ACN News, Friday, 12th August 2009 –
Is anyone safe in Guatemala?
GUATEMALA is being crippled by lawlessness with up to 20 murders taking place in the Central American country every day.
These are the findings of an investigation carried out by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, which states that the average number of killings today is greater than during the country’s 1960-1996 civil war.
The report, which follows an ACN fact finding and project assessment trip to Guatemala, identifies several causes for the breakdown of law and order including poverty, social exclusion, crime, the proliferation of gangs and drugs trafficking.
The investigation findings go on to emphasise the “the absence of justice that permeates the country”.
ACN, which supports persecuted and other suffering Christians, reports Bishop Victor Hugo Palma of Escuintla as stating that only three in every 100 murders are investigated by the authorities.
According to information received by ACN in Guatemala, there are 6,000 people behind bars out of a total population of 14 million.
Bishop Palma told the charity: “In a country where there are 18 deaths every day, where is the follow up to each case? Where is the police investigation?”
ACN reports that the Guatemala police are often accused by the public of “looking the other way” and are more concerned with protecting their own lives than enforcing the law.
Fr Prudencio Rodríguez, a Spanish missionary who has been in the country since 1973, is reported by ACN as saying: “Drugs trafficking, poverty, discrimination, racism, illiteracy, prostitution, all take place in Guatemala.”
Fr Rodríguez also highlighted the role of the media in causing the country’s problems.
He said: “We are not an isolated people, we are a people very much connected to the world and the role models that come to us via the so-called mass media… are not in keeping with ours.
“They make us wish for and dream of easy money at any cost, money made through extortion, through selling drugs, through other such things… all of which have brought tremendous violence to our society.”
The ACN report also describes the contribution made to the country by the Church’s social work, but also stresses that priests and religious working with the poor have suffered alongside them.
It mentions the death of U.S. priest Fr Lorenzo Rosebaugh, 74, who was murdered in May, near Lake Lachúa.
He was travelling to Cantabal with four other priests when the car that they were in was intercepted by two masked men, who opened fire on the occupants.
Fr Rosebaugh died and another of his fellow priests was wounded.
According to his congregation, the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate: “[Fr Lorenzo Rosebaugh] threw himself into visiting the communities in the years prior to peace being signed when the communities where threatened by heavy repressive violence during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala”.
According to Guatemalan priest Erasmo Vásques, Fr Rosebaugh’s death “is part of the violence that we live with here”.
Highlighting the problems the country faces, the Bishop of Escuintla mentioned the case of Rodrigo Rosenberg, a Guatemalan lawyer, who was shot and killed recently while riding his bike in Guatemala City.
Mr Rosenberg predicted his own murder two days before he died.
In a video message, Mr Rosenberg said Guatemala’s president, Álvaro Colom, had sanctioned his murder and that the killers were the premier’s private secretary, Gustavo Alejos, and his partner, Gregorio Valdez.
Lamenting the breakdown of law and order in the country, the bishop told ACN: “As we see it, justice delayed is justice denied.”
The ACN report backs up other Guatemala surveys of recent times.
The U.S. Department of State’s March 2009 Guatemala report states in its introduction: “Violent crime is a serious concern due to endemic poverty, an abundance of weapons, a legacy of societal violence and dysfunctional law enforcement and judicial systems.”
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 130 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 46.5 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.
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For more information, please contact the Australian office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148. Web: www.aidtochurch.org