‘Rosenberg case takes bizarre twist’

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 ‘Rosenberg case takes bizarre twist’ – this is the
understated headline in a news item from the InforPress CentroAmerica news
service.

 

This
follows on from the peculiar situation where a video was released following the
murder of a lawyer showing that same lawyer blaming the President for his
imminent murder. This caused uproar in Guatemala, especially among that
particular class vehemently opposed to Colom’s presidency. The investigation
was handed over to CICIG to inject some transparency into the proceedings. The
results are stranger than fiction.

 

For
a recap,
Gillian tried to make sense of
things and this was followed by an article from the Inforpress CentroAmerica
news service. You can find it here:

http://www.guatemalasolidarity.org.uk/?q=content/art-creating-political-crises.

 

The
findings from CICIG were recently released to great surprise and bewilderment.

 

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The report from Inforpress CentroAmerica follows. There is also this
from The
Guatemalan Times
.

 

 

 

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Rosenberg case takes bizarre twist.

 

 

Rodrigo Rosenberg
became a household name in Guatemala after he posthumously accused the
President and First Lady of ordering his Mother’s Day murder last year. His
words, left behind in video taped days before he was shot to death on a
tree-lined boulevard, sent tens of thousands of protesters into the streets and
sparked youth-led reform movements. But the case that once seemed powerful
enough to topple a presi­dency came to a bizarre end on January 12 as
investigators concluded that Rosenberg, distraught over the murder of his
girlfriend and her father, ordered his own death.

 

An eight-month investigation found that Rosenberg asked two cousins of
his ex-wife to arrange the killing of a man who was extorting and threatening
him. The extor­tionist was fictitious, though, and Rosenberg was actually
planning his own assassination. Unaware that the target was Rosenberg, the
cousins contracted 11 hit men, more than half of whom are former or current
military or police officers, to carry out the killing, investigators said.

              

The investigation cleared Presi­dent Alvaro Colom and his accused
accomplices of any involvement. “This was the most serious crisis of my
political career”, Colom told reporters. “Fortunately, I’m patient. My
government has emerged streng­thened.”

             

In the days before his death, Rosenberg, a divorced corporate attorney,
was depressed over the killings of one of his clients and his client’s
daughter, with whom he was in a long-term relationship, a family member said. A
Harvard- and Oxford-educated lawyer, Rosenberg represented coffee baron Khalil
Musa. Musa and his daughter Mar­jorie were shot to death in front of a
Guatemala City shopping center in April.

         

“It was Rodrigo Rosenberg him­self that requested the help of his
ex-wife’s cousins… to whom he said, ‘I have an extortionist who is threa­tening
me, and I want to kill him’”, said Carlos Castresana, the Spanish lawyer who
heads the Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala
(CICIG), a UN-backed investigatory body. CICIG, which conducted the
investigation with the help of the FBI and Guatemalan investiga­tors, presented
its conclusions in a televised press conference.

          

Investigators said arrest warrants have been issued for the cousins, pharmaceutical-company
owners and brothers José Estuardo and José Ramon Valdez Paiz. They are
reportedly in hiding. The hit men, three of whom cooperated with the
investigation, were arrested last year and are awaiting trial.

 

 

Colom restores tarnished reputation

 

Rosenberg believed that Colom was involved in the Musa killings, which
remain unsolved. In the video, re­corded the week before his death, Rosenberg
alleged that Colom, his wife and two associates were using the state-owned
development bank Banrural for money laundering. The group then ordered the Musa
killings to conceal the scheme, Rosenberg alleged.

 

“If you are watching this message, it is because I was assassinated by
President Alvaro Colom, with help from [presidential secretary] Gusta­vo
Alejos… I knew exactly how [they] were responsible for that cowardly murder
[of Musa], and I told them so”, he said calmly in the video, dressed in a suit
and tie. In leaving the recording, “he wanted to change the system, to change the
culture of corruption and impunity that we live with in Guatemala”, says his
nephew Rodrigo Rodas.

 

But if Rosenberg’s intent was to challenge Colom’s legitimacy, he
appears to have done the opposite. “Colom’s position has been enor­mously
strengthened. He comes out not only vindicated but looking like a statesman,”
says Anita Isaacs, a Guatemala expert at Haverford Co­llege who has testified
before the US Congress on peace building in the country.

