The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?

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The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?

By Francisco Goldman
Grove Press, 2007
416 pp. $25.00
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This meticulously researched investigation into the 1998 assassination of the Guatemalan bishop Juan Gerardi pits the unspeakably evil Guatemalan military against impoverished Mayan Indians and their outgunned legal and religious defenders. Guatemalan-born Goldman artfully pulls back the curtain to reveal Guatemala's sinister political scene, whose psychopathic violence is deeply rooted in the sixteenth-century Counter-Reformation conquest, the virulent racism of a white minority, and the chaotic demographic explosion that occurred among the indigenous rural poor. (Goldman reflexively claims a larger U.S. role than Guatemalan nationalism has generally allowed.) In the 1990s, the United Nations brokered a peace accord that, on behalf of national reconciliation and political realism, granted broad legal amnesty to former combatants and included a detailed report describing the atrocities but naming no individuals as responsible. In contrast, the Catholic Church's liberation-theology faction, led by Bishop Gerardi, published its own report, this one naming still-powerful military officers. By demanding justice as well as peace, the 75-year-old bishop risked his own martyrdom. In a more hopeful turn of events, in a recent presidential election, a former military intelligence chief whom Goldman suggests was possibly involved in the Gerardi murder, and who ran on a hard-line anticrime platform, was defeated by a civilian Social Democrat.