Dead Man Accuses Guatemala's President Of Murder
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep. Guatemala is in political crisis. It has to do with a murder and a president. Alvaro Colom is president of the Central American republic and he's been accused of murder. There are calls for him to step down. And the charge comes from the grave. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Guatemala City.
(Soundbite of whistle)
JASON BEAUBIEN: Guatemalan teachers marched along Avenida La Reforma in the latest demonstration over what's become known as the Rosenberg crisis. During the last week and a half, thousands of Guatemalans have taken to the streets of the capital over the killing of attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg.
Many of the initial protests were demanding that President Alvaro Colom step down. The teachers were calling for a full investigation into the murder while supporting the embattled president. A beat-up black Econoline van at the front of the procession had giant speakers strapped to the roof.
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: From inside the van one of the organizers declared that Guatemala must maintain democracy even as opportunists are trying to incite conflict and destabilize the country.
Within minutes of setting out, shouting matches erupted between the protestors and some people on the street calling for President Colom to go.
(Soundbite of yelling and chaos)
BEAUBIEN: The crisis started last week when Rosenberg was gunned down while riding his bicycle near his home in an upscale part of Guatemala City. The next day a video was released of Rosenberg accusing President Colom of orchestrating his assassination.
(Soundbite of video)
Mr. RODRIGO ROSENBERG (Attorney): (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: If you are hearing this message right now, Rosenberg says as he look straight into the video camera, it's because I've been assassinated by President Colom.
On the tape he accuses the president, the president's personal secretary and the first lady, of money laundering, misappropriation of funds, and murder. Rosenberg claims Colom and his associates killed one of Rosenberg's clients, a prominent businessman, along with the businessman's daughter. Rosenberg said the country is being run by robbers, drug traffickers and assassins.
(Soundbite of video)
Mr. ROSENBERG: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: The story in the end, he says, is a story that we've seen far too often in Guatemala, the same story of corruption that keeps repeating itself again and again.
Colom, who took office in 2008, is Guatemala's first leftist president in more than a half a century. The crisis has split the country, with the poor and the left generally backing Colom, while pro-business groups and the political right have rallied against him. Earlier this week, activists delivered 35,000 signatures to congress calling on the president to step aside while the murder accusations are investigated.
Fernando Barillas, the spokesman for President Colom, said the president and the first lady categorically deny the allegations.
Mr. FERNANDO BARILLAS (Spokesman for President Colom): (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: They aren't assassins, he says, they aren't drug traffickers, they aren't criminals. Barillas said the allegations caught the Colom administration, as they did the Guatemalan people, by surprise. He said the Rosenberg crisis is dominating the government and making it very difficult for the administration to move forward on other issues.
Colom has been aggressively pushing programs to reduce poverty, including controversial cash transfers to some of Guatemala's poorest citizens.
Mr. BARILLAS: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: I think that never before in the history of any country in the world, Barillas says, have you seen a situation with accusations like in this case. It's something completely new for us. At first we were in shock and didn't know what to do. But he says his boss has taken the correct approach.
Colom has called for an independent investigation into Rosenberg's death. He's even brought in the FBI to help in the case. But Colom has also emphatically rebuffed calls for him to step down until the matter is resolved. He said he'd leave office over his own dead body.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Guatemala City.
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