face many reprisals for their resistance, including a mounting number of arbitration suits against their governments from mining companies suing over projects that people have managed to halt through direct action and in the courts.

This month, in Guatemala, the Peaceful Resistance “La Puya” celebrates eight years of struggle against a gold mining project that threatens to pollute or dry up already scarce water supplies in an area just north of Guatemala City.

Day after day, since March 2012, community members have rotated in shifts to keep 24-hour watch over the access gate to the “El Tambor” gold mining project. Catholic masses, community meetings and cultural activities have punctuated this nearly decade-long vigil along a stretch of dusty road adorned with banners declaring resistance to mining.

Local residents living in the “dry corridor,” as this area is known, are concerned that gold mining would aggravate water shortages and contaminate water supplies with arsenic and heavy metals, putting people, plants, and animals at risk.

Speaking to a crowd of all ages that gathered to celebrate La Puya´s anniversary on March 8, Doña Feliza Muralles remarked that Christmas, New Years, Holy Week, Mother´s Day, and birthdays have all been celebrated at their peaceful encampment.

“We have done this purely of our own will,” she said. “We have donated this time in defense of our territory and of future generations… and we´ll continue to struggle until the end.”

For their peaceful resistance, La Puya has faced serious reprisals. Twenty community members have faced unjust legal accusations and there was a past attempt on the life of a member of the resistance. Between 2012 and 2014, the community turned out en masse — with women leading the way — to face down police deployed to evict the resistance and enable the company access to the site. As a result, for a brief time from 2014 to 2016, the company managed to operate the mine.

In 2016, the peaceful resistance turned to the courts. They achieved the mine´s suspension for lack of prior consultation with Indigenous people. Shortly later, an investigation was opened against the president of KCA, Daniel Kappes, and the general manager of the mine in Guatemala for illegal exploitation of natural resources, when the company failed to respect the suspension order and continued operating. The Guatemalan constitutional court also found that the mining company failed to obtain a municipal construction license for the project.

But La Puya’s fight is not over.

While lacking any social or legal grounds on which to operate its mine in Guatemala, KCA has slapped Guatemala with a US$350 million international arbitration claim at the World Bank´s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) over alleged violations of the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). This month, the arbitration panel admitted the case for consideration on its merits.

In recognition of the communities’ ongoing resistance, earlier this month, over 100 organizations from Guatemala and throughout the Americas sent a letter to La Puya in celebration of their persistent struggle and in solidarity with them in their upcoming battles.

Meanwhile, other mining companies have continued to threaten governments with suits over unwanted projects.

This is a trend the Institute for Policy Studies has previously reported on. The Extraction Casino study looked at 38 cases that mining companies have brought with increasing frequency against Latin American governments since 1998. Over half of these cases concern government measures regarding the implementation or modification of environmental and mining regulations. One third hinge on the issue of Indigenous rights and community consent.

In recent months, three more such cases have been threatened.

In late February, a Chinese consortium of Junefield Mineral Resources Limited and Hunan Gold Group threatened to bring a suit against Ecuador for $480 million over the suspension of the Rio Blanco mining project. Local communities achieved the suspension of this underground gold and silver mine in the highlands of south-central Ecuador in 2018 for lack of prior consultation.

This is a project that should have stopped much earlier. According to a constitutional-level decree issued by Ecuador´s National Constituent Assembly in 2008, all mining concessions were ordered extinguished that overlap with protected areas, impact on water supplies or lacked prior consultation with affected communities. This includes the mining concessions associated with the Rio Blanco project, which are located within a natural protected area and were not consulted with local communities, according to an analysis carried out by the Environment Defenders Law Center and MiningWatch Canada.

This company´s threat of arbitration should not be permitted either.

Ecuador cancelled 16 bilateral investment agreements in 2017, including one signed with China in 1994. Ecuador’s 2008 Constitution in Article 422 declares that treaties or international instruments that permit international arbitration are unconstitutional for undermining the nation´s sovereignty.

Cecilia Olivet, Coordinator of the Trade and Investment project at the Transnational Institute, participated in a 2013-2015 audit of bilateral investment treaties in Ecuador. She points out that although the 1994 bilateral investment agreement between Ecuador and China allows Chinese companies that invested prior to its cancellation to continue making use of the treaty for another 10 years, the grounds for bringing arbitration within the treaty are highly restrictive. According to this treaty, arbitration disputes should be limited only to disputes over the value of expropriation of a given project.

