In 1989, the Current U.S. Representative to the OAS Covered Up a Case of Torture in Guatemala
By Jean-Guy Allard
Lewis Amselem, the head of the U.S. delegation to the Organization of American States (OAS), who called President Manuel Zelaya’s return to his country “irresponsible” and “foolish” was denounced years ago for having concealed the identities of individuals, one of whom was a U.S. national, who tortured and raped a U.S. nun in Guatemala.
On November 2, 1989, Dianna Ortiz was kidnapped, raped and tortured by members of Guatemalan security forces, supervised by a North American citizen.
Since then, Ortiz has tried, tirelessly, to get the U.S. government to reopen the files of all those who were victims of brutality in Guatemala during the period of the pro-USA dictatorships.
“Zelaya’s return to Honduras is irresponsible and foolish and it doesn’t serve the interests of the people nor those seeking a peaceful reestablishment of democratic order in Honduras,” said Lewis Amselem, with an arrogance correspondent to his role as Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS.
Amselem was Human Rights Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala during the government of Vinicio Cerezo, a civil administration under which the army continued to savagely attack guerrillas. Cerezo was criticized for his inertia in confronting cases of human rights violations.
Coincidentally, 1989 was the year when the CIA agent and terrorist of Cuban origin, Luis Posada Carriles, passed through Guatemala, where he fabricated a cover for himself as head of security for the state telephone company, Guatel. President Vinicio Cerezo granted him special powers that turned him into a virtual gangster. He is credited with a series of executions, kidnappings, swindles and frauds during that period.
A Pit Full of Corpses
Dianna Ortiz was an Ursuline nun when she decided to dedicate herself to society’s most humble, and went to Central America with other nuns, to work as a nurse in small indigenous communities. Very soon she received anonymous death threats accusing her of complicity with guerrillas and ordering her to leave the country.
According to her account of a day in November, 1989, two men captured her in a garden of a community center, and took her in an unmarked police car to the former Polytechnic School, a military academy in Guatemala City.
A horrible interrogation began during which Ortiz was burned more than 100 times with cigarettes and raped repeatedly by her torturers, who ordered her to identify “subversives.” The treatment was so rough that she fainted.
According to a report published in 1996 by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, Ortiz, “at one point regained conciousness and found that her wrists had been tied over her head with a bra. It seemed that she was in a patio. Then she felt various people move a heavy slab on the floor. They lowered her into a pit full of corpses. She fainted again. When she awoke, she was on the floor and the men had started again to abuse her sexually.”
The interminable torture session was interrupted by the arrival of a person who was called Alejandro, who explained that she’d been confused for a guerrilla leader named Verónica Ortiz Hernández.
While “Alejandro” was taking her in his Jeep to the “house of a friend of the Embassy,” Dianna escaped, by taking advantage of a stop at a traffic light.
A Bush Holdover
What followed in the subsequent years was a true ordeal for a woman already destroyed by this hellish experience.
The Guatemalan Defense Minister, Hector Gramajo, said publicly that Dianna Ortiz had made up her story, adding insults and slanderous insinuations of a sexual nature.
Researching the subject, reporters from ABC News identified the source of these degrading rumors. They came from the Office of Human Rights’ Lewis Amselem, who upon being asked about them, vehemently denied any involvement.
The Reverend Joseph Nangle of the Assisi Community, said later that Amselem had spoken on the subject in his presence, with an outrageous vulgarity.
Other people confirmed Nangle’s comment and added that Amselem multiplied his insulting references to the presence of religious volunteers in Guatemala’s indigenous communities.
On October 16, 1996, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission recognized the veracity of Ortiz’s declarations, based on the information presented and its investigation and analysis of the case, and condemned the Guatemalan government.
However, the U.S. Ambassador, Thomas F. Stroock and his employee, Amselem, who constantly hindered the investigation, are not mentioned in the document.
In 1995, a U.S. court sentenced Hector Gramajo to pay $47 million to Ortiz and his other victims.
Amselem was a diplomat from the Bush Administration, who remained in place, just like many other ultra right-wingers in the current Obama administration.
Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.