Based on case stories of Jennifer Harbury…
- Read this article in Spanish.
- Read and watch the videos of the stories in this series here.
The problem, of course, lies with the realities concealed from us. This has always been the case… In the end, however, this is our government, and torture is being utilized in our names and supported by our tax dollars. We are responsible.
AUSTIN — Last February I was at a party to celebrate a return visit to Austin of radical labor attorney Larry Daves. Jennifer Harbury from Weslaco began to talk about what was going on at the U.S./Mexico border. I had a camera there to perhaps film Larry, but the camera stayed in its case. Afterwards, I kicked myself for not filming Jennifer. Her ability to express a wailing narrative of human misery with total lack of sentimentality was devastating. I was overwhelmed.
Jennifer’s husband, Efrain Barnaca Velasquez, a Mayan resistance fighter, “disappeared” in March 1992. He was tortured for two and a half years and murdered by CIA-paid, School of the Americas-trained members of the Guatemalan army. Jennifer exposed her husband’s torturers to the world and then wrote about it.
Jennifer speaks truth from direct knowledge.
Jennifer still speaks truth from direct knowledge. When she looks at the brutality that pushes people out of Guatemala and other Central American countries to smash up against our southern border, she speaks with the intensity of one who can live with the horror of a baby’s fingernails torn out — albeit many years ago — and know deeply why people flee that terror these days. Her husband’s torturers took off their military uniforms and continued on as high-level drug lords terrorizing civilians, protected by the CIA which was concerned about what they might say about us.
She has written three books about it. That is the ultimate political act of the writer — to speak the unspeakable truth so that it cannot continue.
Jennifer calls Trump a “child abuser.” Who else would order small children to be wrenched from the arms of their mothers and fathers after such a long journey?
She got that crying babies tape
to Pro Publica.
Jennifer was responsible for getting that crying babies tape to Pro Publica.
Those unbearable sounds of young children crying over and over for Mami or Papá or an aunt whose phone number they have memorized, probably did more to change policy than any kind of nonprofit study. As a mother, I cannot listen without feeling hatred for my government. And what of the trauma that must remain and all those children still alone, parents still alone.
Matthew Gossage, Laura Varela, and I went with women from the Angry Abuelas and Tias of the Rio Grande Valley across the bridge at Matamoros. We couldn’t pass to Reynosa. It was too dangerous to go there. I often wonder what life must be like for all the people stuck there if we are afraid to go even for a few hours. Recently, the top immigration officer in Reynosa held refugees in the basement of the federal building for a ransom of $3,500 each. Telemundo documented the atrocity and corruption.
And what did we see on the other side of the bridge in Matamoros? Children’s socks drying on a fence, razor wire at the top; a half-grown cat sleeping in a box, unresponsive and perhaps dying; exhausted people in tents, waiting, who had been waiting for months.
There were also those things we didn’t film.
There were also those things we didn’t film.
A young child with a smile that stretched her face, couldn’t stop hugging Laura, couldn’t keep her hands off the microphone I held. Laura wondered how she could trust strangers like us and thought it must have been the volunteers who gave her water and oranges.
A young man came towards us at the edge of the bridge, beautiful, almost falling from exhaustion, trying to smile in greeting. From Cameroon, he spoke only French. He had been on the streets of Matamoros for three weeks, shunned by shelters because he was black. He pulled up his sleeves and showed us scars. It looked as though a machete had hacked at his arms.
When you look at our work, you, the viewer, will have to forgive our inadequacies. We would need a tripod and wide lenses. We would need the stamina and commitment of someone like Jennifer. We would need much greater intuition about what needs to be told.
These are fragments of understanding through Jennifer’s eyes.
Please look at these pieces as fragments of understanding through Jennifer’s eyes, stories of people she knew in the most harsh and imprisoned situations, in our government’s (and our) hands. Look at the actuality as fragments of a humanitarian crisis that our country has made. Try to imagine what must be seen.
Here’s a link to the first of perhaps eight short webcasts.
These might be:
- Asylum claim
- Feliz 18º cumpleaños
- The crying baby tape
- No physical contact allowed
- From military official to drug lord
- Nazi’s among us
- The breaking of a journalist
My greatest hope is that in forgiving our flawed material, you realize that you must bear witness yourself. Perhaps it’s good that it’s not art; it’s not complete. Fill it yourself, not with guilt that confines itself to an inward gaze, but with the rage of perception that makes change. And go there to see for yourself. These short pieces are at best snapshots of what is there, less than 250 miles away, and of what must be done.
Jennifer Harbury is a lawyer and human rights activist.
[Anne Lewis is a documentary filmmaker whose films include On Our Own Land (DuPont-Columbia award), Fast Food Women (POV), Justice in the Coalfields (Gold Plaque, Intercom), and Morristown: in the air and sun about factory job loss and the rights of immigrants. Her latest film A Strike and an Uprising (in Texas) looks at the pecan shellers’ strike in San Antonio in the ’30s and the union uprising in Nacogdoches in the late ’80s (audience award, Hecho en Tejas, Cine Las Americas) She serves on the executive board of the Texas State Employees Union TSEU-CWA 6186 and teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.]
- Read more by and about Anne Lewis on The Rag Blog.