This is not the case with the Rio Blanco mine.

But such technicalities are hard to rely on when disregard for the rules is a feature of the international arbitration system. George Kahale III, the chairperson of a Washington-based law firm who defends governments in such suits, has described the system as the “Wild Wild West of International Law”. According to Kahale III, when it comes to international arbitration “there are really no hard and fast laws” and “misrepresentations of fact and gross mis-citations of authorities are rampant and, when discovered, usually go unpunished.”

It is further worrisome in the case of Rio Blanco, despite local opposition and all the irregularities, that an Ecuadorian official responded to the Chinese firm´s threat of arbitration expressing willingness to enter into a dialogue with the company to resolve its concerns, stating that he hoped the mine would soon resume operations. Meanwhile, affected communities remain on high alert to defend their territory from mining activities.

Another suit was threatened in December when Canadian mining company Lupaka Resources gave notice of its intent to sue Peru over its Invicta gold project. The community of Parán, several hours north of Lima, has been blockading this project given their concerns over potential contamination of their water sources and impacts on their livelihoods as successful peach farmers. Earlier talks broke down between the farmers and the company when the community learned that the environmental impact assessment for the project had been approved without their prior knowledge.

Then, this month, another Canadian mining company, Gabriel Resources, announced its second threat of arbitration against Romania. Gabriel Resources already has a multi-billion dollar case underway against this country for not having permitted an open-pit gold mine that would destroy the community of Rosia Montana, which has a 2,000-year-old cultural heritage. Now, the company is threatening to sue over efforts to have this area declared a UNESCO world heritage site, hoping to pressure Romania to withdraw its application to UNESCO while claiming that such a designation is incompatible with its mining project.

When there is so much at risk for the community there is only one thing of concern in such arbitration, as Adrian Petri from Rosia Montana recently stated during a protest over Gabriel Resources´ suit: “To the arbitrators, Rosia Montana is about money, money, and again money.”

The international arbitration system does not take into consideration the long-term impacts that these mining projects could have on the water, lands, livelihoods, and values that these communities are defending. Meanwhile, arbitration processes can bring terrible pressure to bear from outside on these local struggles, serving as yet another vehicle with which mining companies can bully their way around in defiance of people´s self-determination and the sovereignty of states.

But just as water protectors press on against tough odds to defend land and life from the onslaught of mining projects, so must we continue to build solidarity with them and strengthen efforts to bring an end to investor-state dispute arbitration and the agreements that hold it in place.

Posted in GuatemalaComments Off on Guatemalan Water Protectors Persist, Despite Mining Company Threats

Guatemalan Water Protectors Persist, Despite Mining Company Threats

by JEN MOORE

Photograph Source: Esmée Winnubst – CC BY 2.0

The hard work of protecting water and land from the long-term harms associated with gold and silver mining takes place daily on the frontlines of tenacious struggles throughout Latin America and around the world.

Indigenous people and affected communities face many reprisals for their resistance, including a mounting number of arbitration suits against their governments from mining companies suing over projects that people have managed to halt through direct action and in the courts.

This month, in Guatemala, the Peaceful Resistance “La Puya” celebrates eight years of struggle against a gold mining project that threatens to pollute or dry up already scarce water supplies in an area just north of Guatemala City.

Day after day, since March 2012, community members have rotated in shifts to keep 24-hour watch over the access gate to the “El Tambor” gold mining project. Catholic masses, community meetings and cultural activities have punctuated this nearly decade-long vigil along a stretch of dusty road adorned with banners declaring resistance to mining.

Local residents living in the “dry corridor,” as this area is known, are concerned that gold mining would aggravate water shortages and contaminate water supplies with arsenic and heavy metals, putting people, plants, and animals at risk.

Speaking to a crowd of all ages that gathered to celebrate La Puya´s anniversary on March 8, Doña Feliza Muralles remarked that Christmas, New Years, Holy Week, Mother´s Day, and birthdays have all been celebrated at their peaceful encampment.

“We have done this purely of our own will,” she said. “We have donated this time in defense of our territory and of future generations… and we´ll continue to struggle until the end.”

