From storybook romance to hunt for a guerrilla


WASHINGTON -- For a while, Jennifer Harbury, a Harvard Law School graduate, led a life right out of a romance novel: She crisscrossed Guatemala's jungles and mountains to gather material for a book and she married a commander in the leftist guerrilla movement.

But the improbable romance of this soft-spoken New Hampshire woman and the dirt-poor guerrilla has turned into a mystery.

Six months after their wedding, Guatemala's military announced that her husband had killed himself, presumably to safeguard the rebels' secrets, after being wounded in battle in March 1992.

She grieved over his death, but early in 1993, two guerrillas brought stunning news. They told her they had seen her husband in June 1992 in a secret military prison.

Since then, Ms. Harbury has pressed Guatemala's military to tell the truth about her husband, Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, whose nom de guerre was Everardo. In a country where the military has killed an estimated 100,000 people in 30 years fighting the guerrillas, she has refused to be intimidated.

She has met with Guatemalan generals. She has conducted a six-day hunger strike in front of Guatemala's military academy, the reported site of an underground prison. And she was permitted to exhume the body in the grave where the army said her husband was buried. The body was not her husband's.

"I believe they're holding Everardo as part of an experimental project to torture guerrilla prisoners until they snap," said Ms. Harbury, 42. "The idea is to keep them alive so the military can force them to become informants."

Her big fear is that even if her husband was alive when the two escaped guerrillas saw him, the military may have since killed him. "I think there's a 75 to 80 percent chance he's still alive," said Ms. Harbury .

She has rallied some prominent people to her cause. Former President Carter, several senators, and more than two dozen House members have warned the Guatemalan government that maintaining clandestine prisons would violate the Geneva Conventions.

Guatemala first caught Ms. Harbury's attention in the 1980s when she was a lawyer in Texas representing migrant farm workers. She encountered hundreds from Guatemala who told of military killings.

She went to Guatemala to study the situation and stayed to research a book. After a six-hour trek up the side of a volcano, she met her husband-to-be at a guerrilla camp.

Her recent hopes that he has survived were increased by the exhumation. An anthropologist found that the man buried there was about 18 and had two caps on his teeth. Everardo had no caps on his teeth, and, if still alive, would be 37. The army said Everardo had shot himself in the head; the corpse had no such head wounds.

Making matters murkier, she said the defense minister, Gen. Mario Rene Enriques, told her recently: "This is all a tragic misunderstanding. We must not have captured him in the first place. One day we'll do a thorough sweep of the jungle and find him for you."

Guatemalan officials insist that the government has come clean on human rights. As evidence, they note that the new president, Ramiro de Leon Carpio, used to head Guatemala's leading rights organization.

But Ms. Harbury remains convinced that hard-line elements in the military maintain secret prisons.

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