Slain Lawyer's YouTube Video Plunges Guatemala into Crisis, Protests Form on Facebook

The crisis in Guatemala sparked by an assassinated attorney's final words -- captured on YouTube -- continues to expand online and in the streets.

Above, a protest poster distributed on Twitter in posts marked with the hashtag #escandalogt (short for "Guatemalan Scandal," for those who don't read Spanish).


Inset above, a photo taken on Sunday: a worker guards the body of Rodrigo Rosenberg just after he was shot by gunmen in Guatemala City.

In the posthumously-released video, Rosenberg said he feared he would be assasinated, and that if he were, those responsible would be operating at the orders of Guatemalan president Álvaro Colom.

Prensa Libre reports that Facebook is now being used by Guatemalans calling for Colom's impeachment and trial. Organizers are spreading word on Twitter and various social networking sites to gather for a second day of protests, tomorrow, Wednesday May 13. Snip from article, with my rough translation from Spanish:

En el portal de Facebook se puede leer el enunciado de un usuario: "Hoy solo fue una pequeña muestra. Mañana con más fuerza y mientras más personas lleguemos mejor aún!!!! Manifestemos Todos!!! Mañana somos más!!!, se lee en otro.

On Facebook one can read the declaration of a user who says, 'Today's demonstrations were only a small example, tomorrow with more strength and even more people we will achieve more still! Everyone, Protest! And, 'Tomorrow, there will be more of us,' says another user.

Here is one of many Facebook groups calling for Colom's resignation and trial.

The Wall Street Journal has a report up here. Colom was interviewed on CNN en Español today, and a transcript is here. Here's an AP item from today, here's a NYT item.

I'm hearing anecdotal reports on Twitter and elsewhere that account holders at Banrural, the Guatemalan bank at the heart of this scandal, are withdrawing all their cash from the institution and causing a growing liquidation panic that threatens to further destabilize the already teetering country.

- Guatemala: Protests for Assassinated Lawyer Streamed Live from Laptops in the Streets
- In YouTube Video Shot Before His Death, Attorney Blames President for His Assasination



    Thank you for this incredible, attentive work in the cause of justice.

    Also, did you see any tribbles at the IMAX?

  2. @Nosehat: Well, the capacity to organise and document the protests makes violent suppression harder to organise and near-impossible to conceal.

    With the rise in popularity of highly portable, networked hardware (esp. netbooks, smartphones and digital cameras), as well as the widespread adoption of technologies for rapidly sharing content, (e.g. Twitter), we’re entering a new era for protest.

  3. Decentralising information distribution inherently works against centralised power structures.

  4. @#4 Kieran:

    I agree, it makes this kind of thing harder to conceal. But that only matters if the people watching are actually able to do something about it.

    I know how quickly internet activists are to be outraged. But I wonder how quickly they are to actually act.

    My deep-seated fear is that people respond to this with momentary outrage, then move on to the next bright and shiny thing.

  5. @#5: Decentralising information distribution inherently works against centralised power structures.

    Yes, yes, yes, I agree completely. But only if the recipients of this information actually act on it in politically significant ways.

  6. To be honest, the reaction is as symptomatic of the problems of the country as the event is.

    Not that I know much about Guatemala specifically, but in South America, as a rule, either people support the regime or they hate the regime and are prepared to believe anything bad about it. Regardless of who’s in power.

    It’s why their democracies don’t work. No side trusts the other side, especially when it comes to democratic institutions and corruption. And so both sides convince themselves that ‘a little’ illegal behavior is okay, just to “counter-act” the real or imagined illegal actions of the opposition.

    Bottom line here is that you’ll have significant outrage against the government no matter who’s in charge, or whether the government was actually culpable, as long as there’s something to be outraged about.

  7. Demonstrating in the streets has mixed results these days, but a massive bank run, well that’s something else. Especially when it’s the bank the president’s using as a petty-cash drawer.

  8. S nw y cr bt Gtml nc th “nws” prnts stry bt mrdrd lwyr? Ths hs bn gng n fr yrs! vryn wh s srprsd s pg . . . hp yr njy yr Strbcks lt whl y cht t p n yr Dll lptp!