For their peaceful resistance, La Puya has faced serious reprisals. Twenty community members have faced unjust legal accusations and there was a past attempt on the life of a member of the resistance. Between 2012 and 2014, the community turned out en masse — with women leading the way — to face down police deployed to evict the resistance and enable the company access to the site. As a result, for a brief time from 2014 to 2016, the company managed to operate the mine.

In 2016, the peaceful resistance turned to the courts. They achieved the mine´s suspension for lack of prior consultation with Indigenous people. Shortly later, an investigation was opened against the president of KCA, Daniel Kappes, and the general manager of the mine in Guatemala for illegal exploitation of natural resources, when the company failed to respect the suspension order and continued operating. The Guatemalan constitutional court also found that the mining company failed to obtain a municipal construction license for the project.

But La Puya’s fight is not over.

While lacking any social or legal grounds on which to operate its mine in Guatemala, KCA has slapped Guatemala with a US$350 million international arbitration claim at the World Bank´s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) over alleged violations of the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). This month, the arbitration panel admitted the case for consideration on its merits.

In recognition of the communities’ ongoing resistance, earlier this month, over 100 organizations from Guatemala and throughout the Americas sent a letter to La Puya in celebration of their persistent struggle and in solidarity with them in their upcoming battles.

Meanwhile, other mining companies have continued to threaten governments with suits over unwanted projects.

This is a trend the Institute for Policy Studies has previously reported on. The Extraction Casino study looked at 38 cases that mining companies have brought with increasing frequency against Latin American governments since 1998. Over half of these cases concern government measures regarding the implementation or modification of environmental and mining regulations. One third hinge on the issue of Indigenous rights and community consent.

In recent months, three more such cases have been threatened.

In late February, a Chinese consortium of Junefield Mineral Resources Limited and Hunan Gold Group threatened to bring a suit against Ecuador for $480 million over the suspension of the Rio Blanco mining project. Local communities achieved the suspension of this underground gold and silver mine in the highlands of south-central Ecuador in 2018 for lack of prior consultation.

This is a project that should have stopped much earlier. According to a constitutional-level decree issued by Ecuador´s National Constituent Assembly in 2008, all mining concessions were ordered extinguished that overlap with protected areas, impact on water supplies or lacked prior consultation with affected communities. This includes the mining concessions associated with the Rio Blanco project, which are located within a natural protected area and were not consulted with local communities, according to an analysis carried out by the Environment Defenders Law Center and MiningWatch Canada.

This company´s threat of arbitration should not be permitted either.

Ecuador cancelled 16 bilateral investment agreements in 2017, including one signed with China in 1994. Ecuador’s 2008 Constitution in Article 422 declares that treaties or international instruments that permit international arbitration are unconstitutional for undermining the nation´s sovereignty.

Cecilia Olivet, Coordinator of the Trade and Investment project at the Transnational Institute, participated in a 2013-2015 audit of bilateral investment treaties in Ecuador. She points out that although the 1994 bilateral investment agreement between Ecuador and China allows Chinese companies that invested prior to its cancellation to continue making use of the treaty for another 10 years, the grounds for bringing arbitration within the treaty are highly restrictive. According to this treaty, arbitration disputes should be limited only to disputes over the value of expropriation of a given project.

This is not the case with the Rio Blanco mine.

But such technicalities are hard to rely on when disregard for the rules is a feature of the international arbitration system. George Kahale III, the chairperson of a Washington-based law firm who defends governments in such suits, has described the system as the “Wild Wild West of International Law”. According to Kahale III, when it comes to international arbitration “there are really no hard and fast laws” and “misrepresentations of fact and gross mis-citations of authorities are rampant and, when discovered, usually go unpunished.”

It is further worrisome in the case of Rio Blanco, despite local opposition and all the irregularities, that an Ecuadorian official responded to the Chinese firm´s threat of arbitration expressing willingness to enter into a dialogue with the company to resolve its concerns, stating that he hoped the mine would soon resume operations. Meanwhile, affected communities remain on high alert to defend their territory from mining activities.

