Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bishop Juan Gerardi: The Art of Political Murder

Bishop Juan Gerardi

The Times is publishing extracts from The Art of Political Murder by Francisco Goldman.(Atlantic, £16.99 )

On April 26, 1998, days after publishing a damning indictment of the Guatemalan Government's human rights record, Bishop Juan Gerardi was bludgeoned to death at the Church of San Sebastian.

As official explanations became increasingly bizarre, the novelist Francisco Goldman turned investigator.

The Guatemalan Bishops' Conference described the investigation of the murder as "totally inadequate." and that the murder was "a premeditated blow to the Guatemalan Catholic Church" designed to "limit our pastoral action and remind us that the most fearful forces in the country are still intact and possess enormous power."

After the murder a Vatican spokesman, Father Pedro Freites, expressed shock over the murder of the Bishop, who he described as "one of the new martyrs of the Latin American Catholic Church."

Goldman worked assiduously for seven years on the book. He tried to find the parish pet, Baloo, after the dog was impounded by the government in a veterinary hospital, accused of following orders shouted in German to kill the bishop.

After a laborious legal process, during which several witnesses were killed or fled for their lives, three military officers and Father Orantes (a housemate of Bishop Gerardi's) were found guilty of the murder.

The courts also ordered an investigation into the role of several unindicted co-conspirators, including top military officials, but the investigator charged with that task has no staff and no budget for that investigation.