Don't you think the greatest heroes are those who persevere?
Some people get medals for being in the right place at the right time to do a splendid thing in a split second--and deserve medals for presence of mind alone. But those who hang in there for a long time against great odds seem to me even more deserving of our respect and acclaim.
Our fellow Texan Jennifer Harbury is a hero not just because of her courage but because of her magnificent perseverance as well.
Most of you know at least a little of Harbury's story: former lawyer with Texas Rural Legal Aid--which means right there we already knew she had courage and perseverance--who went to Guatemala to write a book and fell in love with a guerrilla commander named Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, called Everardo.
They were married in Austin and returned to Guatemala, where Everardo disappeared in early 1992.
Jennifer Harbury set out to discover what had happened to him. First, she was told he was killed in a skirmish, later that he was captured but died shortly afterward. Eyewitnesses saw Everardo alive in a secret prison used for the torture of guerrillas as long as five months after his supposed death.
Of course, the Guatemalan government--one of the most brutal and violent on Earth, put in place by and supported by the United States of America--insisted that it had no information about Everardo. In 40 years, the Guatemalan government has killed more than 100,000 of its own citizens in what it calls a war against leftist guerrillas, but everybody knows it is actually a war against the Mayan Indians.
Of course, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala said it had no knowledge of Everardo's death.
Here's one example of how our embassy in Guatemala helped American citizens with problems there. Sister Dianna Ortiz, an American nun, was kidnapped, gang-raped, and tortured by a unit of the Guatemalan army led by an American who she still believes was linked to the U.S. Embassy.
In January 1990, she received a letter from our then-Ambassador Thomas Strook. In response to her complaint, Strook sent a three-page letter denouncing her accusations as "a scurrilous smear on the good names of the fine Americans who serve their country in this mission" and questioning Sister Ortiz's "credibility, sincerity, and good motives."
According to Allan Nairn, reporting in The Nation, Strook's aide then suggested to foreign visitors that Sister Ortiz had not been abducted but had been wounded in a sadomasochistic lesbian tryst.
This gives you some idea of the kind of opposition that Jennifer Harbury faced at every turn.
The connections between our government and the worst elements of the notorious Guatemalan army are public record. The Green Berets openly trained the "Messengers of Death," a death squad. Guatemalan army leaders studied at the infamous Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, known as the "School of the Dictators" for all the Latin American horrors who have been trained there.
We sold the Guatemalan army weapons; its officers frequently consulted and trained at U.S. military bases; we sent hundreds of National Guard troops there to work with their army.
Even after our policy officially changed in December 1990, when military aid to Guatemala was supposedly cut off, the connections continued to operate under both the Bush and the Clinton administrations. Just last Sunday, Warren Christopher once again stated that all aid had been cut off and then had to issue a retraction.
Harbury went through the gruesome experience of digging up a body supposed to be her husband's--but it was not. She continued to lobby, plead, persuade, insist, and enlist media help, and finally, she went on hunger strikes outside the embassy.
The CIA and the Guatemalan government continued to lie about their knowledge of Everardo's fate, evidently even to the White House and Congress. (The CIA does not learn from experience, does it?)
Finally Rep. Robert Torricelli, D-New Jersey, accused the CIA of concealing information about the death of Everardo and the murder of an American innkeeper in Guatemala in 1990. The White House ordered an investigation; FBI agents are questioning functionaries of the National Security Agency; the Pentagon is conducting separate reviews of the Army and the Defense Intelligence Agency; and the whole alphabet soup of our spy agencies is like an anthill that has just been stepped on.
It turns out the CIA knew all along that both Everardo and the innkeeper were killed by Colonel Julio Roberto Alpirez--because Alpirez is also a paid informant of the CIA.
More reviews, more investigations, more congressional hearings, more reports from oversight committees--this is the same CIA scandal we have had since the Church Committee in 1976.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Only Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-New York, has had the courage to suggest the outright abolition of the CIA--on the grounds that these eternal scandals are not the ever-famous "rogue agents" but the consequence of a poisoned and poisonous bureaucracy--but at least we should open the files.
All the files.
The Cold War is over. Whatever need we once had to support repellent dictators is long over.
Open the files.
Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Copyright 1995 Creators Syndicate, Inc.