Another suit was threatened in December when Canadian mining company Lupaka Resources gave notice of its intent to sue Peru over its Invicta gold project. The community of Parán, several hours north of Lima, has been blockading this project given their concerns over potential contamination of their water sources and impacts on their livelihoods as successful peach farmers. Earlier talks broke down between the farmers and the company when the community learned that the environmental impact assessment for the project had been approved without their prior knowledge.

Then, this month, another Canadian mining company, Gabriel Resources, announced its second threat of arbitration against Romania. Gabriel Resources already has a multi-billion dollar case underway against this country for not having permitted an open-pit gold mine that would destroy the community of Rosia Montana, which has a 2,000-year-old cultural heritage. Now, the company is threatening to sue over efforts to have this area declared a UNESCO world heritage site, hoping to pressure Romania to withdraw its application to UNESCO while claiming that such a designation is incompatible with its mining project.

When there is so much at risk for the community there is only one thing of concern in such arbitration, as Adrian Petri from Rosia Montana recently stated during a protest over Gabriel Resources´ suit: “To the arbitrators, Rosia Montana is about money, money, and again money.”

The international arbitration system does not take into consideration the long-term impacts that these mining projects could have on the water, lands, livelihoods, and values that these communities are defending. Meanwhile, arbitration processes can bring terrible pressure to bear from outside on these local struggles, serving as yet another vehicle with which mining companies can bully their way around in defiance of people´s self-determination and the sovereignty of states.

But just as water protectors press on against tough odds to defend land and life from the onslaught of mining projects, so must we continue to build solidarity with them and strengthen efforts to bring an end to investor-state dispute arbitration and the agreements that hold it in place.

Posted in GuatemalaComments Off on Guatemalan Water Protectors Persist, Despite Mining Company Threats

From Monroe to Trump. US Sponsored Military Coups in Latin America

By Global Research New

Video: Syrian Armed Forces Teach ‘2nd Strongest NATO Army’ Painful Lesson in Idlib

By South Front,

Units of the Russian Military Police entered the town of Saraqib in eastern Idlib following the second liberation of the town from al-Qaeda terrorists and Turkish forces. According to the Russian military, the deployment took place at 5:00pm local time on March 2 and was intended to provide security and allow traffic through the M4 and M5 highways. In fact, the Russians came to put an end to Turkish attempts to capture the town and cut off the M5 highway in this area.

From Monroe to Trump. US Sponsored Military Coups in Latin America

By Elson Concepción Pérez,

The latest threat to Venezuela of a possible military intervention, the recent coup in Bolivia under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS), the tightening of the blockade of Cuba, destabilization in Nicaragua, and open interference in the internal affairs of countries in the region, where democratic governments have set the standards for development and sovereignty, do not come as a surprise.

The US-Taliban ‘Peace Deal’? Imperial State Criminality and Terrorism, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and “Restorative Justice”

By Junaid S. Ahmad,

The US/NATO war and occupation of Afghanistan offers a glaring case of what US Senator Fulbright (yes, the one who started the Fulbright program of scholarships and exchanges) called the ‘arrogance of power’ (of his country), his book being of the same title. The wealthiest and most powerful nation in the history of the world, with a war machine on steroids, invading and occupying for nearly two decades one of the poorest countries on the planet – and one which had already undergone two decades of uninterrupted internecine war in the prior two decades.

Keep It Simple and Question: Propaganda, Technology, and Coronavirus COVID-19

By Edward Curtin,

Two of the major problems the world faces – world destruction with nuclear weapons and the poisoning of the earth’s ecology and atmosphere – are the result of the marriage of science and technique that has given birth to the technological “babies” (Little Boy and Fat Man) that were used by the U.S. to massacre hundreds of thousands of Japanese and now threaten to incinerate everyone, and the chemical and toxic inventions that have despoiled the earth, air, and water and continue to kill people worldwide through America’s endless war-making and industrial applications.

Turkey in Syria: Down a Blind Alley in an Unwinnable War?

By Tony Cartalucci,

Turkey had been making some promising steps in the right direction since Washington’s disastrous proxy regime-change war in Syria began unraveling – yet it still maintains a problematic position inside Syrian territory, backing what are unequivocally terrorists and obstructing Syria’s sovereign right to recover and restore order within its own borders.

The latest and most dangerous manifestation of this untenable policy is the increasingly frequent and fierce clashes between Turkish forces occupying Syrian territory and Syrian forces themselves moving deeper into the northern Syrian governorate of Idlib.

