Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 202 | Mayo 1998



The Killing Stone, Bedrock of Peace?

The brutal murder of bishop Juan Gerardi is an assault with unpredictable consequences against the peace that is only beginning to be established in Guatemala. It reveals the extent to which the violence of the traditional power brokers continues to be present in the country, and it constitutes a tremendous challenge for the government of Alvaro Arzú.

Juan Hernández Pico, SJ

When we awoke on Monday, April 27, to phones ringing with the terrible news of Bishop Juan Gerardi's assassination, we knew that what we had intermittently intuited was true. Here in Guatemala, a country pounded over the past century by the most horrendous crimes against humanity, the structures of death had survived the war and the signing of the peace agreement.

Bishop Gerardi's smashed head, his face disfigured by a triangular chunk of concrete debris from the construction of a public sidewalk, showed us once again the latent killing force of the death squads, the anti-communist action commandos, all the masks and pseudonyms of that rightwing terrorism that has its roots sunk deep into military power, encysted in society over decades and strengthened by the dirty dealings of ill-gotten capital.

In the Cathedral of Guatemala 48 hours earlier, Juan Gerardi, as general coordinator of the Human Rights Office of the Archbishopric of Guatemala (ODHAG), had handed over to the multitudinous crowd of people gathered there—particularly relatives of the innumerable victims of Guatemala's armed conflict—a four-volume report containing the results of an inter-diocesan project called Recovery of the Historic Memory (REMHI), aimed at reconstructing the truth of what had happened during that conflict. The report was titled "Nunca Más"—Never Again.

As happened almost eight years ago, on September 11, 1990, when anthropologist Myrna Mack was stabbed to death on the streets of Guatemala City, the murder weapon left no possibility of tracking down its owner. A bullet can be traced to the kind of weapon that fired it and from there to a relatively circumscribed circle of possible owners. In a crime disguised as a highway accident, investigators can get the diameter and thickness of the tires and from there the murder vehicle and thence its driver. A stabbing, on the other hand, leaves no prints; less yet a stone. In such cases, barbarous brutality allies with intelligence to create anonymity. What appears as, and is, excessively bloodthirsty is at the same time quite astute.

Myrna Mack, with her research into the fate of thousands of internally displaced people in the departments of El Quiché and Chimaltenango, and Juan Gerardi, with his huge project aimed at recovering the historic memory of both victims and victimizers, had the same sacred duty. Both were digging deep into real history to thus reclaim the dignity of those defeated and tossed aside. Unless this duty is fulfilled, reconciliation cannot come into being in Guatemala. But cowards crippled by the sclerosis of their intolerance and eaten away by the lie that masks their material well-being and their arrogance did away with these two precious lives.

The Power of Darkness

On Sunday, April 26, Bishop Gerardi had breakfasted with his family. After celebrating Communion he spent the afternoon hours conversing, with the great enthusiasm and humor that was his style, about how to give the project continuity by writing up a more grassroots version for the people. He was already dreaming of another project to defend human rights and build peace.

He dined again with his family, and sometime after 10 pm reached the San Sebastián parish house, in the park of the same name in the center of the city, a scant three blocks from the Presidential Building, the National Palace, the Cathedral and the Archbishopric, where ODHAG had its offices. The park was sprinkled with sleeping "charamileros," beggars drunk on 90+ proof pharmacy alcohol. They say that someone had brought them a special dinner that night: enchiladas and a thick rice drink known as atole. A few car washers and other homeless people were still meandering around the area in view of the house.

Gerardi parked his car in the garage, behind the one used by Mario Orantes, the priest with whom he shared roof, table and parish responsibilities. In addition to being auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Guatemala, Monsignor Gerardi was San Sebastián's parish priest; all his life he had been a pastor as well as a sharp intellectual and a searing reader. The garage door closed from inside. The crime took place immediately, between 10 and 11 pm, according to forensic specialists. The body had several broken fingers and abrasions on the neck, signs that Gerardi may have tried to defend himself from the attack. The bloody stone was still on the ground. The body had been dragged some five meters along the garage floor to the house.

