David Hartsough remembers PBI-Guatemala’s role following the murders of Hector Gomez and Maria Rosario Godoy de Cuevas
Video: David Hartsough speaks about PBI in Guatemala.
In this 5-minute video, David Hartsough talks about the repression against Guatemalans in the early-1980s and the accompaniment that was provided by Peace Brigades International to the Mutual Support Group (GAM) beginning in 1985.
Hartsough says: “Those women [the leaders of the GAM] say we wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for Peace Brigades International. And the other organizations, people say they wouldn’t have had the courage to become active again if it hadn’t been for those women.”
In August 2004, the New Internationalist also published this article that says:
“The country is Guatemala. The year is 1985. Since 1978, the military machine (built with help from the US) has indiscriminately killed as many as 100,000 Guatemalans. Their bodies have been found piled up in ravines, dumped at roadsides or buried in mass graves.
A Mutual Support Group [GAM] has been formed to bring back into the light the disappeared and dead. In March, then again in April, two of their leaders were seized, tortured, and murdered: Hector Gomez, burned with a blowtorch on the stomach and elsewhere; Maria Rosario Godoy de Cuevas, found dead with bite marks on her breasts and her two-year-old son with his fingernails pulled out.
Photo: Hector Gomez was murdered on March 30, 1985.
Photo: Rosario Godoy de Cuevas addressing a GAM rally two months before she was assassinated on April 4, 1985.
‘Their two remaining leaders – both women – came to Peace Brigades International and said: “We must continue to speak out but we don’t want to die,” David Hartsough remembers.
He had been invited to Guatemala by his friend, Alain Richard – a Franciscan working in a team of three with Peace Brigades International. He and the team agreed to accompany the remaining two leaders 24 hours a day, providing an international presence that would effectively deter a military out of control. That presence – always non-violent – gave the two leaders safe space in which to continue their work.
Photo: Alain Richard.
‘Their courage inspired others. And they didn’t die. Walking down the street with these courageous people was one of the scariest things I’ve done.’ And that, coming from David Hartsough, is saying something.”
Part of this story is also told in the book Unarmed Bodyguards by Liam Mahony and Luis Enrique Eguren. They wrote:
“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.
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.
According to Alain, the idea of personal accompaniment did not arise until after her death: “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?’”
This was the beginning of PBI ‘escorting’: providing the surviving GAM leadership with around the clock unarmed bodyguards.”
PBI first arrived in Guatemala in 1983, next year will be its 40th anniversary.
Hartsough is now 82 years old. In 1987, just after the events described above, he co-founded the Nuremberg Actions blocking trains carrying munitions to Central America. He is also a co-founder of Nonviolent Peaceforce and World Beyond War. Hartsough has been arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience more than 150 times.