UN panel exonerates Guatemalan president in bizarre murder-suicide

On Jan. 12, there was a bizarre twist in the investigation by a special UN panel of the death of a right-wing attorney last year. According to the UN sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg actually tricked two of his nephews into getting a hit man to assassinate him.

Rosenberg was gunned down while riding his bicycle in Guatemala City on May 10, 2009.

Immediately afterward, a video was released in which Rosenberg, speaking calmly and facing the camera, said he was probably about to be assassinated and that if he was, the blame should be placed on Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom Caballeros, plus Colom’s wife and secretary. Rosenberg said that Colom’s motive for murdering him would be because Rosenberg had been representing two other people who had been assassinated earlier, an action for which Rosenberg also blamed the government. The assassinated people, businessmen Khalil Musa and his daughter, were, according to Rosenberg, murdered to cover up a corruption scandal involving the Board of Governors of the Banrural Bank.

The death of Rosenberg caused uproar, with the right wing demanding Colom’s removal from power or resignation.

But workers and peasants rallied to Colom’s support. Although the Colom government is not left-wing, it is the first government to take some measures in favor of the poor since the overthrow of the left-wing government of President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 by the CIA. That incident was carried out at the instigation of the Dulles brothers, then U.S. Secretary of State John Foster and CIA Director Allen, who had stock in the old United Fruit Company and, besides being ideologically opposed to Arbenz, feared that his proposed land reforms would affect United Fruit’s profits from Guatemalan holdings.

The overthrow of Arbenz led to a long series of coups d’état and military dictatorships, culminating in a civil war which wiped out entire indigenous Maya communities and left at least 200,000 innocent people dead. When the military stepped down from power in 1986, they and the death squads they had organized and supported did not cease to exist, but have remained an intimidating presence that has prevented social process. Attempts to investigate military and death squad mass killings have been met with threats and violence against the investigators. One of the worst of the military killers, former President Efrain Rios Montt, is still a factor to be reckoned with in Guatemalan politics. So the murder of Rosenberg, followed shortly by the coup in Honduras, was seen as a major threat to the stability of democratic rule and social progress in Guatemala.

In 2007, Colom was elected by a margin of 53% to 47% over General Otto Perez Molina, a hard line reactionary who was associated with some of the violent military units during the civil war, and whose main campaign promise was to bring back the military to deal with civilian crime. This is as much as to say he would have brought back military and death squad repression full blast. So it was suspected that the Rosenberg murder was in fact an intrigue designed to destabilize the Colom government and perhaps even to prepare the ground for a military coup. This is now revealed to actually the case.

The case began to be cracked in September, when seven people involved in the Rosenberg murder were arrested. The head of the UN Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, the Spanish judge Carlos Castresana, says Colom is exonerated by yesterday’s finding.

Castresana says, based on cell phone and other records, that Rosenberg had decided to commit suicide (perhaps because of a personal relationship with Mr. Musa’s murdered daughter) and to try to use his own death to bring down Colom. He then persuaded two of his nephews, identified as Francisco and Jose Valdez Pais, to arrange the murder, evidently without their knowing that their uncle was going to be the victim. The Valdez Pais brothers then hired hit men, and the deed was done.

Photo of Álvaro Colom Caballeros, www.planetrulers.com/guatemala.php




Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.