Thursday, March 25, 2010

Guatemala: UN Commission unveils the Guatemalan oligarchy’s perversity

By Julio Godoy
Republished courtesy of
IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

Photo: Carlos Castresana, Director of The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala | Credit: The Guatemala Times

BERLIN (IDN) - The International Commission against the Impunity in Guatemala – a supranational prosecution office installed almost two years ago by the United Nations to fight organised crime in the Central American country – presented on January 12 the results of its inquiry into one of the numerous assassinations perpetrated last year. The CICIG, as the commission is known after its Spanish name, made public its conclusions on the violent death of Rodrigo Rosenberg, a lawyer with business and familiar links deep into the Guatemalan oligarchy. He was assassinated in the country's capital on May 10, 2009.

Rosenberg's assassination sparked a controversy unusual for a country where murders are a daily occurrence: Some 6,000 people are murdered in Guatemala every year. Rosenberg's assassination was therefore nothing special in the country. But few days before being killed, Rosenberg had recorded a video statement, in which he accused the government of Alvaro Colom of being responsible for death threats he, Rosenberg, allegedly had received in the previous weeks. Rosenberg said in the video that his imminent assassination could only be attributed to President Colom, his wife, and some of their closest government aides.

Rosenberg's death was striking, because, despite the threats he claimed he had received, at the moment of his assassination he was driving his bicycle on the streets of a posh neighbourhood in Guatemala City. In a country as violent as Guatemala, in a country haunted by death squads since more than forty years, you don't use the bicycle to drive around on the mad streets of the city. You don't do it. Period. The less so if you have been receiving death threats that you consider credible.

To make the case more remarkable, Rosenberg had a long history of depression and other psychiatric troubles, and had suffered numerous emotional setbacks in the months previous to his death. And yet, as if he were an innocent, oblivious tourist, he was bicycling on the Guatemala City streets with no protection whatsoever. There could not be an easier prey for the experienced Guatemalan killers.


The death was even more striking, because the video recording of Rosenberg's allegations against President Colom was carried out by two notorious local right wing thugs, Luis Mendizábal and Mario David García, both of them involved since the 1970s in the organisation of political plots and death squads operations against Guatemalan worker, peasant, student, and left wing political leaders.

After Rosenberg was murdered, the video recording of his allegations against the government became an international must in such online portals as YouTube. The recording was also used by the archaic Guatemalan right wing politicians and businessmen to denounce President Colom and his government, and call for their removal from office.

The crime was a welcome opportunity for the Guatemalan oligarchy to denigrate the government at a point in time when Colom and the local business community were confronted over the former's attempt – so far unsuccessful – to get approval for a tax reform that would increase the load from the present less than 10 percent of the country's GNP to some 12 percent.

Guatemala has one of the lowest tax loads in Latin America and the Caribbean, together with Haiti. The Guatemalan oligarchs do not want to pay taxes – against all empirical evidence, and only following the lines of their U.S. ideological masters, they consider taxes a robbery and an illegitimate attack against private property, and see government and state institutions as the biggest blockade hindering the development of the country.

During the months that followed Rosenberg's assassination, the weak Guatemalan government suffered one setback after another. Organised crime – especially drug cartels – pervades since almost two decades all the country's institutions. Hundreds of people died of hunger in the summer and fall of 2009, in a country where the rich, including some of Rosenberg's friends and relatives, feed their dogs with imported foodstuff.

Public hospitals exist only as decaying buildings, but have neither material nor personnel capable to attend to all ill citizens. Education is in a hopeless mess. Police and justice are part of the omnipresent criminality, and not its solution. Corruption is everywhere. Rosenberg's accusations and the oligarchs' campaign that followed further paralyzed a government already devoid of resources and vigour.


But on Jan 12, 2010, the head of the CICIG, the Spanish prosecutor Carlos Castresana confirmed what those familiar with the perversity of the Guatemalan oligarchy had in any case presumed: Rosenberg did orchestrate his own assassination. President Colom and his government had nothing to with the killing.

The CICIG could trace the death threats Rosenberg allegedly had received to cellular phones he himself had bought during the weeks prior to his assassination. Using his own not so clandestine cellular phone, Rosenberg had called his own office to simulate the death threats. Castresana and his investigators also could reconstruct Rosenberg's contacts with his own murderers.

