MT: Here I’d like to turn to some of your more personal experiences during the war. You dedicate your book to a friend named Lucky. I’d like you to speak of her, and then, as a sub-question, how were you able to maintain a sense of objectivity throughout your time here?
JMS: Well, I was going to Guatemala in 1982 and someone said, “You have to meet Lucky. Her family is wealthy, and they’re completely trustworthy, and when you go out with the guerrillas you can leave your luggage with them.” And I ended up becoming friends with both sisters, Guisella and Lucky Orellena. Lucky worked with the FAR guerrilla group. You think of guerrillas as heavy-hearted, ideological and serious people, but Lucky was completely the opposite. She wore all these British clothes, or hippie stuff and leather boots, and she had fingernails out to Nebraska and she had this crazy laugh. And we became good friends.
And I also became good friends with her sister Guisella who worked for Christian Children’s Fund, and I was equally friends with both of them. I would go over to their house for parties, and we’d sit around and rag on Christian Democrats and the military. Her dad was one of these military guys who was pre-Castillo Armas, one of the liberals of the 1944 revolution. He and I would sit around and cut the cold-cuts and cake and talk and talk.
And I’d go around with Lucky on her missions as part of the FAR. One of her jobs was to meet with rural people so they could inform on what was going on in the countryside. And we’d be driving around in her little green Volvo; we’d stop and a campesino would get into the car, and I’d get into the backseat and he’d tell Lucky what was going on. You know, in K’iche or Nebaj, how many military were there, where they were.
Lucky was kidnapped in June 1983. She was coming out of a Silva Mind Control Meeting at a hotel. She had asthma and thought if she went to this Silva Mind Control, she could learn to control it. But you know, when one guerrilla goes, so do 10 or 20. Because everybody talks. Lucky was captured in a group that night and was never seen again.
And the strangest part was that her family didn’t know she was in the guerrillas until after she disappeared. But Lucky, all this time, refused to go to a safe house. She continued to go back to her little bedroom every night after whatever she did with FAR. And still, she had a maid bring her breakfast in bed in the morning and yet, she had hidden the plans for the National Palace, the blue prints, behind her bathroom wall.
I think someone was captured in the FAR and they gave Lucky’s name.
MT: Under torture?
JMS: Yeah. Lucky was tortured, too. They knew she had asthma and they gave her “the hood,” which is where they fill a black rubber hood with insecticide and cover your head. It was particularly painful for her because of her asthma. They tore off the tips of her fingers. The family was extorted for a lot of money. The people who tortured her — and this speaks to how evil this place was — the people who tortured her would call the family and they would say “We’re with Lucky and she needs some asthma medicine, she’s in pretty bad shape, can you give me $500?” So the aunt or the mother would run out and get the asthma medicine and five hundred bucks and give it to the person and the person would go away. And then another person would call and say, “Why don’t I have lunch with you on Saturday and I’ll tell you how Lucky is? Could the cook make me “X” for lunch?”
And so the cook would make “X” for lunch, all at the behest of someone who was torturing the daughter. And she’d eat with them and then extort them for more money. They kept extorting the family for about nine months after Lucky had been killed.
And I place the blame for this not only on the Guatemalan army, the direct perpetrators, but also on the State Department because the Embassy lied to the family as well. The Embassy told the family that Lucky would turn up alive. And they told the family, in later stages, when Lucky was already dead, that she was probably alive somewhere. The cable traffic between the Guatemalan State Department and the Embassy confirms that. The National Security Archive in Washington (one of their missions is to file Freedom of Information Act requests to try and figure out the extent of US involvement in situations like Guatemala) gave me five FOIA’s related to Lucky. They got declassified documents 20 years later. And the documents clearly demonstrated that the Embassy knew that Lucky was dead and they were telling the parents not to give up hope.
Later, another person came and said that they had buried Lucky in Santa Lucia Milpas Altas, and that in two more years he would return and the family would pay him $2000 and he’d show them where she was buried. He said that he would be able to prove it was her because before Lucky died, and she died in great pain, that she asked him a favor. She asked him to bury her with her boots on so the family could recognize her corpse.
MT: Now, were you here? You tell the story 20 years removed, but at the time this was a very living pain . . .