Around midnight, Father Orantes awoke in his room on the upper floor and realized that the lights he had left on downstairs to light the way for the bishop were still on. He got up, went down the stairs and found Gerardi's bludgeoned body.

He called the police and the Public Ministry. He informed the Archbishopric and the victim's family. He gave the news to Gerardi's collaborators in the ODHAG and the project. All of those who went to the scene of the crime, including the United Nations Mission (MINUGUA), found evidence that the assassin or assassins had gotten into the library, the chapel, the kitchen and the living room, which gave onto both sides of the garage. They had not, however, robbed either documents or other belongings of value. The only things stolen, it was learned days later, were the inexpensive Casio watch from the bishop's arm and one of the two billfolds he always carried, the one that contained some money, not the one with his personal documents.

The First Steps

The first investigations began around two in the morning and within four hours the cadaver was taken to the morgue for the autopsy. It was quickly learned that some of the people who sleep in the San Sebastián park were alleging to have seen a shirtless man leave the garage shortly after the presumed time of the murder, then reappear in the park a little later buttoning a clean shirt, then disappearing from view. Had his own shirt ended up soaked with the blood of his victim?
The drama had been consummated. Disbelief, pain and indignation filled the media as well as the streets of Guatemala and the rest of the world. Once again the power of darkness had its hour. Will this hour be perpetuated as the time of impunity?

A Glory for the Church

The blow was unbelievably painful for Juan Gerardi's family. For Próspero Penados del Barrio, the old and increasingly frail archbishop of Guatemala, the assassination signified the sudden loss of his closest adviser and collaborator. For the ODHAG members and those who worked with Gerardi in the Recovery of Historic Memory project, it meant the disappearance of their inspiration, energy source, friend and chief support.

For Guatemala's Catholic Church, the killing represented many things at the same time: a barbarous attack and a crude warning, but also an article of glory. An intimidating but also culminating sign, since the martyrdom of one of its most noted pastors pinned the gold broach on a valiant pastoral work at the side of the people, above all since the 1976 earthquake.

The high-quality pastoral concern about and often wise and bold underscoring of the real problems of both Church and country are attested to in the following pastoral letters from the Bishops' Conference: "United in Hope" (1976), "Profound Crisis of Humanism" (1980), "The Dignity of Man, His [sic] Mission in the Church and in Society" (1981), in the Communiqués of June and July 1981, in the Message condemning the peasant massacres (1982), in the pastoral letters "Confirmed in Faith" (1983), "Democratic Opening and Elections" (1985), "The Clamor of the Earth" (1988), "500 Years of Evangelization" (1992), "Peace Is Urging" (1995), and in the Communiqué "The Responsibility in Sustaining and Improving Democratic Life in Guatemala" (1988), among many others. It is a religious labor countersigned with the blood of hundreds and perhaps thousands of dedicated Christian men and women and with the blood of more than 20 priests, nuns and other religious workers, blood that the bishops referred to as martyred before Pope John Paul II in 1996, on the occasion of his second visit to the country. It had already been so characterized by them in 1981, when the Latin American bishops, united as a Conference, spoke for what was perhaps the first time of persecution and martyrdom.

Bishop Gerardi's assassins responded to the release of the report "Nunca Más" with brutal intimidation. That text had not been subjected to the limitations that will close around the upcoming report of the Historic Clarification Commission (CEH)—created through the peace accords with the same objective of sifting through the past to find the truth—unless its members value the spirit more than the letter of the Accord on Human Rights.

If the assassins wanted to intimidate, they certainly showed little intelligence in killing Gerardi, already 75 years old. Rather they provided him a glorious ending with which to crown his human and Christian service in this world and in his church, and they gave him universal renown. If the REMHI report was already going to be well circulated in Guatemala and would have been of interest in many circles abroad, it will now sell in Guatemala like taffy at a fair, and will soon circle the world translated into numerous languages. And if the CEH had already felt spurred on by that study not to limit themselves to a report full of generalities about human rights violations and humanitarian law during the decades of conflict, they will have a far harder time now abstaining from getting to the essence of the issue. The two Guatemalan commission members have already said they will not allow themselves to be intimidated and that their report, scheduled for publication in August, will be an "homage to Monsignor Gerardi."