Neoliberal Globalization Is Pushing Humanity “Towards the Edge”

By Shane Quinn,

There have been a number of harmful consequences as a result of the neoliberal era, which emerged in the late 1970s, taking off during the tenures of Ronald Reagan (US president, 1981-1989) and Margaret Thatcher (British prime minister, 1979-1990). There has been an explosion of private power, splintering of societies, destabilization of the financial system, and so on.

Neoliberal globalization has been an important factor too in political parties shifting further to the right, and succumbing to the power of increasingly dominant multinational corporations. This is most notable in America where the Republican Party (or organization) has moved so far off the spectrum that traditional republicans from previous decades would hardly recognize it today.

Why Are Stocks Crashing?

By Mike Whitney,

Uncertainty. It’s impossible for investors to gauge the economic impact of the rapidly-spreading coronavirus or its effect on stock prices. Investors buy stocks with the expectation that their investment will grow over time. In periods of crisis, when the environment becomes unfamiliar and opaque, expectations are crushed under the weigh of uncertainty. When expectations dampen, investors sell.

Posted in USA, Brazil, CUBA, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Peru, Puerto Rico, South America, VenezuelaComments Off on From Monroe to Trump. US Sponsored Military Coups in Latin America

30 Years Ago, American Nun Dianna Ortiz Was Kidnapped and Tortured in Guatemala, She’s Still Waiting for Truth & Justice

by BRETT WILKINS

Dianna Ortiz wanted to be a nun since she was 6 years old. To some people, that seemed a rather peculiar calling for a girl growing up during the seismic cultural shifts of the 1960s and ’70s, a time when many women were leaving religious orders. But Ortiz, the daughter of a homemaker and a uranium miner growing up in Grants, New Mexico, remained steadfastly committed to her goal through middle and high school and in her late teens she traveled across America to Maple Mount, Kentucky to join the Ursuline Sisters of Mount St. Joseph, part of a 400-year-old Roman Catholic order dedicated to the education of girls and the care of the sick and needy.

Dangerous Calling 

In keeping with the Ursuline mission, Ortiz taught kindergarten for a decade. She then felt called to follow Jesus’ path and work helping the poor. In September 1987 at the age of 28 she moved to Guatemala to join several other nuns serving indigenous residents of San Miguel Acatan and other small villages in Huehuetenango in the western highlands. Years later Ortiz explained that she wanted “to teach young indigenous children to read and write in Spanish and in their native language and to understand the Bible in their culture.”

It was dangerous work at a dangerous time. The country was ravaged by decades of civil war resulting from a 1954 CIA coup that deposed Jacobo Arbenz, the popular, democratically-elected progressive president, and replaced him with a series of right-wing military dictatorships, some of which perpetrated genocidal violence against indigenous peoples. The 36-year civil war left over 200,000 Guatemalans dead, more than 600 villages destroyed and countless people, mostly Mayan peasants, displaced.

“Every family in San Miguel had people who had been tortured, disappeared or killed,” Mary Elizabeth Ballard, an Ursuline sister who had arrived in Guatemala a year before Ortiz, told the literary magazine Agni in a 1998 interview. “No family was untouched.” Through it all, successive US administrations backed the perpetrators with arms, training, funding and diplomatic support.

Around a year after Ortiz’s arrival in San Miguel, the local bishop received an anonymous letter accusing her and the other nuns of planning a meeting with “subversives.” By early 1989, Ortiz was receiving threatening letters imploring her to leave the country. That summer she traveled to the capital, Guatemala City, to study Spanish. While she was there she was accosted by an unknown man on the street who told her, “we know who you are, you’re working in Huehuetenango,” before telling her to leave Guatemala.

She did leave, returning to the Ursuline motherhouse in Kentucky, where some of the sisters implored her to stay. But those who knew her best knew that wasn’t an option. “She had a great love for the Guatemalans,” Luisa Bickett, an Ursuline sister who also worked in San Miguel, told Agni. Ortiz returned to Guatemala to continue her work in September 1989. While staying in Guatemala City on October 13, Ortiz received the following death threat in the form of a letter pasted together from words cut from magazines and newspapers:

ELIMINATE DIANA. RAPED. DISAPPEARED. ASSASSINATED. DECAPITATED. LEAVE THE COUNTRY.

