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Human-rights activists say criticism by Guatemalan officials typical, unfounded.

WASHINGTON -- Guatemalan officials have criticized human-rights activists for attending a symposium on torture in Guatemala last month. The activists said the recent accusations that they support antigovernment rebels were typical of resistance to their work.

Statements by Guatemalan President Jorge Serrano and Gen. Jose Garcia Samayoa, defense minister, were merely attempts to halt work "on behalf of the defense, promotion and respect for human rights," said Factor Mendez, director of the Center for the Research, Study and Promotion of Humam Rights in Guatemala.

"Through the press, in a public way, they have accused us of being enemies of dermocracy," Mendez said, adding that was typical for anyone who worked "on behalf of human rights in Guatemala."

Mendez made his remarks on Capitol Hill during a November panel discussion about the human-rights situation in Guatemala. He was one of three human-rights activists criticized by the Guatemalan officials for attending a Nov. 14-15 symposium, "Confronting the Heart of Darkeness," The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.

At a press conference in Guatemala City, Samayoa had accused the activists of seeking to destabilize the government and of "conveying disinformation concept" by speaking at the symposium, which was sponsored by the Washington-based Guatemala Human Rights Commission USA.

The symposium's discussion of human rights and torture in Guatemala became emotional when Ursuline Sister Dianna Ortiz unexpectedly came to the speakers' platform. Ortiz has testified that Guatemalan security forces were responsible for her abduction, torture and rape in November 1989.

Fighting back tears, Ortiz startled participants by introducing them on behalf of other victims to "our unique friend" -- a razor blade -- which she said not only "comforts us in darkest moments by bidding us to put to death yesterday's memories, but also encourages us to hope, to defy the torturers and cry out, |We are alive. We will not allow the persecution of innocent people to continue.'"

Ortiz, who testified April 7, 1992, before the Guatemalan court for 12 hours, said she returned to the United States "broken and wilted, but with an inner strength." She said she would continue to confront the judicial system, in Guatemala and in the United States, which attempts to "revictimize us or make us feel responsible for crimes we have not committed."

Keynote speaker Allan Nairn, who has spent years as a free-lance journalist in Guatemala, said: "Few places on earth know the terrorism experienced by the people of Guatemala." He warned activists not to be misled by reports of a "new era of peace" in Central America.

Human-rights groups including Amnesty International and GHRC/USA have documented that, in 30 years, Guatemalan military police have killed an estimated 100,000 people, forced 150,000 into exile and displaced more than a million. The use of torture as a weapon of political terror continues to increase.

Other Guatemalan victims and survivors described their experiences of torture.

Carmen Valenzuela, a physician now in exile in the United States, said security forces abducted her February 10, 1980, while she was working with displaced women outside Guatemala City. She said she was held in detention and tortured for eight days.

And seven members of Adriana Bartow's family were "disappeared" by government security forces in 1981. "While I was being questioned by the military outside my home," she said, "a group of men were inside washing the floor." Bartow said she thinks her two daughters were killed in that room. Bartow is coordinator of the Guatemalan Human Rights Defense Project, Chicago.

The answer to the roots of such torture in Guatemala can be found in policy decisions made in Washington, D.C., Nairn said. He urged grass-roots pressure targeted at complete cutoff of every aspect of military aid.

"Now is a moment of great opportunity," said Naim. "With the Nobel Prize to Rigoberta Menchu, with the new administration and with changes in Congress, there is a real possibility with carefully drawn legislation to totally sever the U.S. military relationship with Guatemala."
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Author:Vidulich, Dorothy
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Dec 4, 1992
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