NUMBER 16, APRIL 29, 1999
Gerardi Case:
One Year Later, Guatemalans Demand Answers

Guatemala City, April 25.

More than 50,000 worshippers and spectators turned out today to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of Bishop Juan Gerardi.

The crowd, the majority from 40 city parishes, converged on the main cathedral from the four points of the compass, each column decked in a different color -- white, red, orange and green. Visitors from Italy, Mexico, the United States, and other Central American countries as well as parishioners from 14 provinces also participated. 

Overflowing the central square that fronts both the cathedral and the national palace, the public gathering constitutes the largest in Guatemala since the pope’s visit in 1997.

Archbishop Próspero Penados officiated Mass, accompanied by Monsignor Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, president of the Latin American Bishop’s Conference (CELMA) and its secretary general, Jorge Jiménez Carbajal, while some 300 priests delivered communion to the throng.

Although principally a religious ceremony, the event was also a forceful reminder to Guatemalan authorities that much of the population, including the Catholic Church, is unsatisfied with investigations into the bishop’s murder April 26 of last year. The homily, pronounced by Gerardo Flores, bishop of Alta Verapaz province, echoed the widely held belief that Gerardi, who just two days before his death launched the first comprehensive account of the atrocities committed during Guatemala’s civil war, was killed to silence the truth about the country’s past.

The Church maintains that the crime was politically motivated, and suspects that military personnel were involved.

“They killed him because he hated injustice and loved equality. They killed him for not remaining insensitive to the pain of his people, a people humiliated, impoverished, exploited and massacred,” Flores told the crowd.

Just last week in Vatican City, Pope John Paul II urged President Alvaro Arzú during a private meeting to solve the crime “as soon as possible.”

Dozens of human rights groups, both here and abroad, seconded that call during the anniversary celebrations. The Myrna Mack Foundation called the lack of progress in the case “a serious setback in the process of consolidating peace” in the country and accused authorities of conducting a whitewash. Evidence has been contaminated or destroyed, information has been concealed and manipulated and the independence of judicial officials tampered with, the foundation stated. 

Parishes throughout the country also held remembrance celebrations today for the slain bishop, and solidarity groups in the United States, Canada and Europe held rallies or other events to commemorate his life and death and to demand thorough investigations into the assassination. Representatives of the U.S. State Department and the European Union also publicly voiced their concerns about the slow pace of the investigations.