 

Reform groups vow to carry on

 

Colom, a nominally left-of-center candidate, won office with the su­pport
of indigenous, rural Mayans and has vowed to help alleviate wi­despread poverty
in the countryside with programs that have angered the nation’s oligarchy,
including cash rewards to poor parents who send their children to school
regularly.

 

Colom says his vindication will enable him to restart stalled initia­tives,
like a tax-reform package and fighting violent crime. “The issue of security is
one of the most impor­tant reforms for my government,” he says. “It’s the issue
that affects Guatemalans more than any other”. Indeed, the country has a murder
rate more than 8 times that of the US. Only 3.5% of last year’s 6,451 slayings
were solved, CICIG said.

 

Rosenberg’s videotaped calls for justice, which became an Internet
sensation, resonated with tens of thousands of protesters – many of them
students from the country’s conservative private universities and children of
the country’s élite, who rallied in front of the presidential pa­lace demanding
Colom’s resignation.

 

Using that momentum, protesters organized reform-minded groups pushing
for more government trans­parency and accountability. The groups have vowed to
continue even after learning that their martyr effec­tively killed himself. “We
are not disappointed because of the case”, says Alejandro Quinteros, who foun­ded
Movimiento Civico Nacional, the most prominent new reform group. “We are
disappointed because our government is not doing anything to reduce crime in
Guatemala”.

 

Media react cautiously to fin­dings

 

The country’s main papers have greeted CICIG’s findings with cau­tious
acceptance – mainly because of Castresana’s ability to present concrete
evidence regarding the case’s key questions. The media in general are
congratulating CICIG for its professionalism. However, many analysts have
pointed out that the case will not be solved entirely until the murders of
Khalil Musa and his daughter have also been resolved.

 

Many editors and columnists argue that Rosenberg’s original ac­cusations
against the government, including money laundering and wide-scale corruption,
are still va­lid until proven otherwise. Few are prepared to separate the death
of Rosenberg from those of the Musas; indeed, the two cases are considered one.

 

For example the Chamber of Industry publicly accepts CICIG’s verdict but
is also calling for an investigation into the Musa mur­ders to finalize the
Rosenberg case. The Chamber of Industry, along with other groups representing
the country’s powerful private sector (the Chamber of Commerce (CA­CIF) and the
Association of Agro-industries), invested massively in acquiring paid
declarations for the case, as well as organizing public demonstrations against
the govern­ment.

 

Meanwhile, comments by newspa­per readers on the Internet show that the
vast majority are not impressed with CICIG’s findings. Such com­ments do not
always reflect the wider public view, however, as only a very small proportion
of the population have online access.

 

CICIG’s work involved close part­nership with the General Attorney’s
Office, a state institution that has of­ten been accused of corruption. Ne­vertheless,
many have congratulated Castrasena’s team of investigators for having withstood
considerable pres­sure from the government’s political opponents and the media,
Castresana to do the best job they could.

 

Castresena himself has said that “this is how all murder cases should be
investigated in Guatemala”. Few other cases will have cost so much time and
money though, and it remains to be seen whether similar levels of resources
will be invested in the Musa murders, CICIG’s new priority. Unfor­tunately the
disadvantage in this case is that CICIG was called in several weeks later,
making the investigations that much more difficult.

 

Pre-election fodder

 

One of the reasons why the Musa murders and the Rosenberg case are so
firmly linked is because they both seemed to implicate the current go­vernment.
The cases have therefore become a political weapon, ahead of the 2011 election
race. As a Social De­mocrat, President Colom’s relations­hip to the country’s
private sector is becoming increasingly strained.

 

A Social Democrat in Guatemala is considered a leftist by the conserva­tive
sectors of society; indeed, many US think tanks often refer to Colom as
left-of-center. Being a leftist in Latin America today implies that you a close
ally of Hugo Chavez, a terrible oversimplification of the regional political
tendencies that can lead to grave consequences, as demonstrated already by the
Honduran coup.

 

The murders
of Rosenberg and the Musas, together with the country’s overall reaction, are
symptomatic of Guatemala’s persisting class (and, some might say, caste)
system.

Guatemala
has essentially been divided between the powerful and the powerless since
colonial times. So to understand the labyrinthine web of the Rosenberg case,
yet alone today’s Guatemalan society as a whole, it is crucial to understand
Guatema
la’s past.

 

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