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To Save Her Life

To Save Her Life: Disappearance, Deliverance, and the United States in Guatemala

Dan Saxon
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    To Save Her Life
    Book Description:

    Part human rights drama, part political thriller, part love story, this riveting narrative chronicles the disappearance of one woman as it tells the larger story of the past fifty years of violence and struggle for social justice and democracy, and U.S. intervention in Guatemala. Maritza Urrutia was abducted from a middle-class neighborhood while taking her son to school in 1992.To Save Her Lifetells the story of her ordeal which included being interrogated in secret by army intelligence officers about her activities as part of a political opposition group. Chained to a bed, blindfolded, and deprived of sleep, Maritza was ultimately spared because her family was able to contact influential intermediaries, including author Dan Saxon, who was in Guatemala working for the Catholic Church's Human Rights Office. Here Saxon brings to life the web of players who achieved her release: the Church, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Congress, numerous NGOs, guerrilla groups, politicians, students, and the media. Reaching back to 1954, when Maritza's grandparents were activists, the book is a study of the complex and often cruel politics of human rights, and its themes reverberate from Guatemala to Guantánamo to Iraq.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94111-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Map of Guatemala
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xxii)

    • ONE THURSDAY July 23, 1992
      (pp. 3-21)

      Maritza did not look like a revolutionary. She was just one of the young mothers walking their children to school in the morning. Herorganización,the Guerrilla Army of the Poor—an insurgent group commonly known by its Spanish acronym EGP and referred to here as the Organización—had trained Maritza about the importance of blending in with the crowd so as to avoid detection by the Guatemalan army. She wore no uniform and carried no weapon. A white sweater protected Maritza from the early morning chill and underneath she wore a T-shirt from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where her brother,...

      (pp. 22-34)

      They took the newspaper mask off Maritza’s face and she saw the fair-skinned man. “I don’t care if you see me,” he taunted. “You can’t do anything.”¹ A shorter man, his face covered, held a video camera and a camera for still photographs. Reinforcing their power and Maritza’s impotence, he filmed Maritza for about fifteen minutes as the fair-skinned man interrogated her that Thursday morning. The men covered Maritza’s face again with the mask and brought her back to the garage. Tell us more about your brother, Edmundo René. He’s a leftist, the men insisted, a Communist. Maritza swore that...

    • THREE FRIDAY July 24, 1992
      (pp. 35-51)

      In the morning the men brought Maritza a cold breakfast. They removed her handcuffs, brought her to a bathroom where she had a chance to bathe, and then handcuffed her to the bed again. The men alternated the wrist that bore the metal cuff. They told Maritza to keep the newspaper on her face at all times, even while she “slept.”

      The interrogation began again. The men wanted to know about Maritza’s relationship with her ex-husband. Esteban was an important man. Maritza must have more information. No, she didn’t have any more facts to give them.

      The men started to...

    • FOUR SATURDAY AND SUNDAY July 25–26, 1992
      (pp. 52-64)

      On Saturday morning, Maritza’s third day of captivity, one of her interrogators, a dark-skinned man, came into Maritza’s room and handed her a pen and a piece of paper. Write down everything you know. Around 11:00 A.M. Don Chando entered the room. The video that they made last night had not turned out well. Did Maritza use makeup? Yes (she lied), she used a lot of makeup. Trying to undermine her captors’ propaganda efforts, Maritza told Don Chando she used blue eye shadow and red lipstick, colors she never used on the rare occasions when she did wear cosmetics.


      (pp. 65-79)

      In 1954 the Catholic Church, led by the fiercely anti-Communist Archbishop Mariano Rossell, played a pivotal role in the downfall of Jacobo Árbenz’s government, thereby sending Maritza’s parents, grandparents, and siblings into exile. Now in 1992, the Urrutia family had come to the same Catholic Church, seeking help to save Maritza’s life. But the Church was not the same. It had undergone its own transformation since 1954, and this metamorphosis would have a profound impact on Maritza.

      In June 1524 Pedro de Alvarado became the governor of what is today Guatemala. He and his fellow Spaniards had come searching for...

    • SIX MONDAY AND TUESDAY July 27–28, 1992
      (pp. 80-93)

      At 8:00 on Monday morning, they brought Maritza breakfast. At 9:00 A.M. Don Chando entered the room and told her that they had to re-film the video; they didn’t like the previous version. The men took Maritza to a bathroom and told her to bathe and fix her makeup. Again Maritza piled on the cosmetics, trying to show whoever saw the video that she was not acting voluntarily.

      The men brought Maritza to the same room where they had filmed on Saturday. The new speech that Maritza would read was printed on large sheets of paper attached to the headboard...

    • SEVEN WEDNESDAY July 29, 1992
      (pp. 94-115)

      At 9:00 A.M. on Wednesday morning, the men brought Maritza to the bathroom. When she returned to her room, her breakfast was waiting for her, and that day, for the first time, they served her on china plates. All her previous meals had come on plastic dishes. Maritza’s stomach was still upset, so she could not eat very much.

      The dark-skinned man who had interrogated Maritza on Tuesday entered the room. He told Maritza to write more, to write down everything she knew about her ex-husband and about all of her friends. After Maritza had been writing for a while,...

    • EIGHT THURSDAY July 30, 1992
      (pp. 116-132)

      The telephone woke me up at six on Thursday morning. It was Edmundo René and he was in a panic. “Daniel, did you see the news last night?” No, I didn’t own a television. “Daniel!Maritza was on the news! She gave a statement and said I introduced her to her ex-husband! Now I’m leaving the country! I have to leave!”

      I struggled to calm Edmundo René down and eventually he told me that he and Kappy had spent the night at the Camino Real. “Give me twenty minutes,” I told him, “and I’ll be there.”

