Rights Groups Disappointed by Report
GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ A long-anticipated presidential report on the slaying of an outspoken bishop offered no new information and will not help authorities investigating the case, Guatemalan human rights leaders said Tuesday.
Bishop Juan Gerardi, the head of the Roman Catholic Church’s Guatemalan human rights office, was bludgeoned to death with a concrete block on April 26, 1998, in the garage of the northern Guatemala City seminary where he lived and worked.
His death came two days after he presented a report that blamed the Guatemalan military for 90 percent of the 200,000 killings during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. The conflict, which pitted leftist, mostly Indian guerrillas against government forces, ended in a 1996 peace agreement.
Since his days on the campaign trial last fall, President Alfonso Portillo has vowed to get to the bottom of Gerardi’s killing.
In his inaugural speech Jan. 14, Portillo said he would commission an ``exhaustive″ report into possible military involvement in the crime. He went on to promise his government would bring the case to trial during the first six months of his presidency.
The Guatemala City newspaper Prensa Libre said it obtained that report, still unreleased to the public. It said the document is just two pages long and appears to contain no new information on the case.
``The Minister of Defense has made it clear that the (armed forces) have not compiled reports about the case of the murder of Monsignor Gerardi because it is not their responsibility,″ the report states, according to the newspaper.
Portillo canceled a scheduled press conference Tuesday. A spokesman refused to comment on the report, explaining that it had not yet been made available to the press.
Adolfo Gonzalez Rodas, Guatemala’s chief prosecutor, said Tuesday that his office had not ``been expecting new information″ from Portillo and that he was satisfied with the report.
But Nery Rodenas, head of the Catholic human rights office Gerardi once directed, said he was offended.
``We see a lack of political will to get to the bottom of this case,″ Rodenas said. ``This government offered a report that does nothing more than complete its promise to compile a report.″
Mario Polanco, a coordinator for the Mutual Support Group, an organization for relatives of victims who died or disappeared during the civil war, called the report ``a joke.″
Jailed and facing murder charges in Gerardi’s slaying are Sgt. Byron Lima Oliva, his father, retired Col. Byron Disrael Lima Estrada, and Jose Obdilo Villanueva, a former member of the presidential guard who has reputed military ties.
Gerardi’s former assistant, Rev. Mario Orantes, was imprisoned on murder charges for seven months in 1998, then released. He was again charged with murder in March and has since remained under house arrest in a hospital while receiving treatment for back and nervous system aliments.
Former church cook Margarita Lopez was released from police custody last month but has not been cleared of charges as an accessory to the killing.
The state has named one of the three judges who will oversee a planned criminal trial for the five defendants. The process has been delayed for months, however, by a steady string of appeals by defense attorneys.