Omnipresent Violence

Despite all the gains, the murder of Gerardi is an attack on the peace process and on Guatemala's governability. It reveals the degree to which postwar violence has taken over Central America's societies. Violence has remained embedded in the culture despite the peace accords. It has also been continually encouraged by the conversion of the military or paramilitary organizations and structures that once killed for political goals into organizations and structures at the service of organized crime and criminal capital. In this new service, they are dedicated to kidnapping, drug traffic, tax and customs fraud, massive contraband and illegal cross-border traffic in arms, vehicles, children and emigrants.

The violence is omnipresent and hits all social classes. Though some of the crimes are solved and some criminals sentenced in court, the investigation and the judicial proceedings hardly ever get to the intellectual core that planned the crime. This intensifies the sensation that our countries are dominated by impunity and blackmailed by those who were lords of the war and are today business leaders of a whole gamut of dirty dealings.

These criminal structures, never investigated thoroughly by the postwar democratic governments or by the state institutions of justice, can be activated again and again by their "hierarchies" to commit political crimes such as the one that ended Bishop Gerardi's life. These are the same kind of criminal structures that the 1993 Truth Report in El Salvador recommended be fully investigated, because without doing so it would be almost impossible to lay an unshakable foundation for the authentic rule of law.

As can be easily deduced, these structures have not yet been fully investigated. The truth is that amnesties of the "forgive and forget" sort have favored their clandestine character and probably kept their leadership and their instruments intact for violent action. Across-the-board amnesties cover up a reality that, eliminated from memory, can be fatefully reactivated. It is not improbable that these uninvestigated and undismantled criminal structures maintain loyal accomplices in the current institutions of the Central American states.

It is also patent that the US security institutions are unwilling to provide the Central American governments the documentation that would testify to all the atrocities and crimes committed with impunity by civilians and military officers of the authoritarian regimes in the past decades. The shared responsibility of "the Embassy" in these illegalities, or at least in their cover up, has to have been extremely intricate.

From the very first day of its administration, the Alvaro Arzú government has tried to weed out from the state institutions any civil and military functionaries suspected of still harboring a Cold War attitude and of being involved in corrupt activities, favored by the institutional power they at one time had. In this task he has had the cooperation of officers and others now responsible for the security corps.

These efforts were indispensible to being able to make progress in the negotiations with the guerrilla movement and finally get to the peace accords. Above all they were necessary to establish the conditions for a peace that would move past the political exclusion and intolerance, the unjust underdevelopment, cultural discrimination and social marginalization that the majority of Guatemala's population has lived with for centuries.

A Colossal Challenge

President Arzú made room in his government for some personalities with a progressive mentality and a history of concern for justice and development. He also accelerated the peace negotiations and led them to the signing of the accords. Nonetheless, the corruption and professional deficiencies that characterize the state institutions—especially those in charge of public security and of imparting justice—have seriously reduced the state's capacity to deal with impunity and guarantee sufficient public security.

Meanwhile, the politicking of the ultra-right opposition has urged on the popular masses to pressure the government to take a backward step in some fiscal measures which, for the first time, promised to do justice in tax collection. Now the murder of Bishop Gerardi burdens the authorities with the responsibility of elucidating what happened. If this is not done efficiently and relatively quickly, or does not go all the way to the source, the credibility and operative capacity of the Arzú government and of his security and justice institutions could be destroyed.

If this were to happen, it would favor those who have invested in the failure of the peace processes and in the persistance of Guatemalan society's obscurantist tendencies. Herein lies the importance of the murder of Monsignor Gerardi. It challenges all forces interested in the advance of the peace process. The attack goes beyond the person of the murdered bishop, straight to the heart of the nation-building project contained within the peace accords.