      Traffic was still light...

    • Photographs
      (pp. None)

    • NINE FRIDAY July 31, 1992
      (pp. 135-143)

      On Thursday night Maritza and Sebastián shared one of the single beds in the back room of the archbishopric and Edmundo René and Kappy crammed into the other. As they bedded down, Sebastián locked his hands around Maritza’s neck. “Youleftme!” he scolded his mother. “Whydid youleaveme?”¹ During the frantic efforts to save Maritza’s life, no one in the family had explained clearly to Sebastián why his mother was absent. She did notwantto leave him, Maritza replied, but some men had taken her away against her will. Eventually her son fell asleep, and Maritza...

    • TEN SATURDAY August 1, 1992
      (pp. 144-153)

      By Saturday morning, tensions were high between Maritza and Edmundo René. Maritza told her brother that she did not want to stay in the United States with him. She would remain an EGP activist even in exile and would continue the struggle with her comrades.¹

      Edmundo René was angry with Maritza because his own plans for resuming his life in Guatemala were falling apart. Now he had to leave the country again. Maritza’s disappearance was such a dramatic event that it would be absurd for her to continue her life as an insurgent, he thought. Maritza should seize this opportunity...

    • ELEVEN SUNDAY August 2, 1992
      (pp. 154-165)

      I stopped at a newsstand on Sunday morning to glance at the morning papers. An enormous headline blared from the front page ofEl Grafico:“URNG: Maritza Urrutia Is an Active Militant.” This was not what I wanted to see. I ran to the archbishopric.

      Edmundo René lay in his bed in the back room with Kappy dozing by his side. Maritza’s brother was partially sitting up, fully clothed, with a baseball cap on his head.El Graficolay on the blanket in front of him. The article described a communiqué that the URNG’s high command issued on July 31....

    • TWELVE MONDAY August 3, 1992
      (pp. 166-177)

      On Monday morning I found Maritza, dressed in her nightgown, sweeping the flagstones outside the back room. She looked upset and preoccupied, so I asked her what was the matter.

      “Daniel, Edmundo René thinks that it’s all my fault!”

      “What do you mean?” Maritza was crying now, and I saw that her eyes were red and swollen.

      “Edmundo René said that if I hadn’t married Esteban this wouldn’t have happened. That we wouldn’t be in this mess and our lives torn apart.”

      Now she was sobbing. “But he doesn’t understand that I was a victim too. I had a baby...

    • THIRTEEN TUESDAY August 4, 1992
      (pp. 178-189)

      On Tuesday morning Maritza and her relatives began their fifth full day in the archbishopric. Nerves were raw. At breakfast in Sister Tere’s kitchen, Kappy picked at the refried black beans that were standard breakfast fare in Guatemala: “There’s nothing else to eat?” Kappy got up to buy a Coke and some donuts at a nearby store.

      “Ah, Sister Tere,” gushed Edmundo René to the tiny nun, “your beans are sodelicious!” Edmundo René followed Kappy out of the room, screaming that she was being ungrateful: “Don’t youunderstandwhat these people are doing for us?!”¹

      Rumors were circulating among...

    • FOURTEEN WEDNESDAY August 5, 1992
      (pp. 190-204)

      Just after six every morning, Archbishop Penados celebrated Mass in his private chapel, just a few steps from the back room where Maritza, Sebastián, Edmundo René, and Kappy slept each night. Sister Tere attended Mass in the chapel every morning, and since her arrival at the archbishopric, Maritza had come to Mass a few times. When they needed a place to talk quietly or simply escape the stress, Edmundo René and Kappy also retreated into the chapel. They slipped through the carved wooden doors to sit on the dark pews below a crystal chandelier.

      On top of the massive golden...

    • FIFTEEN THURSDAY August 6, 1992
      (pp. 205-226)

      Thursday morning’sEl Graficodevoted an entire page to Maritza’s case. “Maritza Leaves the Country Today,” read one headline. “Her Brother Is Going As Well,”¹ reported another. According to this account, Maritza’s first stop would be Mexico, but her final destination was unknown. One of Rony Véliz’s drinking partners in the ODHA had carelessly given theGrafico/Reuters journalist this “tip” on Wednesday afternoon. But the information was overtaken by Ambassador’s Stroock’s decision to delay the issuance of the visa. Unaware of this latest turn of events,Siglo Veintiunoimmediately dispatched a photographer to the airport on Thursday morning to wait...

    (pp. 227-237)

    On Friday morning the Guatemala City newspapers were full of news about Maritza. “Maritza Urrutia Called to Court,” blared the headline on the front page ofPrensa Libre.“She must say whether she was kidnapped or detained,” read the subhead. The article explained that Attorney General Acisclo Valladares had begun legal proceedings so that Maritza could resolve all of the doubts about her situation. In the event that Maritzahadbeen coerced into requesting amnesty, Valladares explained, she will have to explain why she failed to make “the pertinent accusation” when she appeared before a judge in order to obtain...

    (pp. 238-244)

    In March 2005 Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. secretary of defense, announced that the United States would lift its ban on military assistance to Guatemala following efforts by the government of Guatemala to reform its armed forces.¹ In November 2005 U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents lured the chief of the Guatemalan government’s Anti-Narcotics Analysis and Information Service (Guatemala’s top antidrug officer) and two of his closest subordinates to Virginia, where the three antinarcotics officials were arrested and charged with crimes related to drug trafficking.²

    Ambassador Tom Stroock left Guatemala in late 1992 and returned to his Wyoming oil business. Mentally and...

  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 245-248)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 249-286)
  12. Selected Bibliography and Further Reading
    (pp. 287-294)
  13. Index
    (pp. 295-306)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 307-307)