Nothing is more unjust than what is just.
--Lope de Vega
Last September, Callie took down a few book recommendations that Junot Díaz gave at a local reading. He mentioned Francisco Goldman's The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? and made a rather startling statement:
"Goldman is a genius. After reading his work, I threw all my Mario Vargas Llosa books out the window. That guy is a criminal."Having read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I know that Díaz isn't crazy about Vargas Llosa's depiction of the Trujillo regime in La Fiesta del Chivo (believing that even this is too tame) and considers Julia Álvarez's En el tiempo de las Mariposas to be the better book. But why "criminal"?
It took me two days to read Goldman's heartbreaking, incisive account of Father Gerardi's murder, the Guatemalan government's involvement, and the subsequent trials. Aside from being such a riveting story, I deeply appreciated Goldman's ability to clearly yet meticulously follow this Byzantine example of the nature of politics in Latin America. He does a compelling job of conveying the fantastic nature of what happens without giving in to exoticism or hyperbole. I also very much identified with his personal connection to his work and the complexity of what it means to belong to two very different countries.
Towards the end of the book, Goldman himself explains his view of Vargas Llosa's essay, which supports ¿Quién mató al obispo?: Autopsia de un crimen político by Maite Rico and Bertrand de la Grange--a defense of two of the accused military men and a completely different take on who the culprits could be:
It is reasonable to assume that when Mario Vargas Llosa wrote his essay on the Gerardi case and on the book Who Killed the Bishop? for El País, he was convinced of the truth of what he was writing. It may have been overly eager, unguarded ideological sympathy or prejudice; or the vanity of a Great Man of Letters, seduced, after many decades of adulation, into a sense of his own infallibility; or a case of what Borges had in mind when he wrote that no man, outside his own specialty, is not gullible; or some combination of these that led the distinguished novelist to accept at face value an extraordinarily controversial book's most far-fetched assertions as facts not requiring independent verification, and then to join his voice to the book's smears and accusations.I read this as a cautionary tale of the ideological danger of being outside of Latin America for too long. European myopia is infamous around here--so much confusion and wrong interpretation of what actually goes on boiled down to a simplistic left and right dichotomy. And even that isn't fully understood.
As someone unfamiliar with the case before reading Goldman's book, it is very tempting to take "sides"--but I have not read the Rico-De la Grange book or any other information about the case. I can see where the arguments and counter-arguments fit, and the possible weak spots of Goldman's account (although it is incredibly well researched and seems to blow their theories apart). Some think Goldman didn't address the whole story. Ilan Stavans' review for the LA Times takes a more measured approach in analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of Goldman's account.
The Guatemala Solidarity Network's blog briefly explains the situation (and I find myself agreeing with their conclusion):
One of the aspects of this publication is the involvement of outsiders in writing about the internal workings of the Guatemalan criminal justice system in one of the most high profile cases that pitted many power blocks against one another: the Catholic church, the military, organised crime, and the political establishments past (Government of Alvaro Arzu) and of the moment at the time (Alfonso Portillo).Opinions can be dangerous things. Well-respected individuals can't be too careful about which ideas they support and the implications of lending credibility to an issue without researching it thoroughly. We could all stand to be more careful.
Francisco Goldman as US writer of Guatemalan origin steps into the debate following Maite Rico (Spanish) and Bertrand de la Grange (French) book "Quien mato al obispo?". In it, they point to the complicity of parts of the Catholic church, the human rights community and organised crime in the murder of Juan Gerardi. They maintain that the military men Byron Lima Estrada and Byron Lima Oliva (sentenced to 30 years prison) are innocent of the murder.
Rico and De la Grange's account was supported by many outsiders, including famously Mario Vargas Llosa in El Pais. When Goldman suggests in his book that Rico and De la Grange received money from Arzu to write their book, they responded angrily and in sarcastic tone in El Periodico. According to Inforpress Centroamericana is wasn't the only time Rico and De la Grange had been accused of receiving Government money for a book. Suspicions were raised that the Mexican Government had participated in the publication of their book (Marcos: La Genial Impostura) critical of subcommandante Marcos. It's a very tangled web to be sure. Whatever the truth, anyone following this tragic episode in any depth, beginning with the events of 26th April 1998, gets the nagging sense that the whole story and all its ins and outs, will ultimately remain elusive. At the very least, Goldman's work has reignited a hope that the contrary will one day be true.
NOTE: The Open Society Institute hosted a forum with Francisco Goldman, in which he discussed his book and how he became serious about writing it. It's a fascinating listen...
I wonder when this book will be translated into Spanish?