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New Orleans AMERICAN NEWSPAPERS have not provided the Central America feature article the human interest story that gets to the basics. The United States has gotten its picture of the regional conflict from political analysts and photographers, while understaffed local bureaus churn out hard news. It seems that until a war is in full swing, the roots of the problem are destined to be ignored the story of the human dimensions of policy decisions. The result? Americans still are baffled by the successes of revolutionary forces in Vietnam, Iran, and almost every other country in transition. So many of the stories a journalist comes across in Central America won’t slip neatly into a general article. The following encounter not an interview, really, since we mostly sat and listened takes place in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. It is valuable because it gives an idea of the suffering people are going through, of the bitterness that grows until it is translated into violent rebellion. The shabby office of Dr. Ramdn Custodio, one of the few Hondurans who dares speak up for human rights, is under constant surveillance. Nevertheless, two women chose to meet us there, in open defiance of the regime. They are typical of the new breed of activists from Belfast to Buenos Aires women who have lost friends or family in local conflicts, who have had enough of violence, and who are determined to make public the shame of their countries. By peaceful protests, press conferences, and petitioning, they bear witness against injustice. And sometimes opposition to them comes from what must seem a surprising quarter to any democratically-minded American, as in November 1984, when the U.S. State Department refused to permit four Salvadoran women to travel to Washington to receive the Robert F. John G. H. Oakes, now a Grove Press editor, worked as an Associated Press reporter out of New Orleans. Kennedy Prize for their human rights work. On December 3, the State Department granted a visa to Roberto D’Aubuisson. The rightist leader and former Salvadoran Army major he was discharged for plotting coups has been linked to the death squads by numerous people, among them Robert S. White, former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. The American press shouldn’t be guilty of similarly ignoring the people’s voices in favor of the politicians’. The first woman to speak is short, about five feet tall, wearing a bright green blouse and purple skirt. She has red lips, red cheeks, mauve eyelids and silver fingernails. She chews gum. She holds a notebook in one hand and a pencil in the other, which she taps faster and faster as she speaks. She says: “I am the wife of one of the most recently disappeared people. My husband was disappeared March 18, 1984. He was an economist who worked with the government. Actually, he was the deputy director of the National Institute for Children he ran their weekly “My husband was disappeared March 18, 1984.” lottery on TV. On that Sunday he was on his way to Channel 5 to supervise that week’s lottery. His vehicle was intercepted near the U.S. Embassy many people saw this. A van with darkened windows and no license plate forced him to stop and five heavily armed men took him away. This was at 9:20 a.m. I knew about it five minutes after the kidnapping because there is a lot of traffic at that place and people saw it going on. One of the eyewitnesses is a member of the Honduran Supreme Court. I have two children, four and two years old. I haven’t been able to get any answers.” Here she puts on dark glasses. Towards the end she begins to cry and takes off the glasses to wipe her eyes with the back of her hand. The notebook and pencil fall to the floor. “It’s incredible how insensitive these people are. Sometimes I feel like I’m totally locked in. I don’t know what to do. I send out letters, I try to see people, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t see any logical answer to this kidnapping. He didn’t just vanish from the face of the earth. Tomorrow it will be seven months since he was disappered. I am up against a wall of insensitivity. But the government doesn’t give any answers. Yes, he was once a labor leader, but at the time of his disappearance he was no longer a labor leader. He was disappeared eight days before General Alvarez was overthrown. We thought maybe he’d be released when Alvarez had gone. We’re still waiting.” She begins to sob and we are all embarrassed. We look at her sympathetically and ask appropriate questions. We take notes we know we’ll never use. Sometimes we forget and just. listen, then catch ourselves and scribble down her words. When she is done, she picks up the pencil and notebook. She tears part of a page from the notebook and writes her husband’s name on it. She hands the tiny slip of paper to us and asks us to find out about her husband when we see the ambassador, the generals, the businessmen. Then she puts her notebook and pencil on the floor by her chair, folds her hands in her lap and looks at the next person to testify. She has a face of stone. Holding a notebook and pencil, she asks us pointed questions: what papers we represent, what our opinions are, what our objectives are. She writes down our answers. She begins: “Buen . . . I was the wife of .” She mentions a name. We ask her how to spell it, and she writes it down. “He was a grade school teacher. He did not belong to any union but he was an adviser to many. He helped found a student movement. He was disappeared the 11th of June 1981 from our house. There were six men with sophisticated looking rifles, wearing hoods. You could only see the eyes, the mouth and the nose. We were about to celebrate the third month of our wedding anniversary. I was two months pregnant. They broke in about 1 or 2 a.m. and shot a friend who was staying with us. I don’t know if he was killed, because they took him with them. “They forced me to open the door where my husband was working. They gave him a karate chop on the back of the neck. I shouted at them, ‘If you’re men, show your faces.’ They tied my hands and my legs and put a gag in my THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13 The Human Dimensions of Government Policy By John G. H. Oakes