Through two friends and relatives, both important Guatemalan businessmen, Rosenberg had contracted several killers. The accomplices have already fled the country and are trying to evade prosecution. The CICIG also traced the money paid to the killers back to Rosenberg's own bank accounts. The killers, who apparently did not know who they were going to assassinate, did identify the target following the description Rosenberg gave on the telephone – his own.

Rosenberg's perversity goes further. According to the CICIG’s findings still to be made public, it appears that he also ordered the assassination of Khalil Musa, killed by yet another death squad in April 2009, only three weeks before Rosenberg was haunted down by his own contract killers.

Musa was a Guatemalan businessman who recently had been invited by Colom's government to be member of the board of directors of a controversial, because state-owned, rural development bank. Musa, linked professionally to Rosenberg, was killed along with his daughter, Marjorie, who was Rosenberg's lover.

The sources in Guatemala say now that Rosenberg, who was distraught by his recent divorce and by the loss of his children (his former wife had returned to her home country, Mexico, and had taken the couple's children with her), also resented Musa's opposition to his love affair with Marjorie.

Therefore, according to the CICIG's inquiry, Rosenberg ordered the assassination of Khalil Musa, to free the way to a new romantic, fulfilled life. But the killers he contracted to eliminate his reluctant to-be-father-in-law committed a grave mistake: They killed Marjorie too. Her death further traumatised Rosenberg, who, horrified by his deeds, planned his death, but tried to conceal it as a political assassination.

In his video statement, Rosenberg claimed that the government had ordered his murder "because I am the lawyer of … Khalil … and … Marjorie Musa.” He also claimed to in possession of "conclusive evidence" to solve Musa's murder puzzle and that he was aware of a government conspiracy to kill his clients. In the recording, Rosenberg also said he had bought the cemetery place just adjacent to Marjorie's grave, and that he wished to be buried there, on her side.


With its sheer sordid repugnance, the case proves more than the perverse character of the Guatemalan oligarchs involved in the plot. For Rosenberg, the life of Khalid Musa (who he claimed was not only his client but also his friend) meant nothing, other than an obstacle to his own romantic satisfaction.

How could Rosenberg conceive a satisfactory love life with his own victim's daughter? His partners, Luis Mendizábal, Mario David García and others, some of them among the richest people in Guatemala, and who all claim to pursue only the society's best interests, and pretend to hold a clear moral superiority over their political enemies, did not wince at manipulating an ostensible psychic ill man, whom they also called a friend, to launch a plot against the legitimate Guatemalan government.

Colom's government might be incompetent, weak, and even corrupt, but it still is the legitimate government, elected by the people in free elections.

Actually, they were only pursuing their most repugnant personal objectives. By so doing, by acting with such hypocrisy and evilness, they again helped to further ruin a country they have been demolishing piece by piece since 1954. That year, a U.S. orchestrated coup d'état deposed the democratic government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, who had dared to launch a land reform – against the will of the U.S. United Fruit company and its Guatemalan oligarchic partners.

The U.S. partners in 1954 are the ancestors, personally and politically, of Rosenberg, Mendizábal, and García. The success of the U.S. orchestrated coup is in inverse relation to the development of the country: During the 55 years gone since 1954, Guatemala has been ruled either by extreme right dictators, who have defended the oligarchs' interests. The civilian governments that have nominally ruled Guatemala since 1986 have been just another, more subtle form of government by the oligarchs. This continued rule has made out of Guatemala a moral, social, and economic catastrophe, a country where corruption, murder, and impunity are the rules.

Another lesson from the Rosenberg's conspiracy is perhaps even more important: Rosenberg and his accomplices did actually believe that they could get away with the murders and the plot, and even overthrow the government. They obviously thought that the impunity that has pervaded Guatemala's legal life for decades would still be valid for them.

But the CICIG was precisely created to combat the criminals' confidence in their unaccountability, to try to help the government to improve at least a bit its shameful record of only two percent of all criminal cases solved.

With his own death, Rosenberg obviously expected an absurd absolution – absurd because he, by organizing his own assassination, punished himself for his crimes. Now that his conspiracy has been cleared, his apparent expectation for compassion and absolution will go unheard. Let's hope that the Guatemalan and the international justice will be as unforgiving with Rosenberg's ruthless accomplices. (IDN-InDepthNews/24.03.2010)

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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