Human rights lawyer Jennifer Harbury describes U.S. role in Guatemala
Ian Dolan
April 1999

Author, U.S. Attorney, and human rights activist Jennifer Harbury spoke at UF March 31 about the CIA's role in the atrocities of the thirty-six year Civil War in Guatemala. The war, characterized as a "campaign of genocide" by Harbury, claimed the lives of over 200,000 Guatemalans, most of whom were Mayan Indians. Harbury spoke to the crowd of nearly 100 in order to get the facts straight about U.S. complicity in the murder and torture of thousands Guatemalans. "This is our government killing people in foreign countries," said Harbury.

Harbury speaks not only as a human rights activist, but as a widow. Her husband, Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, better known as Commandante Everardo of the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG), a coalition of leftist guerrilla forces, was tortured and killed by the Guatemalan military five years ago. With a picture of Everardo in one hand and declassified CIA and State Department documents in the other, Harbury revealed the CIA and U.S. Embassy's knowledge and complicity in her husband's torture and eventual murder.

Harbury moved the crowd with her own story and the stories of others. Liberal Arts senior Ken Wells expressed the sentiments of many when he said he was "completely appalled by the level of CIA involvement in the torture and killing of Guatemalan citizens." Others, like Liberal Arts junior Lisa Fisher were moved to tears by Ms. Harbury's story.

The Harvard graduate spoke about her legal battles and hunger strikes to obtain documents on the whereabouts of her husband and the other guerrillas being secretly held by the military. While Harbury received support from human rights organizations, the religious community and even the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City and the State Department for years continued to deny any knowledge of secret military prisons in Guatemala. Harbury has been able to prove through declassified documents that the CIA, State Department and the U.S. Embassy knew these secret torture chambers existed and that CIA officers even visited these prisons to gather information.

Harbury also spoke of other documented cases of brutality committed under the watchful eye of the CIA and U.S. Embassy. She used these cases illustrate a pattern of CIA abuses in Guatemala that traces back to the 1954 CIA-backed coup of Jacobo Arbenz. Since 1954, according to Harbury, the U.S. has supported a repressive military structure designed to protect U.S. investment and maintain an archaic social structure. Ms. Harbury was especially critical of the role the School of the Americas played in the training of Guatemalan military officers. Harbury calls the school's graduates "the worst human rights violators in the hemisphere." Harbury stated that the U.S. military institution, designed to train foreign military officers, does in fact teach torture as a method of interrogation. Harbury encouraged the crowd to join the upcoming protest rally to close the school. Harbury said, "I think closing it is a major statement to the Defense community."

In addition to protesting the School of the Americas, Harbury informed the crowd of other ways they could take action. She encouraged those concerned about human rights to contact either Amnesty International or Global Exchange, the non-profit organization she is currently working with. Harbury also told the crowd of the upcoming bill before Congress that would allow for the further declassification of government documents. Contact Representative Karen Thurman at 336-6614 and tell her to support the Human Rights Information Act.

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