Magazine article New Internationalist

Dog Baloo: Peace Accords Have Yet to Puncture the Culture of Impunity in Guatemala [Pet Dog Arrested in Murder of Catholic Bishop]

Magazine article New Internationalist

Dog Baloo: Peace Accords Have Yet to Puncture the Culture of Impunity in Guatemala [Pet Dog Arrested in Murder of Catholic Bishop]

Article excerpt

Tourism is way down, they tell me. Hurricane Mitch has frightened everyone away. It certainly has a lot to answer for -- 389 dead, 106,609 injured and 749,533 affected in Guatemala alone. But I know from the time I spent working here two years ago that there are other 'hurricanes' raging through this beautiful and terrible country.

My return to Guatemala City coincides with the second anniversary of the signing of the final peace accords. President Arzu has decreed a huge public fireworks display for the evening and declared this to be the Day of Pardon. As my friends Pedro and Carla drive me from the airport they say: 'How can we pardon the human-rights abuses that happened to our friends and family -- indeed to us -- if no-one has even said "Sorry"?'

In April last year, just one block from my friends' house, the Catholic Bishop, Monsenor Gerardi, was brutally murdered two days after the publication of the report Guatemala: Never Again. This collection of oral histories was put together by a project team of the Archbishop's Human Rights Office. Brave Guatemalans, finally taking the opportunity to speak their truth, gave graphic accounts and clear statistical evidence showing that the Army was the perpetrator of the overwhelming majority of human-rights abuses during the 36 years of institutionalized state repression in this country.

After the Bishop's murder, the authorities gaoled a dog by the name of Baloo. Father Orantes, the owner of the dog, was accused of a 'crime of passion' against the Bishop. The dog was put down. Regardless of who was responsible, there's no doubt that the Bishop's murder has had the effect of diverting media attention away from the contents of the report.

In the morning I go for a walk past the Peace Flame in the Central Square. I notice it is being re-ignited for tonight's 'show'. It was lit for the peace signing in December 1996 and burned for a few weeks until the gas ran out.

Returning to my friends' house I discover the contents of my backpack strewn over the floor of my room. Carla tells me they have just been robbed. She does not appear to me to be traumatized, but Guatemalans are good at hiding this sort of stuff. Even so, what has happened is quite shocking.

Pedro and Carla run a small business and so keep their front door open on to the street. Pedro had popped out with his two-year-old son on errands. …

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