Ortiz, Dianna 1958-

views updated

ORTIZ, Dianna 1958-

PERSONAL: Born 1958; daughter of Mexican immigrants. Education: Attended Brescia College. Religion: Catholic.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Orbis Books, Box 308, Maryknoll, NY 10545-0308. E-mail— [email protected]

CAREER: Catholic nun; civil rights activist. Worked previously as an elementary school teacher.

AWARDS, HONORS: U.S. Catholic Award, 2003, for furthering the cause of women in the church.


(With Patricia Davis) The Blindfold's Eyes: MyJourney from Torture to Truth, Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY), 2002.

SIDELIGHTS: Dianna Ortiz is an Ursuline Catholic nun from New Mexico who traveled to Guatemala as part of a missionary effort to teach reading and writing to Mayan children at a mission school in Guatemala's western highlands. During the 1980s, Guatemala was a country in the midst of a civil war that began in 1960 and lasted thirty-six years. In 1989 Ortiz was kidnapped and raped by Guatemalan soldiers. Although the ordeal was over in 24 hours, Ortiz has spent years seeking disclosure from the United States and Guatemalan governments about those who were involved in her abduction. Ortiz's book about her experience, The Blindfold's Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth, was published in 2002.

Ortiz grew up in a middle-class household in Grants, New Mexico. Her religious calling began when she was just a six-year-old girl, and Ortiz entered the novitiate to become a nun when she was seventeen. She spent nine years in Owensboro, Kentucky, as a parochial school teacher before going to Guatemala in 1987 to teach and work as a missionary in the country's highlands town of San Miguel Acatan.

Ortiz began receiving death treats, and, on November 2, 1989, she disappeared from a spiritual retreat. In an interview published on the Speak Truth to Power Web Site, Ortiz described her abduction as she sat in a garden. "I heard a man's deep voice behind me: 'Hello, my love,' he said in Spanish. 'We have some things to discuss.' I turned to see the sunlight glinting off a gun held by a man who had threatened me once before on the street."

Kidnapped by uniformed men, Ortiz was taken her to a warehouse, where she was interrogated by her captors and then burnt with cigarettes and repeatedly raped. "Then I was lowered into a pit full of bodies—bodies of children, men, and women, some decapitated, all caked with blood. A few were still alive," said Ortiz in the Speak Truth article.

According to Gregory Cerio writing in People, Ortiz said that "a tall, light-skinned" man who oversaw her captors, suddenly apologized the next day and offered to take her to the United States Embassy. The man spoke in "perfect English with an American accent" as he drove her away. When they entered the city and a traffic jam, Ortiz jumped from the man's car and went to the Vatican Embassy.

While many would think Ortiz's rescue meant the end of the story, it had only begun. In The Blindfold's Eyes, Ortiz describes a continuing ordeal in which she is disbelieved and questioned while receiving little cooperation from the United States or Guatemalan governments in finding her captors.

Ortiz's descriptions of the very American man she called "Alejandro" combined with known U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operations in the country brought a spotlight to a situation that neither the Guatemalan nor U.S. governments wanted revealed. Ortiz was convinced that the two governments were involved in her torture and probably in the torture of thousands of other Guatemalans. "I have slowly gained the strength to reveal what I know of torture and U.S. involvement in torture in Guatemala," Ortiz told Arthur Jones in the National Catholic Reporter.

Ortiz continued her struggle for disclosure, filing suits against both the United States and Guatemala to get information about her case. In 1991, a U.S. court ordered General Hector Alejandro Gramajo, who was Guatemala's defense minister at the time, to pay $11 million in damages. But Ortiz received little satisfaction from this, and in April, 1996, she staged a hunger strike and vigil at the White House in Washington, D.C. The vigil ended after five weeks when she met with then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. As Ortiz announced the end of her vigil, she still held up a sketch of "Alejandro" drawn by artist Jean Boylan, who drew the picture that helped catch the Unabomber and other criminals. Sketches of other captors were also displayed. When asked how she could be so sure after all these years, she replied, "My response is that anyone who has been severely tortured and raped will never forget," reported Jones in the National Catholic Reporter.

Ortiz has worked for many years with the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission—U.S.A., a small nonprofit organization focusing on human rights and stationed in Washington, D.C. During that time her story has been covered in numerous newspapers. Ortiz has also gone on shows such as 20/20, 60 Minutes, and Prime Time Live to speak out about her ordeal.

Ortiz wrote The Blindfold's Eyes with Patricia Davis, a human rights activist who has worked as a communications director at the Guatemala Human Rights Commission. Donna Minkowitz, writing for Salon, called the book "an extraordinary, moving, sharply focused account of what it is actually like to be tortured and what the experience does to the rest of your life." Thomas Quigley, writing in America, also found the story moving but noted that what he found "less admirable is her a priori assumption that virtually every person she encountered who happened to work for the U.S. government was both evil and probably complicit in her torture or its coverup." Quigley also remarked that her "account is a very severe judgment of a good number of people, as well as of virtually all the policies of both the United States and the Guatemalan governments."

Most reviewers, however, praised the book. Writing in Booklist, June Pulliam wrote, "Sister Dianna's story will interest anyone wishing to understand how rape and torture break down the human spirit, and how it is possible to survive such assaults." Marge Pellegrino, writing for the Tucson Weekly, commented that Ortiz's story makes the reader "realize this is farther away from a perfect world than you'd want to believe possible. Clearly, powerful people wanted her story invisible."



Ortiz, Dianna, and Patricia Davis, The Blindfold'sEyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth, Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY), 2002.


America, December 16, 2002, Thomas Quigley, review of The Blindfold's Eyes, p. 15.

Booklist, September 15, 2002, June Pulliam, review of The Blindfold's Eyes, p. 182.

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, November 3, 1999, Karen Own, "Ten Years Later, Tortured Nun Works for Other Victims, Still Waits for Justice," p. K1254.

Library Journal, November 1, 2002, Mark L. Grover, review of The Blindfold's Eyes, p. 100.

National Catholic Reporter, April 9, 1993, p. 7; March 29, 1996, Arthur Jones, "Nun Seeks Identity of American Torturer," p. 9; May 17, 1996, Arthur Jones, "Sr. Ortiz Describes Her Assailants," p. 7; July 3, 1998, p. 11; July 17, 1998, p. 5; August 25, 2000, p. 9.

New York Times, April 1, 1996, p. A4; April 5, 1996, p. A6; May 4, 1996, p. 4.

People, April 22, 1996, Gregory Cerio, "Asking for Justice: A Determined Nun Wants the Feds to Tell All They Know about the CIA's Role in Guatemalan Torture," p. 72.

Publishers Weekly, review of The Blindfold's Eyes, p. 287.

Tucson Weekly, January 16, 2003, Marge Pellegrino, review of The Blindfold's Eyes.

Washington Post, April 2, 1996, pp. A2, C1; April 5, 1996, p. A6; May 7, 1996, pp. A2, A14; May 12, 1996.


Ashoka Web site,http://www.ashoka.org/ (March 23, 2004), profile of Dianna Ortiz.

Salon,http://www.salon.com/ (November 19, 2002), Donna Minkowitz, review of The Blindfold's Eyes.

Speak Truth to Power Web site,http://www.speaktruth.org/ (May 2, 2003), "Diana Ortiz."*

About this article

Ortiz, Dianna 1958-

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article