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Islamistisk vold og terror stjeler oppmerksomhet/skygger for at Latinamerika herjes av vold i et omfang som ødelegger lokalsamfunn og truer stater.

Vold har en lang tragisk historie i Latinamerika. Borgerkrigene i El Salvador og Guatemala var grusomme og gir fremdeles ekko. I Guatemala ble rundt 200.000 mennesker drept. Her har ingen sannhetskommisjon avdekket hva som foregikk og helbredet samfunnet. Likene ligger fremdeles i skapene. En brutal påminnelse var drapet på biskop Juan Gerardi Conedera 26. april 1998. To dager tidligere hadde han offentliggjort en krønike i fire bind over borgerkrigen og dens forbrytelser. Det var lett å se en sammenheng, men det haglet med opplysninger som skulle bevise at drapet var av privat karakter.

Forfatteren Francisco Goldman har etterforsket dapet i åtte år og skrevet en 396 sider lang bok om hvem som sto bak. Det viser at kreftene som førte borgerkrigen fremdeles er mektige nok til å rydde brysomme mennesker av veien. Likevel er det noen som er modige nok til å stå for sannhet og rettferdighet. Det er det som er så merkelig med Latinamerika: enten det var i juntaens Argentina eller i mafiaens Colombia, – det er alltid noen som som har integritet og nekter å bli medløper for morderne.

Carolyn Curiel hadde en god anmeldelse i the New York Times av boken:

As a novelist, Francisco Goldman has mined Guatemalan misery and magic, most notably in his semiautobiographical «Long Night of White Chickens,» in which the protagonist investigates the murder of a young woman who was like a sister to him. In «The Art of Political Murder,» his first book of nonfiction, Goldman returns to Guatemala to try to solve a real killing, that of Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera, a Roman Catholic human rights advocate. Becoming by turns a little bit Columbo, Jason Bourne and Seymour Hersh, Goldman gives us the anatomy of a crime while opening a window to a misunderstood country that is flirting with anarchy. More, he offers an overdue indictment of brutal war criminals who were not just behind the one killing, but also contributed to a generation of atrocities.

Gerardi was murdered as he returned to his Guatemala City residence on April 26, 1998. Two days earlier he had released a four-volume report on the civil war that formally ended in 1996, after it had claimed some 200,000 lives over four decades. The indigenous Mayan population, which makes up about 40 percent of the people in Guatemala and a majority of which is poor, suffered most: villages were erased, while fear fed docility. The bishop’s commission nonetheless extracted chilling firsthand accounts of torture and massacres conducted by an army intent on ridding the country of leftist guerrillas. The distinction between villagers and armed rebels often got lost.

It’s a familiar theme in Latin America, but in Guatemala, the violence seems to have a particularly white-knuckled grip. Goldman, whose mother is Guatemalan and who spent much of his youth in the country, explains the bishop’s murder in the context of an unfortunate history in which well-meaning American support for military and intelligence operations helped create an elite class bent on perpetuating itself.

Gerardi believed that his report, «Guatemala: Never Again,» would help avert future atrocities. He knew he would ruffle more than a few epaulets, even with the amnesty granted the military in the peace accords. He had already survived one assassination attempt and then spent three years in self-preserving exile in Costa Rica. For years, Goldman writes, the military eavesdropped illegally on Gerardi and tracked his movements. On the day he was fatally bludgeoned, one of the killers, Sergeant Major Obdulio Villanueva, was clandestinely sprung from his prison cell (where he was serving a sentence for a previous murder) for the few hours needed to commit the crime.

The killers had not counted on a passing taxi driver noting the license plate number of a military vehicle at the scene.

Goldman’s intricate and insightful reporting of the crime and the trial recalls that of Gabriel García Márquez in «News of a Kidnapping,» which traced the 1990 abduction of 10 prominent Colombians (two of whom were murdered) by narcotics traffickers seeking leverage against extradition to the United States. But Goldman’s task was more complicated. He spent about seven years investigating the case, knowing that even Guatemalans had stopped paying close attention. He understands he is taking on thugs but throws himself into the murky depths, coaxing details from investigators for the Roman Catholic Church and the United Nations. In pursuing leads, he forms what passes for a bond with a Mayan accomplice-turned-informant he finds hiding in Mexico, who approaches Hannibal Lecter creepiness.

Heroically penetrating the thicket of lies and misdirection, Goldman praises Guatemala’s patriots, those who keep doing their thankless jobs in the face of intimidation and worse.

Before the trial reached a conclusion, prosecutors received death threats, potential witnesses mysteriously died, a judge’s residence was attacked with grenades and investigators were wiretapped. After the verdict, a lead attorney’s brother was killed, his limbs first torn away.

Elaborate attempts to paint the murder as something else – a crime of homosexual passion, an attack by an arthritic German shepherd, a gang robbery gone wrong – ultimately fail. A three-judge panel convicts not only Villanueva, but also a former counterinsurgency commander, Colonel Byron Disrael Lima Estrada; his captain son; and a priest who had a room at the bishop’s residence. The longest sentences, 30 years for the military men, are later reduced to 20, although Villanueva is killed (perhaps conveniently) in a prison riot.

But justice remains incomplete. Goldman suggests that the master-mind of the murder may still be free, and that it may be Otto Pérez Molina, a former general who is campaigning for president on a law-and-order platform (a runoff election is scheduled for Nov. 4). Goldman effectively discounts as propaganda the efforts to absolve Pérez Molina and the military of any responsibility for Gerardi’s murder.

Goldman’s theory on the general’s culpability has gotten attention in Guatemala, where 50 candidates and political activists have died in the bloodiest political campaign there ever.

Meanwhile, gang- and drug-related violence are on the rise, as are attacks on women. Against this backdrop, even a cautionary tale about the abuse of power can pale.

The Art of Political Murder Who Killed the Bishop? By Francisco Goldman 396 pages. $25. Grove Press.

Carolyn Curiel is on the editorial board of The Times. She previously served as United States ambassador to Belize.