Friday, January 11, 2008

The Art of Political Murder (2)

Commenting on my last post on Goldman's book, 'Gucchi' observes that the 'well-intentioned' have been pleased to see any military men convicted for the bishop's murder, regardless of whether they were in fact the actual perpetrators.

Now there is a degree of truth in this. In a country where no soldier had in recent memory stood trial for a political crime, just getting the Limas, father and son, into the courtroom was something many might well have been inclined to celebrate as an end in itself. Especially when one goes on to consider how little the penitentiary system in Guatemala resembles what outsiders might regard as the implementation of justice. (Captain Lima seemed for a while to be better off inside where he was deriving a substantial monthly income in US Dollars from phone card sales and from renting out the seats used by prisoners with visitors ...amongst other things.)

It certainly doesn't escape my well-intentioned eye that the Limas (plus Villanueva and Father Mario) were ultimately convicted without a jury, on the basis of evidence provided, in the main, by people who were in some way compromised by having been part of the military apparatus themselves, and not obviously inclined to full disclosure.

In Goldman's account Father Mario comes across as somewhat unlikeable, but his three co-defendants would grace any maximum security jail even if they were ultimately found to have had no part in this particular killing.

That several potential witnesses were murdered and many more threatened (even the judge was wearing a bullet-proof vest in court) must also contribute to the sense that one isn't dealing here with a classic case of miscarried justice. My favourite piece of intimidation was the trick of getting all the office and mobile phones of the prosecution team to ring at the same time, a moment which Goldman likens to a scene from a Japanese horror movie!

There are times though when Goldman does seem to show signs of sympathy for Captain Lima, who was perhaps only obeink orderz in the time-honoured fashion and appears to have sacrificed a promising career in return for protecting his superiors.

Goldman's book appeals to me for its essentially novelistic nature. As such it can really be enjoyed by anyone with only a passing interest in Guatemala and the gruesome murder of one its clergymen. Indeed, Goldman appears to have latched onto Guatemala's 'crime of the century' as a device for sucking every lurid tale he's ever heard about the country into a single narrative. It really is, as a former boss of mine used to say, the full ball of wax.

More on Sergeant Major Obdulio Villanueva in another post...

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