The Vigil Begins

On Palm Sunday, March 31, 1996, Sister Dianna Ortiz stood in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, and for the first time spoke in public of the most difficult parts of her torture.

Today, I begin my silent vigil for truth in front of the White House—not a silence of complicity, but a silence of commemoration for those who have been tortured, assassinated, or disappeared in Guatemala in the last 30 years. Our own United States government has been closely linked to the Guatemalan death squads, and has a great amount of detailed information about those of us who have survived as well as those who have perished. We need and demand this information so that we can heal our wounds, bury our dead, and carry on with our lives.

Many of you know my story. I was in San Miguel Acatán, teaching Mayan children to read and write and to understand the Bible in respect to their culture. For a long time I received death threats. Then on November 2, 1989, I was abducted from the back yard of the Posada de Belén retreat center in Antigua by members of the Guatemalan security forces. They took me to a clandestine prison where I was tortured and raped repeatedly. My back and chest were burned more than 111 times with cigarettes. I was lowered into an open pit packed with human bodies—bodies of children, women, and men, some decapitated, some lying face up and caked with blood, some dead, some alive—and all swarming with rats.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1996
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