‘Hello, My Love’

Ortiz returned to San Miguel and on October 17 received yet another menacing letter telling her to leave the country. She decided to seek refuge at Posada de Belén, a convent and religious retreat 170 miles (270 km) away in Antigua. On November 2 Ortiz was reading in the convent’s garden when her life was forever changed. In an interview with Kerry Kennedy of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization, she recalled that:

“I heard a man’s deep voice behind me: ‘Hello, my love,’ he said in Spanish. ‘We have some things to discuss.’ I turned to see the morning sunlight glinting off a gun held by a man who had threatened me once before on the street. He and his partner forced me onto a bus, then into a police car where they blindfolded me. We came to a building and they led me down some stairs. They left me in a dark cell, where I listened to the cries of a man and woman being tortured. When the men returned, they accused me of being a guerrilla and began interrogating me. For every answer I gave them, they burned my back or my chest with cigarettes. Afterwards, they gang-raped me repeatedly.”

They raped her until she passed out. This was just the beginning of her nightmare. Ortiz was then moved to another room with another woman prisoner. “We exchanged names, cried, and held onto each other,” Ortiz said. “‘Dianna,’ she said in Spanish, ‘they will try to break you. Be strong.’” Some men returned with a video camera and a machete, which Ortiz thought would be used to torture her. Instead, she says she was forced to kill the other woman.

“What I remember is blood gushing, spurting like a water fountain… and my cries lost in the cries of the woman,” she recalled. Her captors then threatened to release video of her attacking the woman if she refused to cooperate. She was raped again. Then, the unimaginable:

“I was lowered into a pit full of bodies — bodies of children, men and women, some decapitated, all caked with blood. A few were still alive. I could hear them moaning… A stench of decay rose from the pits. Rats swarmed over the bodies… I passed out and when I came to I was lying on the ground beside the pit, rats all over me.”

More brutal interrogation followed. At one point, her captors held her down and began assaulting her again. One of them said, “Alejandro, come and have some fun.” Alejandro, who was tall and had fair skin, cursed in English and told the men that Ortiz was an American nun whose disappearance had already made news headlines. She says he then ordered them out of the room before helping her get dressed and leave the building in a sport utility vehicle parked outside.

“He kept telling me he was sorry, [that] the torturers had made a mistake,” Ortiz told Kennedy. “He said he was… working to liberate [Guatemala] from communism.” As they drove into Guatemala City, Alejandro blamed Ortiz for her ordeal, saying she should have heeded the death threats that preceded her kidnapping. He threatened her again and, fearing for her life, Ortiz jumped out of the SUV at a red light and ran.

State of Shock 

Darleen Chmielewski, a Franciscan nun who was one of the first people to see Ortiz after her escape, described her friend as in “a state of shock.”

“She was a shell of a woman; her eyes were blank and I presumed she had been tortured,” Chmielewski told Agni. The two women went the home of the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican representative in Guatemala City, who had offered Ortiz refuge. “Diana wanted to take a bath,” Chmielewski recalled. “I helped her wash and saw all the cigarette burns… she just cried and took baths.”

Two days later, Ortiz was back in the United States. “After escaping from my torturers, I returned home to New Mexico so traumatized that I recognized no one, not even my parents,” she told Kennedy. “I had virtually no memory of my life before my abduction; the only piece of my identity that remained was that I was a woman who was raped and forced to torture and murder another human being.”

She also felt forced to do something unimaginable for many nuns. “I got pregnant as a result of the multiple gang rapes,” she explained to Kennedy. “Unable to carry within me… what I could only view as a monster, I turned to someone for assistance and I destroyed that life.”

“Am I proud of that decision? No. But if I had to make [it] again, I believe I would decide as I did then,” Ortiz added. “I felt I had no choice. If I had had to grow within me what the torturers left me I would have died.”

Several months after her return stateside, Ortiz traveled to Chicago, where she lived for a time at the Su Casa Catholic Worker House for torture survivors. Sister JoAnn Persch said Ortiz arrived with “incredible fear” in her eyes and seemed “so fragile and traumatized.” She sat up all night with music and lights on so she wouldn’t succumb to the nightmares that came with sleep. “When she did fall asleep, she’d awaken with fists bruised from pounding the walls,” Persch told Agni.