"Never Again" Came 48 Hours Later

Guatemalan society's response to Juan Gerardi's assassination has been extraordinary. It is a sign that times have changed, that people are more conscious of their social and civic strength, and that, even though the structures of death can still hit so hard, their brutal acts no longer spark the paralyzing terror they once did.

The world's response has also been extraordinary. All respectable national and international institutions immediately made the obvious connection between Gerardi's assassination and the publication two days earlier of the report "Nunca Más." The link was expressed by Pope John Paul II, by UN Secretary General Koffi Annan, by representatives of the European Union, the Interamerican Human Rights Commission, Americas Watch and by virtually all religious development aid agencies. In Guatemala itself, the Human Rights Office of the Archbishopric, the Alliance Against Impunity and numerous other organizations of civil society also underscored the link.

Guatemala's Catholic Bishops' Conference spoke with notable prudence: "...this assassination could be linked to the turning over of the results obtained by the Project of Recovery of the Historic Memory (REMHI) this past Friday, April 24. Monsignor Gerardi was the General Coordinator of that project, which investigated the massacres and assassinations committed against the people of Guatemala during the years of the internal armed conflict, and which also put into evidence institutional responsibilities implicated in the conflict."
Guatemala's Conference of Religious Men and Women added another suspicion: the killing must have sought to "frighten the members of the Commission of Historic Clarification, whose report on the truth about what happened in the armed conflict over 37 years of Guatemalan history is now imminent."
The most important thing was the grassroots reaction. Perhaps because this is the first bishop assassinated in Guatemalan history, or perhaps because of the barbaric way they killed him, or perhaps also because—as the "Nunca Más" report itself says—it is for many people now "time to speak up" and not remain silent, the terror is beginning to be surmounted. Whatever the reason or reasons, on April 24 the Cathedral of Guatemala was the fullest it had ever been in its history. A vast representation of Guatemala's multicultural, multiethnic and multilingual population attended the presentation of the report. The hundreds of Encouragers of Reconciliation, people who had been trained to interview the victims whose testimonies are covered in the report, stood out in particular. There were also numerous groups of civil society, especially from the poor neighborhoods ringing the capital. Behind each of these representatives stands a network of families, organizations and associations whose roots run through many strata of Guatemala's population. The presence of the mainline Protestant churches gave the act a valuable ecumenical character.

"Martyr of Peace"

A wake in the Cathedral to accompany the mortal remains of Juan Gerardi was organized, which went from 3:30 in the afternoon of Monday the 27th, to 10 in the morning on Wednesday the 29th. The lines of all those who wanted to express their gratitude to and respect for the bishop—whom many were already calling the "martyr of peace"—permanently circled the entire block around the Cathedral. People packed into the Cathedral day and night.

On Tuesday, between 6:30 and 8:00 pm, a pilgrimage of several thousand people slowly covered the five blocks from the Cathedral to the San Sebastián parish church, scene of the crime. There was a liturgy in San Sebastián Park, the special responsibility of the lay men and women who were close collaborators with Gerardi. Among those who spoke were Ronalth Ochaeta, executive coordinator of ODHAG; Carlos Aldana, of the archbishopric's office of social projects; Edgar Gutiérrez, general coordinator of the REMHI project; and Helen Mack, 1992 Alternative Nobel Peace Prize winner and president of the Myrna Mack Foundation.

Path of Risks and of Light

Edgar Gutiérrez quoted parts of Gerardi's speech at the Cathedral four days earlier. Especially moving was this section: "We want to contribute to the building of a different country. This is why we are recovering the people's memory. This path was and continues to be full of risks, but building the kingdom of God has risks and only its builders are those with the strength to face them."
Yolanda Aguilar Urizar, a victim of the Lucas García government's repression in the 1970s, whose testimony is one of the most impressive of all those included in the "Nunca Más" report, read the poem "Resurrección," by Guatemalan Presbyterian poet Julia Esquivel, who was exiled from her country for many years. That was followed by the singing of the song by Guatemalan composer Pablo Alvarado, "Los fusiles no cantan, las guitarras no matan" (rifles don't sing, guitars don't kill). The homily, a heartfelt dialogue with Gerardi, was presented by Carmelite priest Cirilo Santamaría, from the Apostolic Vicariate of Petén. All the monitions adapted the gospel text of the Beatitudes.

