The Storms of Impunity in Guatemala

Lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg before his slaying on May 10

Lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg before his slaying on May 10

Guatemala is still reeling from the political fallout after the murder of attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg. I had reported last month that Guatemalan journalist Mario David Garcia was considering leaving the country. In the piece, Garcia felt he had to leave the country because of his involvement in the video recording of lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg, who accused president Álvaro Colom, his wife and other of high-ranking government officials of corruption which included the covering up questionable deals made by the Rural Development Bank, which is owned by the government for the use of the poor of Guatemala, who make up 51 percent of the state, the highest in Latin America.

Most striking of all, it turned out, was Rosenberg saying: “If at this moment you are hearing or watching this message, it is because Álvaro Colom assassinated me.”

The video was recorded on May 7. Rosenberg was found shot dead on May 10.

The webs surrounding Rosenberg’s death continue to come to light, and remain intriguing – but what his death signifies for the country will be what is important.

Today, IPS wrote an informative piece on impunity law in Guatemala, a precedent that has been used by every country in the Americas since the downfall of the military regimes of the 1980s, including Guatemala – whose civil war did not end until 1996.

Mario David Garcia

Mario David Garcia

Guatemala is now considered to be in a state of “crisis,” for good reason. After Rosenberg’s death, thousands of citizens protested the death in front of the presidential palace. It often broke along political lines. The right called Colom an assassin, the left – which included public university students and Mayans (the country is made up of more than 80 percent Indian peoples) – decried conspiracy and stood by left-of-center Colom.

For those of us in the United States, withholding the murder – Guatemala is just as cynically caught up within itself that it is hard to let go.

Journalists like Mr. Garcia hold no weight, for, as Louisa Reynolds reports:

Something that the local media has scarcely mentioned and which could shed light on why the statement was recorded is the background of Mario David García and Luis Mendizábal, who distributed the tape during Rosenberg´s funeral.

Both García and Mendizábal played key roles in coup plots against former president Vinicio Cerezo (1986-1990) in 1988 and 1989. During the Cerezo administration, García used TV channel Canal 3 to support a group of army officers known as “Oficiales de la Montaña” who played a central part in the attempted coup.

This military group was closely linked to the National Liberation Movement, a far right-wing organization that financed death squads during Guatemala´s 36-year-long civil war and later disappeared during the 1990s.

Strikingly, the coup plots against the Cerezo administration were orchestrated by the right-wing business elite which was strongly opposed to Cerezo´s tax reform proposal and to an increase in the minimum wage, two issues that have also been highly contentious under the Colom government…

An article published by Salvadoran newspaper Diario de Hoy on May 13, anonymously quotes one of Rosenberg´s relatives, who claims that “the person who supposedly filmed the video (Mario David García) is looking for a political role in Guatemala.” The source added that Mario David García ought to be investigated. So why did Rosenberg agree to make the video? He was used, claims the source.

But, of course, the point is being missed. Impunity is not a left-right thing. Democracy is a virtue that has been strangled out by the ten percent that have ruled Guatemala for centuries. The inequalities of the 1980s persist today, along with the poverty, the violence, incredibly poor race relations and the political instability. The left and right paint themselves as if they were in a quixotic race to freedom with the other standing in the way – yet it is the culture of impunity, of crimes committed by the government of Guatemala that is the problem. Rosenberg’s death, while in need for investigation just as Garcia and Colom and other government officials are, is not the issue.

guatemala colom 2

Colom must step forward then, proclaim innocence and direct Guatemala into the hands of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, which has been headed by Carlos Castresana.

According to Eduardo Rodas, brother of Rodrigo Rosenberg, it “is our only hope for achieving justice, because it is not contaminated or compromised.”

“Guatemala’s institutions must be purged from the inside; they need an exorcism. We have come here to help, to extend a hand to Guatemala in fighting this grave problem, for which representatives of this country have asked for assistance from the international community,” said Castresana.

Activists wish for a Guatemala that they have never seen in their lifetime. As chronicled in my review of the literature surrounding the Guatemalan counterinsurgency state from 1960 to 1996, perfectly timed in its posting this morning, it has never come easy. But it is something worth fighting for.

Guatemala must lay down the pretense (and this goes for more than just Guatemalans) that parties, left-right-or-center, will do the job for you. The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, a commission to examine how to purge institutions of acting unlawfully without consequences, expires in 2011.

The test is to the learn from the past, to stop relying upon the same tricks such as media subversion, partisan attacks and heinous oppositional repression which included the murdering of dissidents. It will take work, but Guatemala has allies – only when we all open our eyes to the true nature of Guatemalan “democracy.”


~ by Daniel on June 9, 2009.

One Response to “The Storms of Impunity in Guatemala”

  1. […] Colom, President of Guatemala, who has been dealing with some problems with executive impunity, has had to physically assert this morning that he is not in danger of being deposed. Guatemalan […]

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