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Guatemala on the Edge

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Outspoken Guatemalan Churchman says He Will Continue to Be a Voice for the Voiceless Poor

August 16th 2010

Christian Topics - Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruno and Alvaro Colom

President Alvaro Colom and Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruño

Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruño, who serves as archbishop of Guatemala City and head of the Central American country’s prelates, said during a Sunday homily on August 15 “I will continue to be a voice for the voiceless.” This came on the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the spiritual patroness of Guatemala City. Cardinal Quezada also spoke of the legacy left by his predecessor, Bishop Francisco Marroquín, who defended the “voiceless” aboriginal Mayan Guatemalans who suffered the depredations of the Spanish conquistadores as of the mid-1500s.

The outspoken Quezada was recently criticized on the PorMiFamiliayPorGuate.org (For My Family and Guatemala) website, which said he is “imprudent” for criticizing government dealings that would favor companies such as Canada’s Goldcorp – a mining concern whose operations met with opposition from the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights out of concern for possible environmental degradation that would come from further mining of gold and silver. While PorMiFamiliayPorGuate.org argues that exploiting natural resources would improve the lot of all Guatemalans, the archbishop has remained critical. Among the collaborators of the website is Rodolfo “Fito” Paiz Andrade, a Harvard-educated businessman who led a commission on economic development during the administration of President Oscar Berger Perdomo.

Guatemala is still emerging from the results of a 30 year civil war and comes to grips with what has been described as the greatest gap between rich and poor in Latin America. The Guatemalan military fought against both Marxist inspired guerrillas and democratically-minded reformers from the mid-1950s until 1996. Guatemala’s military became one of the most notorious in the world for its program of scorched earth destruction, especially in the largely Mayan highland region, as well as targeted assassinations of opponents such as Catholic clergy, labor leaders, and politicians. One of the most notorious murders was the assassination of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi Conedera, an outspoken advocate of human rights, who was murdered in his home in 1998. While there were arrests made, those ultimately responsible remain unknown.

Guatemala remains one of the most violent countries in the world. Murders occur on a daily basis that pit rival criminal organizations against each other and the apparently hapless police forces. In June, a special investigator appointed by the United Nations left the country in disgust having found that there appears to be a lack of political will and organizational ability in the Central American republic to address the wave of murders and kidnappings. Quezada said he was pleased to be the object of such criticism since it confirms that he is accomplishing his work with his flock as did Bishop Marroquín – “a defender of the Indians.”

Cardinal Quezada, known for his sharp sense of humor, noted that his predecessor Marroquín would have been called “imprudent” by the Spanish conquistadores if newspapers had existed in the 1500s. It has been five hundred years since the Conquest, said Quezada, but the majority of Guatemalans still lack adequate education and health or worthy employment. He noted that since he is “independent of political, economic, or military powers” he can afford to do as his conscience dictates and denounce injustices, especially those committed against Guatemala’s native peoples. “As long as I have life, I will continue to be ‘imprudent’, as Marroquín was and other archbishops and bishops of Guatemala, four of whom were expelled because they choose to be a ‘voice for the voiceless.” Continuing in the same vein, the outspoken prelate said “I am afraid of no one,” to the applause of the hundreds of people congregated at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Guatemala City.

At the end of his homily, Quezada told those present to share solidarity with the families of those who have fallen victim to violence. He called upon the government of President Alvaro Colom Caballeros, the scion of a wealthy family, to “stop being useless and take the measures necessary which they are obliged to do to provide us peace, the peace to which we all have a right.” Outside observers and diplomats have conjectured that Guatemala may have reached the status of a failed state, given that high-level police officials have been accused of collusion with criminal organizations while gang members in prison have been known to order assassinations of rivals and Guatemalans officials on the outside.

Martin Barillas is the editor of Speroforum.


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