Surviving the Gates of Hell

Ursuline nun Dianna Ortiz tells her story of torture and torment in Guatemala.

"Hope has two daughters--anger and courage: anger at the way things are and the courage to work to make things other than they are." -- Saint Augustine

Over the last decade, major newspapers and television shows like 20/20, 60 Minutes and Prime Time Live covered Sister Dianna Ortiz's ordeal since her abduction and torture in 1989 in Guatemala where this Ursuline nun from New Mexico worked with indigenous children. The memoir, The Blindfold's Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth, lays bare both her anger and incredible courage while offering a glimpse into a dark world no one would willingly enter.

With writer Patricia Davis, Ortiz shares frightening details and frustrating struggles to reclaim her life and search for truth. This intensely personal story chronicles her physical, spiritual and emotional recovery. The acts committed against this introspective gentlewoman aren't easy to read. She shares without blinking the times she faltered, the difficult decisions she made to survive and move forward. The thought of her carrying a razor blade in case she couldn't bear the raw intensity of her pain haunts the reader.

A disturbing twist is "Alejandro." Ortiz survived because of the intervention of this officially unidentified wig-wearing Anglo who spoke in American-accented Spanish. Present in this secret prison in Guatemala City, referred to as "boss" by her captors, he stopped Ortiz's torture and escorted her out of the building during an era when surviving the death squads was close to impossible.

The Guatemalan men who burned her 111 times with cigarettes and repeatedly raped her acted as though they had impunity, assuring her that if she lived no one would believe what happened to her anyway. For a time it seemed they were correct. The U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala at the time suggested she staged her own kidnapping for political reasons. A State Department employee leaked her story was a cover-up for a sadomasochistic lesbian relationship. Years later a Department of Justice investigator floated a rumor she'd had an affair with a medical student.

Her case added evidence pointing to the CIA's involvement in Guatemala's civil war, a military action that saw 200,000 killed, mostly civilians, many indigenous or those working to help them out of desperate poverty. The additional 45,000 disappeared are still unaccounted for. This genocide barely blinked across America's consciousness while our tax dollars trained security forces who perpetrated heinous abuses.

Ortiz along with other Americans and Guatemalans were betrayed by their governments' organizations that in a perfect world exist to protect their citizens above all else. Threats against her in Guatemala and in the U.S. arrived as words pasted on paper, an office break-in, men driving slowly by her parents' home and the box of feces delivered to Ortiz's door. Were those protesters plants to force her to abandon her protest to gain the documents she knew the government had on her case? A part of you hopes she's imagining, but by this time in her story you realize this is farther away from a perfect world than you'd want to believe possible. Clearly, powerful people wanted her story invisible.

"The damage torture does can never be undone. If I survived for any other reason, it is to say that." Ortiz survived for much more. She channeled her anger at the way things are and mustered the courage to make things better by offering refuge to others through Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, while continuing to champion the disclosure of the awful truths of what took place in Guatemala. Reading her journey to hell and back to a place of hope may trigger a yearning for that more perfect world where this time we can say "never again" and mean it.