Dianna Ortiz, an American Roman Catholic nun whose rape and torture in Guatemala in 1989 helped lead to the release of documents showing US involvement in human rights abuses in that country, died Friday in hospice care in Washington. She was 62.
The cause was cancer, said Marie Dennis, a longtime friend.
While serving as a missionary and teaching Indigenous children in the western highlands of Guatemala, Ortiz was abducted, gang-raped and tortured by a Guatemalan security force. Her story became even more explosive when she said that someone she believed to be an American had acted in concert with her abductors.
Only after years of extensive therapy at the Marjorie Kovler Center in Chicago for survivors of torture did Ortiz start to recover, at which point she began to hunt down information about her case. She went on to become a global champion for people subjected to torture, and her case would help compel the release of classified documents showing decades of US complicity in human rights abuses in Guatemala during its 36-year civil war, in which 200,000 civilians were killed.
It was never clear why she and many other Americans were targeted. She was told at one point that hers was a case of mistaken identity, an assertion she did not believe. Her attack came during a particularly lawless period; ravaged by war, Guatemala was being run by a series of right-wing military dictatorships, some of them violent toward Indigenous people and suspicious of anyone helping them.
Ortiz’s 24-hour ordeal, initially labeled a hoax by US and Guatemalan officials, included multiple gang rapes. Her back was pockmarked with more than 100 cigarette burns.