Francisco Goldman on Guatemalan Elections
New Evidence Suggests Guatemalan Presidential Candidate Played Role in 1998 Murder of Human Rights Activist Bishop Juan Gerard
AMY GOODMAN: In Guatemala, millions of voters head to the polls on Sunday for the second round of general elections to pick a new president. The runoff vote pits three-time center-left candidate Alvaro Colom against hard-line former army general Otto Perez Molina.
General Perez Molina, the ex-head of army intelligence, has promised to expand the police force by half and to use the military to fight crime. He closed out his campaign on Monday in the city of
GEN. OTTO PEREZ MOLINA: [translated] We want a
AMY GOODMAN: General Perez Molina commanded troops in one of
Gerardi's murder set off global repercussions in political and human rights circles. The case was one of the most sensational and controversial in
We're now joined by author Francisco Goldman, who has spent the last seven years investigating the case. His book is called The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? Goldman provides a detailed account of Gerardi's murder and an exhaustive investigation into who was responsible. Francisco Goldman is an acclaimed Guatemalan American novelist. He is the author of three novels. We welcome you to Democracy Now!
FRANCISCO GOLDMAN: Thank you, Amy. It's a pleasure to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: This is nonfiction, this one, your latest book?
FRANCISCO GOLDMAN: This is nonfiction, but written almost in the form of a novel. It's a narrative chronicle of a nine-year legal case, really.
AMY GOODMAN: This is a major charge you are making on this eve of the Guatemalan election.
FRANCISCO GOLDMAN: It's a charge that I'm repeating, because I was led to it by two of the major sources for me throughout the book. It's funny, because it's actually only a few pages of the book where this charge emerges, when the key -- first the key witness in the case, apparently a park vagrant, who was situated outside the parish house where the murder took place the night of the murder, but who was actually an army intelligence agent who had been planted there and, in fact, had a role in the murder.
AMY GOODMAN: The vagrant?
FRANCISCO GOLDMAN: The vagrant, Ruben Chanax, who years later, he was a key witness when the case finally went to trial. And I tracked him down when he was living in
Now, just him saying that wasn't really enough; I needed obviously confirmation. The confirmation for me came from the most important source I had, a man named Rafael Guillamon, a former Spanish intelligence agent who headed the UN mission's internal investigation into the Gerardi murder. And when he interrogated this Chanax, this vagrant, two days after the murder, he first heard it from him. Now, this investigation was conducted for the UN's internal knowledge, not to share with prosecutors, and so it stayed secret all these years. And then he had even more proof.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the significance of Bishop Gerardi and the significance of the report that he released.
FRANCISCO GOLDMAN: When the '96 peace accords, which ended the thirty-six-year war, were signed between -- the UN-sponsored accords between the Guatemalan guerrillas, who were in a quiescent role, and the victorious Guatemalan army, the army was able to dictate, among other things, a blanket amnesty for all human rights crimes that had occurred during that war, in which 200,000 civilians were slaughtered. It also allowed for a UN sort of truth commission that would be allowed to look into the past, but wouldn't be able to name names, name military units who were responsible, and so forth.
And Bishop Gerardi thought that this kind of covering- up of the truth was not going to be healthy or good for Guatemala, and he sponsored his own -- the Catholic Church, through the Archdiocese Office of Human Rights, sponsored their own human rights report. And as the Church, they were the only organization in the country, through the parishes, that could reach into every community. And he trained 700, you know, pretty humble people, people from local churches, to go out into these communities, into these highland villages that were so shielded off by speaking, you know, sixteen different Mayan languages and traumatized by years of violence, massacres. There is such a thick taboo against speaking out and such fear of outsiders, but the Church, they're not seen as outsiders. So they went in there for years and collected testimonies.
And on April 24th, two days before his death, he released the most unprecedented, extraordinary four- volume report, in which he managed to identify, for example, 400-plus of the 600 massacres we now know occurred in the war. He managed to list -- that's the whole fourth volume -- 53,000 of the dead by name, of the 200,000 people we know that died. And he found the army responsible of 80% of the crimes, the guerrillas only 5%. He made it -- he did name names and military units and made it clear that if the amnesty could ever be breached, he would make this documentation available to prosecutors and to families seeking justice. Now, this was an unbelievable impertinence. When the army had signed the peace accords, they had never expected to have to put up with something like this. And so, they obviously decided they had to do something.
Now, the real question, why it's the art of political murder, is the question everybody asks, is why do they kill him two days after the report comes out, not, say, days before? And the answer to that, right, gets to the whole institution of impunity in
And what this crime was, was pure theater. They rigged up a theatrical event that involved a man with no shirt stepping out of the garage after Bishop Gerardi had been murdered; the vagrant planted there to see him, who had probably taken part in the murder; immediately, in all different sophisticated ways, rumors coming out that it had been a homosexual crime of passion, which resulted --
AMY GOODMAN: By a priest.
FRANCISCO GOLDMAN: By a priest. A corrupt prosecutor, corrupt judges, corrupt media, everybody contributing to this farce. And the story of the book is how this was -- what should have been, for the government, a slam-dunk case to pin the whole case on this poor, pathetic priest who shared Bishop Gerardi's parish house. You know, they claim that he had sicked his dog, and they claim they found signs of dog bites in Bishop Gerardi's skull, and it was ridiculous.
And then, after that, finally -- this is a case that saw more than ten people related to the case murdered, two prosecutors chased into exile, judges chased into exile, countless witnesses in exile. But finally, through the most extraordinary bravery of a handful of people, the convictions managed to go through. There was a historic trial. It was the first time Guatemalan military officers had ever been found guilty of taking part in a state-sponsored politically motivated execution.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, General Otto Perez Molina is running for president.
FRANCISCO GOLDMAN: He's running for president, and when these accusations emerged in the press, because this is just a few paragraphs, but back in June a Guatemalan newspaper ran them. And he immediately began to get himself in trouble with all kinds of, well, lies, right? First, he said I had written my book because I was in the pay of another politician. Later he accused me of being part of a narco campaign of defamation and political assassinations directed against him.
Then he said -- for instance, he tried to say, "I have no knowledge." You know, when he responded to what had appeared in the paper, he said, "I don't know Captain Lima," one of the imprisoned military men. Well, we knew from the UN that he and Captain Lima were constantly having cell phone calls when
And even more importantly, the UN mission investigator told me that -- because Perez Molina claimed that he was in
And just yesterday -- this is very important -- just yesterday, it came out and broke, and it's already been picked up by international wire services, two reporters from El Periodico, the same newspaper, have discovered that Perez Molina's campaign has links to narcos. And they wanted to publish this information, and they immediately began to get death threats, and the paper was under a lot of pressure. And they've had to go to the Office of Human Rights basically to ask for help and protection, and want to get this story out. So this just broke yesterday.
AMY GOODMAN: When you say "narcos," you mean?
FRANCISCO GOLDMAN: The narco cartels, because what's at stake here, right -- it's important for people to understand, what's amazing about this case is the bridge between 1980s violence and twenty-first century violence.
AMY GOODMAN: Over fifty deaths of political activists and candidates leading up to this election on Sunday.
FRANCISCO GOLDMAN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: We have fifteen seconds.
FRANCISCO GOLDMAN: OK. Well, military intelligence used to fight guerillas. Right now, with political power, it's all about organized crime, and that's what they're trying to hold onto. And that's the faction, that's the kind of power that General Perez Molina is trying to legitimize.
AMY GOODMAN: Francisco Goldman's book is called The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? I want to thank you very much for being with us.
FRANCISCO GOLDMAN: Thank you. It was a pleasure.