The art of creating political crises

Last Sunday, among the now routine roll-call of violent death in Guatemala appeared one name for whom the grave would not be silent. “Good Afternoon, my name is Rodrigo Rosenberg Marzano… sadly if you are watching or hearing this message it is because I was murdered by President Alvaro Colom…” His accusations have been seized on to generate the most serious political crisis seen in Guatemala for some years. Allegations are made about other people too: the president’s wife, private secretary and a major party funder.

Rosenberg’s story revolves around the Banco Rural de Desarrollo, Banrural, which among other things manages governmental aid programs, in which the president’s wife Sandra Torres is heavily involved. According to Rosenberg the bank is used as a conduit for money laundering, drug trafficking and diverting public money to private entities – “a cave of robbers, drug traffickers and murderers”. Rosenberg was a well-known lawyer and had as a client and friend, Khalil Musa, a businessman described as having an exemplary reputation. According to Rosenberg, Musa had the misfortune to be invited to join the board of Banrural by President Colom and some close associates, to be an unwitting bargaining chip in a power struggle presumably for control of the banks ill-gotten gains. Once Musa had outlived their nefarious purpose he was murdered, along with his daughter who happened to be with him when the assassins struck. Rosenberg’s investigation into the circumstances of Musa’s death, for which he claims to have “conclusive” documentary evidence, made him feel the shadows closing in on him too. He recorded his message to the world just in case something was to happen to him, to be his testimony and to call for Guatemalans to please stop letting their country going to hell in a handcart pushed by corruption and violence.

This is just another and particularly spicy ingredient to already febrile stew of coup rumours and violence alleged to be deliberately set up to destabilise the country. Even those generally resistant to conspiracy theories might have pause for thought when considering those who distributed the video, two people known for links to right wing parties and coup attempts of the past, and further considering those who might gain politically by having the president removed by such a scandal, a man who lost the last election and is now calling for Colom to step aside.  

The government has pledged to investigate the case, calling in CICIG and the FBI, with a statement of support coming from the Organisation of America States. The OAS welcomes the investigation, and specifically warns against “any act of violence that may lead to a situation of political instability” CICIG has insisted that it will brook no interference in its work and that the Attorney General should stop meeting the President. President Colom for his part has been on television to claim his conscience is clear.

Out on the streets rival factions have formed and are organising demonstrations: on one side those  calling for Colom to resign, with placards bearing words like “Asesino” and “Exigimos Justicia” more usually associated with human rights protests, drawing in the losing parties in the last election and people from comfortable areas of the capital not usually seen on demonstrations;  on the other UNE mayors, deputies and supporters bussed in in their thousands with their “Senor presidente, el pueblo esta con Usted”.

In the latest development today a petition was delivered to parliament, signed by 35,000 people asking for Colom’s immunity to be removed by parliament so he can be prosecuted. This is being characterised as a sort of moral crusade which should it not receive an answer within 8 days will lead to the calling of a general strike.

As an external observer of this I find myself bemused, as it is not obvious, but then it never is, what is really going on. Without in any way wishing to suggest that Rosenberg was not the honest broker he presents himself as, I have to ask myself who stands to benefit, who is really behind this, who are the real powers and who are the manipulated? One cannot but notice the ironies: that calls are made for the president to step aside while the investigation goes on, but those same voices are silent about certain other powerful personalities who have been getting on with their governing, thank you, while accused of the most egregious crimes; that only when one of their own is murdered do the well-heeled sectors of society come out in protest against their government, while they lift not a finger when thousands of poor Mr and Miss Nobodies are murdered in cold blood and the judicial system stands there with its metaphorical arms folded; that the petitioners for the removal of immunity do not feel the same moral repugnance about government money disappearing into Panamanian bank accounts instead of feeding, educating and providing health care to their fellow citizens.

Who knows how this will all turn out? However, not much heed seems to be being paid to Rosenberg’s plea that Guatemala can’t go on as it has: the disturbing odour of political capital being made, to be spent grabbing hold of the political toy that is Guatemala, hangs everywhere; instead of asking some fundamental questions about why the promise of a new country to be born at the end of the civil war continues to be poisoned into a corrupt, violent and poverty stricken place that affects everyone, we just see a society split, agreeing only that that particular nettle will not be grasped.

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Categories: Video, Violence

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