The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? Paperback – Sep 1 2008
Frequently Bought Together
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
No Kindle device required. Download one of the Free Kindle apps to start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, and computer.
To get the free app, enter your e-mail address or mobile phone number.
From Publishers Weekly
Novelist Goldman (The Divine Husband, etc.) pursues in his first nonfiction book the infamous murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi, the Guatemalan human rights leader murdered after the release of his multivolume report on the genocidal terror campaign led by the army in the 1980s and '90s, in which 200,000 people disappeared or were killed. The book, which began as a New Yorker piece, casts light into the darkest corners of this tortuous case, the U.S.-supported war in Central America and the continuing legacy of violence and corruption. The large cast and myriad details can be overwhelming, but overall Goldman manages a clear narrative (aided by a dramatis personae and chronology). Drawing on a wealth of sources, including interviews, declassified documents and court records, his meticulously researched book is an impressive organizational achievement, as well as a vital moral accounting. Goldman—who was baptized in Gerardi's church of San Sebastian, attended by his Guatemalan-born mother—invests this eye-opening account with a layer of personal reflection. Like Latin American writers García Márquez, Vargas Llosa or Carlos Fuentes, his journalism isn't so much a departure from his fiction as an extension of his concerns with the fraught landscapes where truth is as contested as the soil underfoot, yet central to battles waged over it. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
In April 1998, Juan Gerardi Conedera, auxiliary bishop of Guatemala City and a human-rights activist, issued a devastating report detailing the role of the military in atrocities committed during the country's recently ended 36-year civil war. Two days later, the bishop's body was found in the garage of his parish house; he had been bludgeoned to death. Initial government investigations were halfhearted, even absurd. So the Catholic Church formed its own investigative team, led by a cadre of young, idealistic laymen. Goldman probes into the dark recesses of a nation polarized by decades of war, repression, corruption, and social injustice. Eventually, three military officers and a priest were arrested and convicted of the crime, but the efforts to tie these men to higher-ups has continued. Utilizing his skills as a novelist, Goldman recounts the unfolding investigation like a good detective story, as layers of deception are peeled away. But it is also a story of dedication and courage, as the young investigators pursue justice against entrenched opposition. For those interested in Latin American politics and history, this will be a fascinating read. Freeman, Jay --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.See all Product Description
Inside This Book(Learn More)
Top Customer Reviews
Well worth buying and giving to anyone who wants to know some of the malign effects of U. S. interference in other countries in the Americas.
The author apparently holds both Guatamalan and U. S. citizenship and is an award-winning novelist. This book is his first non-fiction work.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I spent a brief time in Guatemala doing human rights work in the mid 80's (a shout out to any PBI alums in the house :)), and so was interested in the subject matter, and had at least a glancing acquaintance with the horrid murderous travesty that was the Guatemalan government, as well as the impenetrable fog of denials, mis-statements, forgeries, violence, hidden agendas, disappearances and murk that hid virtually any attempt to get at any truth.
I found the first half of the book (which focuses on the "who-done-it") outstanding. Here Goldman relates the story of the investigation - the false leads, the disappearing witnesses, the hopelessly (and deliberately) contaminated crime scene, the (deliberately) conflicting evidence, the overlapping areas (and agendas) of the investigators, etc. That the investigators were able to finally pierce it (not completely, but most crimes never are) is just amazing, especially given the very real threat to themselves and their families.
I think the other reviewers who criticize this book for not analyzing the case for/against Monsenor Mario, or for not analyzing the case made by 'who killed the bishop' are being unfair - goldman spends a _lot_ of time on each of these, especially the latter, to the point that you could almost criticize the book for over-focusing on it. Similarly, I think criticizing the book for not telling more of the story of the defendants is ludicrous - when your primary interactions with a defendant consist of their giving you death threats, it's hard to go much further!
The problem with the book lies in the second half, what is called the "second crime" - the multi-year "war of attrition" against the verdict, year after year of judicial games, wars in the press, maneuver after maneuver. Here, while I appreciate the author's work in showing us just how deeply broken the justice system and press were (and are), I just felt the book became a less interesting read - we know who done it, we know why, now we read chapter after chapter of frustration (although it sure made me glad I've never been a guest of the Guatemalan Penal system!). One last cavil - another reviewer says that Goldman never walks us through the final 'best guess' of the final crime, minute by minute - oh yes he does, it's near the end.
So in summary - a good book, an important book, a book alternately deeply depressing and deeply inspiring, but not a great _read_, the only reason I am marking it down a little.