At the end of the homily, the Encouragers of Reconciliation lit their candles from the Pentecostal candle—the light of Jesus Christ, of Juan Gerardi and of the innumerable Guatemalan martyrs—then moved through the multitude passing on the flame. It ended up illuminating the park across from which Gerardi had been assassinated only a few dark nights earlier.

At 9:00 am on April 29, more than 400 priests from Guatemala and other countries met in the Archbishopric. Present also were almost all the archbishops and bishops of Guatemala; the apostolic nuncio; six Salvadoran bishops, including the archbishop of San Salvador; Panama's archbishop; the bishop of Choluteca and president of the Bishops' Council of Central America, who also represented the archbishop of Tegucigalpa and president of the Latin American Bishops' Conference (CELAM); and various representatives of the Bishops' Conferences of Mexico, Colombia, Canada and the United States, almost all of them bishops. In total, 28 prelates. The absence of representatives from the Bishops' Conferences of Nicaragua and Costa Rica was noticeable. The presence of so many Salvadoran bishops was testimony to the solidarity that the immolation of Monsignor Gerardi awakened in that neighboring country, evoking the memory of Monsignor Romero and so many other Salvadoran martyrs.

The Absence of Arzú

Guatemala was in mourning for three days, decreed by the government. President Arzú, accompanied by his Cabinet, visited the Bishops' Conference headquarters—for the first time during his administration—to transmit the government's condolences. On April 28, Gustavo Porras, the President's Private Secretary, and Raquel Zelaya, president of the Secretariat of Peace, were in the pilgrimage. During the funeral in the Cathedral, the government was represented by Foreign Minister Eduardo Stein, Minister of Government Rodolfo Mendoza and Attorney General of the Republic Héctor Pérez Aguilera, all members of the High-Level Commission named by the President to follow up the investigation of the crime.

There was no lack of people who shouted their opposition to President Arzú's absence from the funeral proceedings and burial (Vice President Luis Flores did attend the internment). Arzú's absence showed insensitivity to the feelings of a large part of the population, and was even more upsetting given that his personal links to the Catholic Church are well known.

A large part of the priests and nuns and a multitude of lay men and women and regular citizens of Guatemala overflowed the Cathedral and spilled out over the Plaza of the Constitution and surrounding areas.

"Juanito, it hasn't been in vain"

Gerardo Flores, the Bishop of Verapaces, said in his homily at the funeral: "The immolation of Monsignor Juan Gerardi is inscribed in the fatal dialectic between good and evil, between truth and deceit, between justice and the pitiless exploitation of man, between life and death, between light and darkness, because he opted for life and defended it when he saw his children fall in the horrible massacres of El Quiché. Because he made the word of so many widows, orphans and humble victims of the irrational violence that has bloodied our country come out of the darkness and the painful silence, to make a different country.... Because his truth wounded those who live only by lies and deceit, because his struggle for life could not satisfy those who have no problem killing to maintain unjust and ill-gotten positions; that is why they killed him. They destroyed his features, but now he sees the radiant features of God. They wanted to snuff out his light, but it now shines much more in our Guatemala. His blood will not be sterile, joined with so much blood of martyrs in our Guatemala over these years.... Juan, Juanito, as we called you, your sacrifice hasn't been in vain. Thanks to him, one good day, hopefully sooner rather than later, all of us will be able to warble, be able to sing, be able to shout: 'Guatemala, Guatemala, never again!'"
The Cathedral resounded with unanimous applause for several minutes. At noon, a procession accompanied the coffin carrying Gerardi's body as it circled the Plaza of the Constitution, lined with students wearing their school uniforms and with adults. Applause followed the path of the coffin, while the rosary was prayed.

In such a period of historic change, the comparison with the bloody drama that ended with the funeral of Monsignor Romero in the Cathedral of San Salvador 18 years ago was inevitable.

