The early part of this year ('Y28' apparently) will see me pass the anniversary of twenty years of visits to Guatemala.
Two decades of familiarity with the country and its colourful local political scene had led me to believe that there was little left that could genuinely shock me about it, but Francisco Goldman's account of the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi and its aftermath had my jaw on the floor on numerous occasions. Such as when I learned that recruits to elite units in the Guatemalan armed forces have to slit the throats of puppies given to them when they sign up, and that G-2 (military intelligence) trainees are sometimes sent out to commit random homicides in the skankier zones of the capital as part of their initiation.
Men that I had hitherto admired like Álvaro Arzú and Mario Vargas Llosa also come out of this caper with damaged reputations.
Rather than review the book in detail today, I will publish several posts over the next week or so that address its main findings/allegations.
In essence however, Goldman presents the slaying of the bishop as an extrajudicial killing planned for months by the Estado Mayor Presidencial (EMP) and other leading figures in the military. Three men apparently present when the concrete slab was swung into the Monsignor's face did finally end up in jail, breaking Guatemala's long tradition of impunity for these kind of political crimes. One of these men, Father Mario Orantes was the parish priest at the church where the murder took place.
Another was the son of a Colonel fingered by the REHMI report, and possibly the only member of the senior planning team to be prosecuted thus far. Goldman likens the powerful men in the state (and parallel state) who had some kind of 'dominion' over this crime − they had it in their power to prevent it − to a 'ring of tigers' formed as each animal clamps the tail of the next one in its jaws.
Failed Presidential candidate and former head of both the EMP and G-2 General Otto Pérez Molina may not have been directly involved, but crops up in later witness testimony as one of several high ranking officers that felt the need to be in the area on the night of April 26, 1998 in order to bear official witness to the execution of Gerardi.