Surviving Poverty, Torture, and Civil War

diane lefer

Diane Lefer

If you missed Sonali Kolhatkar’s interview with Diane Lefer and Hector Aristizábal about their social justice work and recently published book, The Blessing Next to the Wound: A Story of Art, Activism, and Transformation, on Uprising Radio, KPFK, you can still download the podcast here.  But you also have an opportunity see meet these activists, writers, and artists in person.

If you’ve never heard Diane and Hector, get ready for an experience. Diane Lefer is an accomplished author, playwright, and activist. Her stories, novels, and nonfiction pieces address social issues drawing on  experiences like going to jail for civil disobedience and volunteering as a legal assistant/interpreter for immigrants in detention. Lefer has a passion for social justice and is a gifted writer.

Hector Aristizábal

Hector Aristizábal was born and raised in Medellín, Colombia. He worked his way out of poverty to become a theater artist and psychologist with a Masters degree from Antioquia University. After surviving civil war, arrest and torture at the hands of the US-supported military, in 1989, continued violence and death threats forced Hector to leave Columbia. After moving to the United States, Aristizábal was able to channel his rage and desire for vengeance into constructive social action by combining his training in psychology and the arts to develop a program that helps victims of torture and other trauma survivors to tap into the transformative power of the arts to  challenge the inevitability of violence, and use their imaginations for a more just and joyous life for all people.

Together, Diane Lefer and Hector Aristizábal wrote, “The Blessing Next to the Wound: A Story of Art, Activism, and Transformation” and together they will be at two book signings/discussions this month:

  • Thursday, Nov 11th, at Village Books, 1049 Swarthmore Avenue, Pacific Palisades at 7:30
  • Friday, Nov 12th, at Vromans, 695 E. Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena, Pasadena at 7:00

Their book was selected by the Amnesty International group in Pasadena as their November reading selection. No wonder. It is the story of Hector surviving poverty, torture, cocaine cartels, and civil war in Colombia, as well as facing the challenges of exile. Included in the book are accounts of their social justice work in Los Angeles.

This is an event and a book you should not miss.


  1. Diane says

    Yes, I did mean that. Though the Army now says they don’t teach torture at the School of the Americas (where the US trains Latin American military officers), it was part of the training materials for years. Its graduates have been guilty of some of the worst human rights abuses. Congress tried to close the place, so it was merely renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. These days, I agree it’s unlikely that torture is taught as a technique and surely the Latin American military didn’t need to travel to Ft. Benning to learn how it’s done. However, what’s striking to me is that officers are invited back as guest instructors and graduation speakers AFTER they’ve been found guilty of war crimes or their complicity in torture, assassination, massacre of civilians has made them notorious. I don’t care if they’re teaching vegan cookery. Their place of honor at the School sends the message that the US doesn’t just look the other way or condone these atrocities, but will honor the perpetrators.

  2. marshall says

    Great article, one problem. You use the term “torture by the US-trained military” several times. It seems to imply that we trained them in the art of torture. It could have been worded in such a way that it would not sound like the US trained them for that purpose.

    Perhaps I am giving you credit where it is not due, you may have used that wording because you wanted to give that message, but only you can say.

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