52 Years of Service

Juan Gerardi, grandson of an Italian emigrant, was born in the Guatemalan capital in 1922. He was a priest for 52 years, bishop of Verapaces from 1967 to 1974, and of El Quiché from 1974 to 1980—until he had to close his dioceses, with the consensus of his clergy, and go into exile, after three of his priests were assassinated and a failed attempt was made against his own life. He was the auxiliary bishop of Guatemala and vicariate general of the Archdiocese between 1984 and his death, and general coordinator of ODHAG since 1989.

He was buried in the crypts of the Cathedral of Guatemala at 1:30 on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 29, at nearly 76 years of age. At the time of his death, he was in full use of his faculties and full of dreams for the life of his people and for the reconciliation of Guatemala.

The 72-Hour Deadline

The morning newspaper headlines on April 27 carried the declaration of an Archbishopric spokesperson, made in the pre-dawn hours of greatest anguish: "If the government of Guatemala does not clarify this crime in 72 hours, the responsibility for it will fall on the government itself." In the more calm writing of later hours, the ODHAG added some nuance in a communiqué it read in a press conference: "We demand that the competent authorities clear up this tragedy in a period that should not exceed 72 hours, since the Government of the Republic will pay a high price if the pattern of impunity is extended to this case." The Guatemalan bishops, in turn, said, "The members of the Bishops' Conference condemn this vile assassination and demand an immediate explanation of the competent authorities."
The President called an emergency meeting of his Cabinet, decreed three days of national mourning, said publicly that all the resources of the state would work to clear up the crime, and proposed the creation of a High-Level Commission, made up of representatives of the government, the Bishops' Conference and ODHAG, to supervise the investigation of the crime and guarantee its transparency. From the outset, Arzú was aware of the threat that results with little credibility or clarity would represent to the governability of the country and to the rest of his administration. It can be intuited that the specter of the country becoming increasingly ungovernable sparks more commitment to the peace process on the part of the President and his collaborators, since such an eventuality would increase the probabilities of a 1999 electoral triumph by the party of General Efraín Ríos Montt, one of the former officers most questioned by the REMHI report. Ríos Montt was the head of state during the period in which the majority of the horrendous massacres with which the army punished the rural zones occurred. A government by his party, the FRG, would mean at least a hindering of the peace process, a brake on it, or at least its sine die postponement, if not its outright death.

President Arzú named Foreign Minister Eduardo Stein, Minister of Government Rodolfo Mendoza, Private Secretary to the Presidency Gustavo Porras, president of the Peace Secretariat Raquel Zelaya, Director of the Presidential Human Rights Commission Marta Altolaguierre and Attorney General of the Republic Héctor Hugo Pérez to the High-Level Commission. The Bishops' Conference and ODHAG sent no representatives to it given the shadow of useless and frustrating sterility that has fallen on the work of similar commissions in the past either because they are inadequate institutional tools of the state or because they are not given the necessary power to function.

The First Two Witnesses

On-site investigations got underway in the pre-dawn darkness of the 27th, an hour after Gerardi's body was found by Father Orantes. They were directed by the district judge, the Attorney General of the Republic and the director of the Civil National Police. Members of MINUGUA, ODHAG, REHMI and the Mryna Mack Foundation were also present.

It was noticed from the very first moment that the majority of the Charamileros were still strangely sleeping very deeply. Contact was made with an eyewitness, a car washer who was also homeless but was not a chronic alcoholic, who said he had seen from the front at relatively close range a man with his torso bare coming out of the garage after Gerardi parked his car. The night of the 27th another eyewitness, who also used the park as a habitual sanctuary and also a non-drinker, turned himself in to MINUGUA. He was accompanied by his father and feared the vigilance by unknown people he felt around him. He had also seen the face of the man who had come out of the garage, but from a greater distance and as he was buttoning on a clean shirt. Both witnesses separately recognized from police photo albums of criminals the mysterious person who had come from the scene of the crime and was quickly lost in the darkness of the night.

