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Harvard-educated attorney Jennifer Harbury went to Guatemala to help refugees, and found herself drawn into a political drama that would test her beliefs, courage, and moral strength. She fell in love and married Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, better known as Commander Everardo, a Mayan Indian resistance leader. Soon after, he vanished in combat. This is the story of Harbury's search for Everardo, one that grew into an impassioned crusade to expose those responsible for the human rights abuses suffered upon the victims...
Harvard-educated attorney Jennifer Harbury went to Guatemala to help refugees, and found herself drawn into a political drama that would test her beliefs, courage, and moral strength. She fell in love and married Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, better known as Commander Everardo, a Mayan Indian resistance leader. Soon after, he vanished in combat. This is the story of Harbury's search for Everardo, one that grew into an impassioned crusade to expose those responsible for the human rights abuses suffered upon the victims of Guatemala — one woman's heroic stand against the Guatemalan oligarchy, the U.S. State Department, and the CIA. A headline-making story of love, war, and courage, this is the personal account of an American woman and her unrelenting fight to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of her husband, a Guatemalan guerrilla leader.
Harvard-educated attorney and first-time author Harbury made news a couple of years back for her public quest to locate her husband, a Guatemalan rebel who had been arrested by the military and then disappeared; that quest involved congressional hearings, a well-publicized hunger strike in Guatemala City, and something of a crusade on the part of Mike Wallace and the CBS news program 60 Minutes. Here Harbury recounts those events in a voice that uneasily shifts from an epistolary, second-person address to her husband, known by the nom de guerre Everardo, to first-person reportage. Her prose is often overwrought and flowery ("Did they drag you here dead in a burlap bag and bury you like a magnificent broken bird that they could never fully comprehend or value"), and Harbury seems unwilling to acknowledge that her husband was in fact a guerrilla soldier involved in a war, "the commander of an entire region," not an innocent bystander swept up by tragic events, and therefore subject to the harsh penalties of defeat—in this case, execution. Still, she does a good job of describing the injustices of Guatemalan society and the apparent injustices of an American foreign-policy apparatus wedded to Cold War notions of containing Communism in the western hemisphere. She also confirms, if there were any doubt, the depth of CIA involvement in Guatemalan affairs, including the training and financing of the very death squads responsible for Everardo's death.
Readers of her account will be reminded of Costa Gavras's film Missing, and perhaps even Oliver Stone's Salvador, save that these two are much better storytellers. A much shorter book—or even a long magazine article—could have readily accommodated the basics of Harbury's rather slender narrative.
Las Cabañas Military Base
Guatemala, July 1995
The fireflies are at play again, lighting up the darkened fields in front of us like some exquisite witchcraft. I have not seen so many since I was very small, and their wild trajectories make the stars above seem cold and static. I crawl out from under my lightweight blanket and sit on a stretch of tangled grass to watch, lighting a cigarette and letting the silence steady me. It has been a brutal day, full of army rage, flashing cameras, and an ever-burning sun. The students lie sound asleep next to me, wrapped in their plastic covers against the intermittent evening rains, their faces young yet old, resolute, and terribly vulnerable. A few yards away is the army base, marked by a circle of luxuriant trees and a thin, glittering strand of barbed wire. In the shadows, it looks like a giant bouquet of prehistoric flowers tied together with a sparkling ribbon. A frightened young soldier sits at the front gate, hunched over his machine gun, watching us. He has been told that we are evil and deserve to be dead but that nothing must happen to us or there will be trouble, especially for him. He sits in silence, resisting the urge to speak to us, to ask us questions. He has long ago learned never to look for explanations.
He knows we have come for the dead, and this unnerves him. Just behind him and the trees and the preposterous green foliage lie the unmarked graves, crowded together in the narrow ledge leading to the river. The villagers have told us where to find them, but I knew already, long since, like all the others. We have been out there before, so many times, only to be driven away by the colonel, but not before we walked across that terrible strip of land. It is covered with long wild grasses that look like unkempt human hair, and the earth is uneven and ravaged by ominous mounds and depressions. The air seems too heavy to breathe and it echoes with the unmistakable silence of the dead. To walk across it breaks my heart, Everardo, for they tell me that you lie destroyed in one of those shallow graves beneath my feet.
I light another cigarette, letting it glow between my fingers without bringing it to my lips. They say there are two thousand people buried back there, all victims of the army's murderous rampage. Could it be true? I think so. A villager, thin and frightened, came by early this morning to share a small bunch of ripe bananas and a furtive conversation with us. He told us of hearing the terrible screams in the night, sometimes even during the daylight hours. Once he was passing on his way to the fields when a cry of agony rooted him to the spot. He listened in horror, unable to help and yet unable to leave. Finally a soldier came out of the gateway, angry and menacing. "Do you want to get going?" he asked. "Or do you want to stay here forever too?" The man left, of course, but he never forgot. Another villager has brought us a map, neatly lettered in his unschooled hand and color-coded for clarity. I have tucked it away, wrapped in sheer blue plastic, in my pack. They have been coming to us for days now, the villagers. Stealthy and frightened, they have been watching the army for fifteen years, remembering carefully, waiting for someone to come for the dead.
I lean forward and brush the drying mud from the yellow paper crosses we have laid out in a row. So far it is all that we can do, for the army will not permit us to open the graves or even enter the base. Our court orders are useless here, and the official prosecutor who has tried to help us is under death threats, along with his son. We can only sit here now, on our long vigil with our paper crosses, giving homage as best as we can to those who lie in that broken strip of earth.
In the silence, I try to stare past the shroud of sparkling fireflies, past the machine gunner and the circlet of trees. Are you out there, Everardo? You have been missing for so long, vanished for three years now. Have I finally found you here? You are still so real to me, it is hard to believe that you are dead and broken, lying motionless in some shallow grave. This is not what I fought for, not what I hoped for, all this time. I don't want to believe it. Yet I do believe it, no matter how hard my heart resists, for it has the ring of truth. You would never let me hide from the truth. We are not far from where you were born and raised, Everardo. That village lies just up the road a ways, in a blur of wild greenery and steep slopes. The volcanoes where you fought for so many years encircle us like a bracelet. I can see the peaks clearly in the dark, sharp and beautiful against the blue-black sky. Up there at the top is where we first spoke to each other, where you so shyly danced with me for the first time, where I fell in love with you even though you didn't yet love me in return, or even quite trust me. I didn't mind, and you understood and were so kind about it that I loved you all the more. I never expected to see you again, but I did and I am glad. Despite everything that has happened, you were worth it all. We are not very far from where you were tortured and chained for so long, Everardo. That army base lies just a few miles away from here. We passed it on the road driving in for the vigil. Did you die here as well? Did you have a chance to glimpse your beloved greenery and mountains one last time after your long captivity? Or did they drag you here dead in a burlap bag and bury you like a magnificent broken bird that they could never fully comprehend or value? Either way, I know you met your death with that silent stoicism, wistful for the life you never had but ready to be free at last. I know you.
I light a final cigarette and, once again, let it burn slowly in my fingers while I stare into the darkness. I can sense you back there, moving about with your catlike gait in your green uniform and small neatly laced boots. You say nothing to me, but then you never were much in favor of talk. You see words, at best, as an inelegant way of transmitting thoughts to those with inferior communication techniques. When I close my eyes I feel you close by, watching over me.
I want to rip open that strip of earth behind the base and tear your bones from the mud where they tossed you like so much refuse. I want to take you from their hands, free you, but I don't know if it will ever be possible. I will try. I am here for you, Everardo, out here with your trees and your mountains and your wild fireflies. I am here for you.
(c) 1999 by Jennifer K. Harbury "