Guatemalan Bishop Murdered 

FROM the 8th Day Center for Peace and Justice

On Friday, April 25, 1998, the Archdioceses of Guatemala released the results of its three year project, REMHI (The Recuperation of Historic Memory) at an historic event at the cathedral in Guatemala City. This project of the Human Rights office of the Archdiocese was under the direction of Auxiliary Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera. On April 27, 1997, Bishop Gerardi was killed the way 150,000 Guatemalans died -- hideously and mercilessly. His mutilated body was found 48 hours after this report was made public.

The human rights report NUNCA MAS, Never Again, revealed the findings of the
archdiocese which collected 6,500 testimonies of the persecuted throughout the nation. Seventy-five per cent of the victims were Mayan Indians. It recovered this lost history by collecting people's testimony, village by village, about what happened to them during Guatemala's 36 year war--a war supported by U.S. military and political advisory monies. More than 1,646 Guatemalan military officers have graduated from the School of Americas including Colonel Julio Roberto Alpirez, who ordered the killing of U.S. citizen Michael Devine and Efraim Bamaca, husband of U.S. lawyer Jennifer Harbury.

Bishop Gerardi's death points to both the difficulty and precariousness of peace-building and reconciliation in postwar Guatemala. The long-awaited presentation of the church's REMHI project revealed in overwhelming detail the ongoing problem of military impunity and the destruction of indigenous communities as a result of the armed conflict. Yet his murder suggests just how contested that history remains and just how far Guatemala has to go before real peace with justice can be achieved.

President Alvaro Arzu's government thus faces a formidable challenge in bringing the
perpetrators to justice.

"A man driven by his search for justice and reconciliation, (Bishop Girardi) death saddens all those who share his ideals in Guatemala and in the world," said Mary Robinson, U.N. Human Rights Chief.

Pope John Paul on Tuesday added his name to the list of world leaders and groups
deploring the brutal murder of a leading Guatemalan bishop who had defended human
rights in the Central American country. The Pope expressed his "strongest revulsion" over the killing of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi, calling the apparent political assassination an "abominable crime" against someone who had devoted his life to peace.

Bishop Gerardi was beaten to death with a cement block late on Sunday, two days after he presented a report documenting army and guerrilla war crimes during Guatemala's 36-year civil conflict.

The Historical Memory Recovery Project, the first attempt by any group to collect data for a complete study of the human rights abuses, assassinations and massacres of the war, was the bishop's crowning achievement. On Monday afternoon Gerard's body was carried to the Guatemala City cathedral, where some 2,000 mourners gathered for a Mass. Many of the same people had attended a ceremony in the same place on Friday night, to hear Gerardi say "never again" as he presented a landmark human rights report.

Church and human rights leaders were shocked by the killing, which they said shattered Guatemala's hard-won progress in eradicating human rights abuses. They called Gerardi's murder a political hit that threatened the stability of the 1996 peace accords which ended the war.

Salt of the Earth