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U.S. releases Guatemala files

By JORGE A. BANALES

WASHINGTON, May 3 -- Dianna Ortiz, an American nun tortured seven years ago by soldiers in Guatemala, continued her protest outside the White House Friday as the State Department released about 20,000 documents related to abuses suffered by U.S. citizens in the Central American country. The government 'is confident that these documents will demonstrate to the Congress and the American public the efforts on our part to provide assistance to U.S. citizens who have been victims of human rights abuses in Guatemala,' State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said. Ortiz, now on the 34th day of her silent protest, claims her Guatemalan captors followed orders from an American man and has demanded the U.S. release all information on her case. She has received the support of more than 100 people, arrested on civil disobedience in front the White House in the past five days. 'I don't believe there is anything in the files that would indicate that an American official was present when Sister Ortiz was abused during her abduction,' Burns said. But a spokeswoman for Ortiz said the nun will continue her silent vigil until Monday, when she will hold a news conference to discuss the documents and her legal options. Ortiz is still waiting for the State Department to respond to her request made more than a year ago under the Freedom of Information Act about her captors. The documents released Friday are part of a 'voluntary disclosure' by State. Ortiz's lawyer said she also will present information about the search for 'Alejandro,' the American man she says gave orders to her captors.

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On Thursday, 103 members of Congress sent a letter to President Clinton demanding 'a rapid and comprehensive' declassification of U.S. documents related to Guatemala. At least 31 protesters, including Detroit Catholic bishop Thomas Gumbleton and American lawyer and activist Jennifer Harbury, were arrested Friday in the latest civil disobedience action outside the White House in support of Ortiz. Burns said that 'in response to specific requests from the Congress and the American public for information concerning human rights violations in Guatemala during the period 1984 to 1995, the Department of State delivered to Congress a set of 6,350 documents, totaling roughly 20,000 pages.' The documents are from State Department files, 'and do not seem to contain that much that is news,' said Jose Pertierra, a lawyer for Ortiz. 'There is probably more substantial material in files from the Central Intelligence Agency or the Defense Intelligence Agency.' Burns said 'the documents are relevant...are pertinent to particular cases involving U.S. citizens in Guatemala.' The documents were sent to Congress by Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor John Shattuck, and have been made available to the next of kin of the U.S. victims of human rights abuses in Guatemala, the official said. Harbury, who was married to Guatemalan guerrilla leader Efrain Bamaca, was also reviewing the documents she received after being released from jail. Bamaca was captured, tortured and killed by the Guatemalan army in 1992, but his body has never been found. Last year, Harbury fasted for 12 days outside the White House demanding information on her husband's fate. She has said the U.S. government refused to provide her with information obtained by intelligence sources, and that the Central Intelligence Agency paid $44, 000 to the Guatemalan army officer in charge of Bamaca's interrogation and disappearance. The newly elected President Alvaro Arzu, of Guatemala 'welcomes the U.S. State's release of declassified information on several cases involving American citizens in Guatemala,' the Guatemalan embassy said in a statement. The embassy also received copies of the documents on Friday and Arzu has ordered them to be delivered to the Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice 'for their accurate analysis toward clarifying the cases,' the statement said. 'We provided 100 percent of the documents that we found to the Congress this morning,' Burns said. 'Roughly 92 percent of those documents will be available to the American public and to the American press corps.' 'The eight percent that is not available pertains to those documents that must remain classified for national security reasons or for reasons having to do with the Privacy Act, to protect the privacy of some of the individuals involved,' he said.

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