The story of how PBI accompaniment of human rights defenders began
Photo of Rosario Godoy de Cuevas addressing a GAM rally two months before she was assassinated on April 4, 1985.
Peace Brigades International was founded on September 4, 1981 in Canada and placed its first team in Guatemala on March 21, 1983.
In Unarmed Bodyguards, Liam Mahony and Luis Enrique Eguren tell the story of how that first team shaped the mission of PBI that would define its work for years to come.
That first team, for a short while at least, consisted of Hazel Tulecke. One of her teammates had changed his mind at the last moment and didn’t come, while the other, Alvaro Diaz, was denied a visa because he had explained in detail the purpose of his trip.
PBI activist Dan Clark called Alain Richard, a French Franciscan worker-priest in Panama, and Pablo Stanfield, a non-violence activist in Seattle, and before long a three-person PBI team was set up in the home of an exiled Guatemalan professor.
By the end of their first month in Guatemala, the team had worked out a plan that included “serving continually as an international presence”, “direct action with regard to disappearances” and “creative nonviolent action in a crisis period”.
Mahony and Eguren write, “During their first year, PBI team members traveled throughout the highlands, visiting rural farmers, clandestine contacts, and government and military officials, introducing themselves and feeling things out.”
“When necessary, they helped people flee the country. In one case, PBI learned of a man who was about to be sentenced to death by Rios Montt’s Special Tribunals. PBI and other groups outside the country put together an overnight campaign, using confidential diplomatic channels of pressure, and they got a stay of sentencing and execution.”
“PBI later helped hustle the man out of the country.”
“By the end of the first year, the team had made many contacts and tested several program ideas, but none of them had developed into a clear mission.”
Then on March 11, 1984, Nineth Montenegro de Garcia wrote them: “I am pleading for your aid in my anguish. My husband, Edgar Fernando Garcia, was kidnapped, or more accurately, illegally captured on Saturday February 18 this year.” She further explained that it was the Police Special Operations Brigade who had taken him.
Nineth was a young schoolteacher, Fernando was a 25-year-old worker at a glass factory who had become involved in a union.
At this point, Edith Cole, a 57-year old psychologist from California, had joined the PBI team of Hazel, Alain and Pablo.
The PBI team asked Nineth if she knew of other people in the same situation and before long the Mutual Support Group (GAM) was formed.
Given the number of people whose loved ones had been disappeared, GAM grew quickly. It met weekly (at the PBI house in Guatemala City), organized memorial masses, published advertisements in the newspapers, listed disappearances and asked for support and investigations, met with the Guatemalan president, organized a silent march for peace, held a sit-in at the congress building, and announced their intention to charge elements of the security forces with the disappearances.
They even called on the international community to cut off aid to Guatemala. It was that last action that led to a siege on GAM.
Nineth writes, “In December  we began to receive the first threats.”
Mahony and Eguren write, “On Saturday, March 30, 1985, Hector Gomez left a GAM meeting at the PBI house. He was found dead the next day with his hands tied behind his back, no tongue, and signs of beating and burns.”
And Clark has written, “On April 3, PBI’s Alain Richard warned founder and secretary of GAM Maria Rosario Godoy de Cuevas not to leave her home for any reason because she was also in danger of being killed. The next day she was found dead in her car in a ravine with her brother and her two-year-old son, who had been ill. The cause of their deaths was strangulation, and the child’s fingernails had been pulled out.”
Mahony and Eguren comment, “According to Alain, the idea of personal accompaniment did not arise until after her death.”
Alain notes, “The night before I had to leave [the country to renew my visa], a close diplomatic contact visited me, along with Jean-Marie Simon of Americas Watch, and they told me, ‘Listen, you’ve started to be with these women. That has to continue. How can you make sure you have enough people to do that?’”
Mahony and Eguren highlight, “This was the beginning of PBI ‘escorting’: providing the surviving GAM leadership with around the clock unarmed bodyguards.”
“The pressure on the Guatemalan state after the two killings was immediate. Peace Brigades International made sure that high-level authorities knew about the escorting and the political costs that further attacks would carry.”
Though the situation remained intense and difficult for the group and some fled the country, “no other GAM leaders were killed.”
Hazel Tulecke died on September 5, 2019 in Yellow Springs, Ohio at 95 years of age. A memorial service is planned for her on November 16.
The photo above is of Hazel Tulecke, Alain Richard and Pablo Stanfield.
The photo below is a family snapshot of Nineth de García, daughter Alejandra and husband Fernando before his abduction on February 18, 1984. His disappearance remains unresolved.
The photo below is of Hector Gomez, who was murdered on March 30, 1985, after leaving a GAM meeting at the PBI house in Guatemala City, is held aloft at a protest.