Justice Denied 

Ortiz’s torment continued as she sought — and was denied — justice. Thomas Stroock, the US ambassador under President George H.W. Bush, accused her of staging her abduction in a bid to thwart US military aid to Guatemala. Cigarette burns — 111 of them, according to a US doctor who examined her — told a different story. In a bizarre twist, Guatemalan officials claimed Ortiz faked her kidnapping to cover up a violent lesbian affair, a rumor subsequently spread by US officials. Previously, the Reagan administration had undertaken a similar effort to discredit another Ursuline nun, Dorothy Kazel of Cleveland, Ohio, who along with three other American churchwomen was kidnapped, raped and executed in El Salvador by US-backed troops.

The prospect of Ortiz testifying about her ordeal terrified Stroock, a Wyoming oilman appointed by Bush, a Yale classmate who had no prior diplomatic experience. In a letter urging the State Department to not meet with her, he warned that “pressure… will build… to act on the information she provides.” Stroock worried that “we’re going to get cooked on this one.”

But it was Ortiz who continued to suffer. She received menacing phone calls and anonymous packages, one of them containing a dead mouse wrapped in a Guatemalan flag. Ortiz, however, remained undaunted. She made three trips to Guatemala to testify against the government, and tasted victory, albeit of a largely symbolic nature, when a federal judge in Boston ordered Gen. Héctor Gramajo, the Guatemalan defense minister who had tried to discredit Ortiz — in part by claiming her cigarette burns were the result of sadomasochistic sex — to pay her and eight Guatemalan victims a combined $47.5 million. “Forty-seven million dollars?” Gramajo scoffed. “I don’t have 47 million centavos!” He told the New York Times that he did nothing wrong; he was simply defending his country.

Demanding Truth 

In 1996 Ortiz held a five-week fasting vigil in front of the White House, where she broke down in tears while demanding that the US government declassify all documents about human rights abuses in Guatemala since the 1954 coup. Hillary Clinton, then first lady, invited Ortiz to her office. “I knew I needed to try to get Mrs. Clinton not only to understand my plight but also that of the Guatemalan people,” she told the Chicago Tribune at the time. During the half-hour meeting, Clinton told Ortiz it was possible that Alejandro was “a past or present employee of a US agency.”

Still, the hard truth was that many people, including government officials, doubted Ortiz’s story. She started to think that her torturers, who warned her that no one would believe her if she ever talked about her ordeal, might have been right. It was the same sadly familiar scenario faced by so many women who muster the courage to step forward to report sexual violence only to be called liars, or worse.

Ortiz’s relentless pursuit of justice eventually compelled the United States to declassify long-secret documents revealing details of US cooperation with Guatemalan security forces before, during and after the time of her abduction, including an admission by Stroock that the US embassy was in contact with members of a death squad. The documents also show that Gen. Gramajo had been trained in counterinsurgency tactics at the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), where military and police officials from Latin American allies — many of them dictatorships — were instructed in counterinsurgency and democracy suppression using course manuals that advocated the torture and execution of civilians.

“The US government funded, trained and equipped the Guatemalan army’s death squads — my torturers themselves,” Ortiz later wrote. “The United States was the Guatemalan army’s partner in a covert war against a small opposition force, a war the United Nations would later declare genocidal.”

In 1997 the Organization of American States (OAS) finished a four-year investigation that concluded Ortiz was kidnaped, tortured and very likely raped by Guatemalan security forces. The investigatory commission called on the Guatemalan government to hold the perpetrators accountable and to compensate Ortiz for the gross violation of her human rights. However, the case languished in the Guatemalan court system and no suspects were ever identified.

Healing Mind, Body and Soul 

Ortiz’s suffering has left her with an acute awareness of human rights issues and a desire to work in service of those rights. In 1998 she founded Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC), and in 2002 published The Blindfold’s Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth. Understandably, she is reluctant to discuss the horrific events of November 1989. “Those of us who have survived torture must relive all our torture every time we speak of it, and that’s one of the reasons why few of us do speak publicly,” she explained in a 2005 Democracy Now! interview. “I want to be free of these memories,” she told Kennedy. “I want to be as trusting, confident, adventurous, and carefree as I was in 1987.”