  9. So, you keep track of whats going on in, say, Myanmar, Laos, Burkina Fasso, Bhutan, Tajikistan, and Tobago?

  10. Interesting. According to the Guatemala Times (an English language publication in Guatemala City) many of the people at the protests were from the Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations of Guatemala (CACIF) — which in a US context would be a sort of combination of the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Farm Bureau.

    One of the people present was Gen Otto Pérez Molina, the candidate of the far right who lost the 2007 elections to the accused Pres Alvaro Colom. As a general during Guatemalan civil war, Pérez has been implicated in what a UN investigating committee called genocide by the army against indigenous peoples who make up about half of the population. He was also named the man behind the 1998 assassination of Archbishop Juan Gerardi by Fernando Goldman in his book The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed Bishop Gerardi?

    Since Colom took office there has been a crime wave in Guatemala that many of the people I spoke with there think is a destabilization campaign by the far right aimed at driving Colom from office.

    This is not to say that Pres Colom isn’t guilty of complicity in the murder of Rodrigo Rosenberg. He may be. Only that Guatemala is a sordid place where great crimes have been done with impunity for years. I think it is best to reserve judgement until more information comes to light.

  11. @#9 Alex M: …either people support the regime or they hate the regime and are prepared to believe anything bad about it. Regardless of who’s in power.

    Not just South America…Maybe the U.S. isn’t quite as bad (not too many people are acting on calls for violence from either side), but the polarization is still here.

  12. Wht cs d y #14 r #12 rprsnt? D thr f y cr bt nythng? f thr f y hv smthng t sy thn hr s yr frm! Hwvr, t lks lk yr r pd t rspnd t cmmnts gnst sd prsdnt/prty.

  13. S . . . pls nlghtn m nd th rst f th wrld wht s gng n n “Mynmr, Ls, Brkn Fss, Bhtn, Tjkstn, nd Tbg” r dd y jst lk ths cntrs p n n tls? f y rlly cr thn why wld y vn mntn ths plcs f trml nstd f sng yr nrgy nd tm t d smthng? thr y cr r y wrt bt t . . . ‘m dng wht cn whr cn, y r jst wrtng bt t – f y d cr thn w r rgng gnst ch thr bt th sm thng w cr bt. Hwvr, wll nt tlrt brgs sshls wh hv mpl ccss t cmptr xpndng t th wrld hw th rst f th wrld s sffrng whl thy drnk cf nd srf th ntrnt. Ds th hypcrsy snd tr? f y hv rd ths nd dn nthng thn y r jst cnsmrst. njy!

  14. @yamara, I’m not a hero, the heroes in Guatemala are, and have always been, ordinary people who speak out against injustice and fight for human rights and the rule of law, against tremendous danger and direct threat of death. The most humble, the most vulnerable — their names are never known to us, but they are the heroes. I’ve met their families, I’ve sat in their homes after they died. They’re the heroes.

    @AlexM, Guatemala is not South America, and you’re missing the point here.

    @Voline, I remember the presidential campaign Molina waged — he’s a war criminal, and he promised to deal with the narcos “con la mano dura.” He, Montt, and others from the legacy of that genocide promise more of the same. I have no doubt that even darker forces than Colom will attempt a takeover if the situation continues to destabilize. The one thing you can generally count on in Guatemala is that bad politicians are often replaced by worse ones, and generally with assistance from, or a blind eye from, the United States.

    @all who are observing the organizing online and saying this is insignificant, bear in mind the climate in which this is taking place. You show up at a demonstration in Guatemala, you may be killed. Either then, or later. The facebook groups are being used to organize meatspace actions.

    @ahrimano, one more rude, trollish comment like that and you’re banned.

    I don’t know if you’re trolling the commenters here, or if you’re trolling me, but 3 seconds worth of googling will yield background on my work covering social justice issues in Guatemala for many years. Apart from that professional body of work, personally speaking: I have been traveling to Guatemala with family since the 1980s, and have family and loved ones there. Guatemala es mi tierra.

    1. one more rude, trollish comment like that and you’re banned

      Three strikes, you’re out. Play him off, Keyboard Cat.

  15. Xeni@18 – That kind of personal heroism is understood. But it needs to be heard wherever it is left unheard. I wrote “Tweet Hero”–and I stand by that assessment.

    QED Ahrimano. Ignorance, divisiveness and oppression need to be shown up at every turn. Keyboard Cat has an ongoing gig in this world.

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