At the heart of Goldman's story is the account of how a group of human rights investigators, lawyers, prosecutors and judges, a small circle of whom jokingly referred to themselves as Los Intocables--The Untouchables-- pursued justice despite the onslaught of violence, threats, slander and condemnation hurled at them from virtually every direction: the military, politicians, defense lawyers, the press, even respected Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. One lost his brother to an unspeakably vicious death. Several had their homes bombed, or were forced into exile when military thugs followed their children to school to let them know how easy it would be to kill them. All endured countless death threats that they never disclosed to Goldman personally, out of an intrinsic sense of honor (he learned of the threats from other investigators, or by reading documents related to the case). But these people were true believers that justice had to be done, despite the cynicism of most of their countrymen. The story of that courage, plus the marvelous depictions of the inimitable characters involved, from ex-army street hustlers to inhabitants of Guatemala's gay demimonde, as well as an informed and daunting portrait of where Guatemala stands today--a country where criminal mafias led by military chieftains vie for control of the insanely lucrative narcotics, human trafficking, car theft and kidnapping rackets, and where "the line between crime and politics can be so fine as to not even exist"--and a clear-eyed analysis of the "schizophrenic" role of the United States in both some of the most galling and the most inspiring episodes in that country's recent history, make this a book that is simply too good to miss.
It also couldn't be more timely. It was hoped that continuing investigation would pursue other officers believed to be linked to the murder, including General Otto Pérez Molina--now a candidate for president of Guatemala, who is facing center-left businessman Álvaro Colom in a runoff scheduled for November 4th. If he is elected, as is expected--the general has received a baffling nod of approval from our own embassy, due to his impeccable anti-Chávez credentials (better a killer and a narco than a leftist, one assumes)--this path to justice will get closed for good, unless the U.N. Commission for the Investigation of Illegal Bodies and Clandestine Security Apparatus (CICIACS) enters the fray with the authority it deserves.
All of which is detailed in this terific book. Buy it, read it, talk about it, share it.
Goldman details the murder and the trial in great detail, and very effectively conveys the sense of living in such an awful time and place. He does a good job of sorting out the story and getting at what really happened, but with this case and in this time that requires some digging. Goldman needs to go over the crime scene several times to get through the layers as witnesses/accomplices change their stories or the evidence rules out some explainations.
For example, while I thought Goldman spent too much time discrediting the perfectly ridiculous explaination that a dog had caused the crime, in doing so he shows the extent to which the military was in control of the courts. The charge was taken seriously enough for the court to order Bishop Girardi's body exhumed to check for bite marks.
The book works on many levels, including that of a suspenseful murder story and an important work of recent Latin American history. Goldman very effectively conveys the sense of terror for witnesses and civilians in such a country where the military is at war with its population.
Goldman had excellent access to some of the key players in the trial, though it was almost exclusively through connections to a human rights NGO (ODHA) that was investigating and serving as co-plaintiff in the case.
Another reviewer seems to imply that Goldman has an agenda, or an axe to grind - I don't know. But, it is obvious from very early on in the book - in spite of some cursory effort to explore an alternative scenario - that Goldman believes that the Guatemalan army and military intelligence infrastructure were responsible for the murder of Bishop Gerardi. He may think that conclusion is valid based on his own investigation, on witnessing the trial, or by having access to ODHA's evidence and investigative records, and he may be right. But, it doesn't leave for much in the way of development or intrigue.
In spite of some good, fluid writing, I found the pacing choppy and I longed for Goldman to show more of a novelist's eye for character development. The characters reflected very little complex humanity - instead becoming a sum of their relationships, avocations, affiliations and possessions. And, in failing to gain any access to the defendants he focuses on almost exclusively, Goldman bakes what turns out to be only half a pie. It is clear he considers the father/son team tried for the crime to be reprobates and even monsters - but part of the story is in getting to know the monster, a la "Helter Skelter," and - in fiction - "Silence of the Lambs." Also, I was amazed to find early on in the book that a junior priest - Father Mario - who served in the same parish and lived in the same house as the murdered Bishop Gerardi was a co-defendant in the murder. With the priest spending the next several years in prison awaiting trial, Goldman spends almost as much time examining Father Mario's dog, Baloo (also a suspect), as he does exploring and developing the priest's character.
Goldman essentially spends the book's first two parts describing ODHA's case and how it built it. Here is the informative part. I think a lot of Americans who are not oriented toward Latin American politics will be shocked to read some of the historical record compiled in Bishop Gerardi's REMHI report - the document that Goldman implies ultimately leads to the Bishop's murder. There is also some interesting anecdotal stuff about government roadblocks put in the way of the investigation, violence and threats against those running and cooperating with it, and - as above - some examination of alternate theories of the crime.
But, that is partly the problem, the information is largely anecdotal. Neither Goldman nor ODHA seem to have any hard evidence of the crime to rely on, and even in Goldman's own subsequent interviews with witnesses living in protective refuge abroad, no clear picture of the crime emerges.
The book really bogs down in its third and fourth sections, where some of the key characters and witnesses are followed in their post-trial travails, and appeals are heard. Here, the book feels overlong and poorly organized as a lot of this info could have found a home in plumping up the pre-trial narrative.
I think Goldman has written an important book, and undoubtedly a somewhat controversial one. It is packaged very well for the American true crime reader. But, the book never intends to deliver on that level. Part of that is a reflection on precisely the mess in Guatemala that Goldman is recounting, but part of it is a reflection on Goldman's own emphasis on not just telling a story, but on telling ODHA's story.
I can't judge whether that was a worthwhile or correct choice for Goldman to make, given the compelling social purpose the book serves and its political context, but I can say that it made the book somewhat less enjoyable for me.