On Thursday, April 30, the minister of government, accompanied by the director of the Civil National Police, announced in a press conference that Carlos Enrique Vielman had been captured in the bus terminal of the capital's zone 4—also a market and hangout for muggers and gang members. The director named Vielman "the principal suspect of the material authorship of the death of Bishop Juan Gerardi," although he added that "we are not yet certain that he effectively is the author of the assassination." Vielman lives in a marginal zone and has known links to gangs. He has an arrest record for rape, drunk and disorderly, all crimes he seems to have committed in and around the San Sebastián Park. This latest crime, while not authentically proven to be his, shows all the characteristics and circumstances of having been a political assassination. We could be in the presence of a delinquent drug addict, bought for a small amount of money to do this "job," which would fit perfectly with the later theft of the bishop's cheap watch and billfold.

Where Is the Other?

ODHAG said it felt satisfied by the arrest, but stressed the uncertainty of this first result. REMHI project director Edgard Gutiérrez, in declarations to the daily newspaper Siglo XXI, said he was surprised by the fact that some of the habitual beggars in the San Sebastián Park went on sleeping well into the morning of the crime, despite all the movements and lights in the area for hours. He recalled that "the forensic evidence at the crime scene tells us it was not a single assassin but at least two. Where's the second one? Why didn't he show up like the first one?" He recalled Vielman's smug impudence, which could have been as much his awareness of impunity as being under the effect of some drug.

The lack of professionalism— we would not like to think it was a lack of good faith—of the first investigators of the crime makes it difficult to gather all the material evidence necessary for the judicial process. The attorney general, for example, did not ask the judge to seal off the crime scene, so important indications were probably lost with the passage of so many people. An FBI team is now continuing the investigations.

A Blind Alley?

The crime against Bishop Juan Gerardi, declared Edgard Gutiérrez, is, "in synthesis, a complex case that puts the country's criminal investigation system to the test." In his judgment, the peremptory deadline given to the authorities by the Archbishopric, in the first moments of consternation, to get to the bottom of the case—which the government immediately rejected—made sense. The demand for rapid results is a just one. "The 72 hours are up today," said Gutiérrez on Thursday, the 30th, "and we can see, at least in the foreign minister, in the minister of government, in SEPAZ, COPREDEH and in the President, signs of interest in clearing up the issue. We will see later how far they'll go. What we hope is that they will go all the way to the final consequences, that the case will not be closed by presenting someone presumed responsible, but that they will be willing to continue considering hypotheses."
The possibility cannot be discarded that the quick arrest of Vielman will lead to a blind alley and require a turn to other results than those being followed in the current investigation. In any case, the issue is going further. In the President's public message by national media hookup decreeing the period of morning and committing the state's resources to getting to the bottom of the crime, his tone was heavy-laden and humble, though firm, as was the tone of his declarations in the Cathedral. And his words—"any act of violence goes directly against the peace"—were pertinent, if perhaps too prudent. It is important to point out that there were no signs of his prior arrogance.
A lot is expected of the Arzú government on this occasion. Edgard Gutiérrez said, "We also expect of the government messages of support for the work that Gerardi was promoting, the work to which he dedicated the last three years of his life, as being useful for the country and for national reconciliation."

The Price of Hope

This dramatic hour that Guatemala is going through is so risky for the development of the institutions of democracy, for people's confidence in the government's capacity, for the advancement of the peace process, that only the harmonizing of many civic efforts and firm and solidary international support will be able to keep alive the nation-building project inaugurated by the peace accords.

A huge dose of hope is still required just to take up this path. It is the same hope that allowed Juan Gerardi to dream and, together with so many people, to contribute to the realization of the project to recover the historic memory.

With his martyrdom, our bishop still lives and will live forever, "liberated from any feeling of not having paid with his own blood the definitive price that his faith demanded of him," as CAFOD, the English Catholic agency of aid to the third world, wrote in The Independent of London. It is the same price in blood that so many other Guatemalans to whom he was a good pastor also paid.

We survivors of the Guatemalan drama are called upon to continue paying in hope the price that the building of a new country requires of us daily.

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