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Guatemala: Remembering Bishop Gerardi and His Report “Never Again!”

Knowing the truth is painful, but it is a highly liberating action

– Bishop Juan Gerardi on April 24, 1998

Ten years ago, Bishop Juan Gerardi released a report called “Guatemala, Never Again!,” which contained powerful testimonies of those forever affected by the armed conflict in Guatemala. The report provided graphic details and specific names of those who committed these crimes, and as a result, ultimately cost Bishop Gerardi his life. He was killed approximately 50 hours after the release of the report. A decade later, Guatemalan bloggers remember the man who brought much of what was happening in the war into the public consciousness.

The murder was particularly brutal, as he was beaten to death with a concrete slab in front of his place of residence Even though some accomplices were brought to justice, it is believed that more are at large. Most believe that it the crime was directly related to the report compiled by the project Recovery of Historical Memory (REMHI) of the Catholic Church.

neveragain2.jpg

Photo by James Rodriguez of Mi Mundo [es] and used with permission.

The blog Cerigua [es] published a letter where the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) demands the capture of others involved in the murder of the Bishop, while The Dominon blogger provides information on some of the memorial events:

Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruño gave a powerful sermon in memory of Gerardi in the Cathedral in Guatemala City. He received an extended round of applause when he stated that “the Catholic Church will not stop demanding that the case of Bishop Gerardi be clarified, until we know who was responsible for doing what.”

Former journalist and professor Ana María Rodas, blogging at La Columna de Ana [es] remembers the day when the report was released:

El 24 de abril de 1998 salí de la Iglesia Catedral luego de haber asistido a la ceremonia donde la Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado había dado a conocer a grandes rasgos los resultados de sus investigaciones sobre las atrocidades cometidas durante la guerra sucia en Guatemala. A grandes rasgos, digo, porque en un par de horas no se podía conocer todo lo que contienen los cuatro los libros con los hallazgos del Obispo y de sus colaboradores, el REHMI. El aire de la tarde era suave y sentí que por primera vez en muchos años, podía respirar libremente. Desde el atrio vi hacia el parque central….. y lloré en paz. Mis muertos, nuestros muertos, podían comenzar a descansar en paz.

On April 24, 1998 I left the Cathedral after attending the ceremony where the Office of Human Rights of the Church explained briefly the result of the report on the attrocities perpetrated during the dirty war in Guatemala. I say briefly because in a couple of hours one cannot learn all the findings of the Bishop and their collaborators in the REMHI (the report). The breeze in the afternoon was mild and I felt that for the first time in many years I was able to breathe freely again. From he atrium, I was able to see the central park … and I finally cried. My deaths, our deaths will finally rest in peace”,

Following the murder, the attention on the report's findings was now focused on the crime. The process of finding the killers became a national story, and much of it became a controversy. A book that investigates some of the games of covering the truth was written by Francisco Goldman called “The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?” The book is reviewed by the Guatemala Solidarity Network blog:

Goldman's book was an impulse buy. Reviewed somewhere on the Guardian's website, it was, apparently, an important book that Salman Rushdie rated. And it was set it Guatemala. Part of the world I've long felt an emotional affinity to. I knew Goldman was writing about a political murder, but that was about it. From the elaborate description of scene and event at the start to the release of the conclusion I was fixed on it. It's a slow meticulous story, and engrossing purely as an account of detective determination. That pace gives you time to think about meaning and motivation, and to see at work the forces that have shaped Guatemalan history, and the history of much of the Americas, first as individual acts of almost mundane brutality, then as orchestrated oppression.

Guatemalan bloggers remember that the essence of such remarkable man, who was to speak for those without a voice, for the people who suffered directly the effects of a cruel armed conflict. In the war, children were murdered or forced to enter the war as child soldiers. Much of this has been forgotten by society, and blogger Hunapu e Ixbalanque [es] writes about this phenomenon in Gerardi Against Amnesia:

Monseñor Gerardi dió su vida por que se conociera la historia que hasta hoy en día aún es desconocida por la mayoría de guatemaltecos. Su enemigo mayor fué la amnesia colectiva, una de las peores formas de injusticia. De ahí que para honrar la memoria de Monseñor Gerardi lo menos que podemos hacer los guatemaltecos es leer el Informe REHMI.

Monseñor Gerardi gave his life to communicate the history that today is still unknown by almost all guatemalans. His greatest enemy is the collective amnesia, one of the worst expressions of unfairness. So, to honor the memory of Monseñor Gerardi we Guatemalans at least must read the REHMI Report [es].

Expressed by an abstract of a poem by blogger Biblioteca del Grillo [es]

Querías “construir un país otro”/ soñabas una nueva Verapaz. “La construcción del Reino tiene riesgos”, lo sabías muy bien, pero vivías los derechos humanos como sueños divinos; con tu sed de justicia verdadera; en tu opción por las víctimas, que son también los pobres

You wanted to build a new country, you were dreaming with a New Verapaz. The construction of a Kingdom has riskes, and you knew it well, but you lived human rights as divine dreams, thirsty for real justice, you chose to fight for the poor victims

There are many sources where you can listen to the testimonies of the survivors, one is “Para nunca olvidar” (To Never Forget) where teachers from other countries can download the tesitmonies for use in their classrooms.

neveragain1.jpg

Photo by James Rodriguez of Mi Mundo [es] and used with permission.

Blogger Diario Paranoico gets to the point, the message of the Bishop:

Es sorprendente el alcance que ha tenido la guerra, incluso en nuestros días. En nuestro ADN, se ha inyectado el cromosoma del miedo y del silencio. Nadie está interesado en conocer su historia; miles de jóvenes y adultos se preguntan ahora quién fue ese tío desaparecido al que no conocieron y sus padres no se han atrevido a contar su historia. Huérfanos que no saben dónde está su familia…

It is surprising how the war affected us, even now. It is inside our DNA, it is the cromosome of fear and of silence. No one cares, no one wants to learn more about their history, thousands of youth and adults wonder about their disappeared uncle or the relative that the parents never talk about. Orphans that do not know where their family is buried…

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