On April 18th those of us on the delegation, as well as some other activists currently in Guatemala, met Jennifer Harbury. A courageous lawyer and activist, she has worked for many years in the movement to bring about justice for the hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans who have been murdered by the state, including her husband Efraín Bamaco. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone so brave and dedicated in the face of such enormous danger and opposition.
Above, a poster of Jennifer’s husband, one of many of those disappeared, constantly being put up (and taken down, and put up again) around Guatemala City. Top – “Your example guides our steps.” Bottom – “Fell in combat, detained and disappeared by the state of Guatemala”
“Most of the people I knew in 1990 are not around now,” Jennifer told us.
Hearing her speak was incredibly moving, but I’m not going to write what she shared here, as there are already many versions of her story out there, including the few books Jennifer herself has written.
One thing I was struck with, however, was the comparison she made between her struggle and that of Maria Rosario Godoy de Cuevas. Maria was a courageous Guatemalan who participated in founding the Mutual Support Group, or GAM, in 1984. It was formed in order to seek information on the whereabouts of those who were being disappeared and to seek redress by petition and publicity. It was one of the only groups engaged in civil disobedience at the time. On April 4, 1985, Maria, her twenty-one-year-old brother, and her two-year-old son were picked up, tortured, and murdered. Her two-year-old son had had his fingernails pulled out. They all showed signs of having been severely beaten and mutilated.
Jennifer sees Maria as her counterpart. She knows very well that if not for being white, (and possibly for being a lawyer) she would likely not still be here.
I was also struck with her – albeit cautious – sense of hopefulness. It appears that a small window is opening that may allow for charges to proceed against some of those responsible for the killings and violence of the civil war.
You can find background information on Jennifer’s struggles as well as a letter Jennifer recently wrote with an update on the legal battle she’s facing here.