As for her recovery, Ortiz confessed in The Blindfold’s Eye that “no one ever fully recovers” from torture. “Not the one who is tortured, and not the one who tortures.” Her faith, which also suffered after her ordeal, has recovered —  and evolved. “Today, my spirituality is an attempt to live a Gospel-centered life that is formed, inspired and transformed and guides me in my ministry,” she told Global Sisters Report in 2016. “Prayer centers my heart and ministry on what is most important.”

Through it all, Sister Dianna Ortiz has not stopped searching for the whole truth of what happened to her 30 years ago. “I stand with the Guatemalan people,” she told Kennedy:

I demand the right to a future built on truth and justice. My torturers were never brought to justice. It is possible that, individually, they will never be identified or apprehended. But I cannot resign myself to this fact and move on. I have a responsibility to the people of Guatemala and to the people of the world to insist on accountability where it is possible.

“I know what it is to wait in the dark for torture, and what it is to wait in the dark for the truth,” said Ortiz. “I am still waiting.”

Posted in USA, GuatemalaComments Off on 30 Years Ago, American Nun Dianna Ortiz Was Kidnapped and Tortured in Guatemala, She’s Still Waiting for Truth & Justice

5th Guatemalan Migrant Minor Dies in US Immigration Custody

NOVANEWS
  • Pro-migration activists take part in a demonstration in support of the human rights of migrant children outside the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico May 17, 2019.
    Pro-migration activists take part in a demonstration in support of the human rights of migrant children outside the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico May 17, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

    A 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant died Monday in U.S. border patrol custody, the 5th minor to die since December.

A 16-year-old Guatemalan boy died Monday in United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody in Texas, officials there said, making him the fifth minor to die after being apprehended by U.S. agents since December at the border wtih Mexico.

US: 2-year-old Migrant Boy Dies After Crossing Border

The boy, Carlos Hernandez, was arrested by U.S. CBP agents May 13 after crossing the border near Hidalgo, Texas with a group of 70 others, according to the agency.

Early Sunday morning, Hernandez told the staff at the central processing station where he was being held that he was not feeling well, a CBP official told reporters.

He was diagnosed with the flu and transferred to the Weslaco Border Patrol Station in south Texas later that day to separate him from others at the processing station in the Rio Grande Valley, the official said.

He was due to be transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the care of minor migrant children who cross into the United States without adult family members.

But Monday morning, during a “welfare check,” the boy was found unresponsive, according to a CBP statement. The statement said the cause of death was not yet known, and that the Department of Homeland Security and the Guatemalan government had been notified.

The Guatemalan foreign ministry requested that U.S. authorities urgently explain the cause of death. Local and federal law enforcement are investigating what caused Hernandez to die.

The Guatemalan ministry also said that Hernandez was from the northern department of Baja Verapaz and trying to enter the U.S. to reunite with his family.

Guatemalan Boy Who Died in US Border Custody Buried

The boy was the fifth Guatemalan minor since December to die after being apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, making Hernandez the fourth to die in U.S. custody.

A fifth child, who crossed the border with his mother in April, died last week in a hospital but had already been released from U.S. custody at the time.

Jess Morales Rocketto, chair of advocacy group Families Belong Together said, “Four in six months is a clear pattern of willful, callous disregard for children’s lives.”

From October 2018 to April 2019, nearly 293,000 people traveling as families were apprehended at the southern U.S. border—a nearly four fold jump over the same time frame the previous year.

Immigrant advocates say the administration’s policies, including making it more difficult for migrants to seek asylum at official ports of entry, contribute to making their journeys more arduous and drive migrants to seek out remote border outposts badly equipped to care for children.

Julie Linton, co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Immigrant Health Special Interest Group, said she was concerned about sick children potentially being housed in bare-bones border protection facilities for extended periods of time.

“There certainly need to be conditions that do not include lying on a mat with a Mylar blanket on a floor that is cold, and cage-like fencing that extends to the ceiling,” she said on a conference call with reporters Monday. “We absolutely need pediatric health experts at the border.”



Posted in USA, GuatemalaComments Off on 5th Guatemalan Migrant Minor Dies in US Immigration Custody


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