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The Death of the Good Bishop’

In response to:

The Death of the Good Bishop from the November 22, 2007 issue

To the Editors:

Aryeh Neier’s generous review of my book The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? [NYR, November 22] includes two mentions of the possible involvement of General Otto Pérez Molina—a former Guatemalan army intelligence chief who this fall was the losing candidate in the Guatemalan presidential election—in Bishop Gerardi’s April 1998 murder. Both mentions are followed by awkward parenthetical insertions citing Pérez Molina’s son’s denial of his father’s involvement.

This is clearly a reference to a letter which the son published in The New York Times Book Review claiming that his father was in Washington, D.C., at the time of the murder and that his father’s diplomatic passport offers proof of that. It seems likely that it was a New York Review of Books editorial decision to (twice) insert the son’s denial into Mr. Neier’s review, since anyone who has read the book knows that that alibi is specifically refuted in its pages. There it is reported that according to the head investigator for the UN Mission in Guatemala, General Pérez Molina had dinner in Guatemala City with the UN mission chief a few nights after the murder.

The UN investigator, a veteran government investigator from Spain, also warned that Pérez Molina, as a former intelligence chief, probably used multiple passports and could easily disguise his comings and goings. The UN investigator, now retired from the UN, stands by his information. And this October, weeks before the election, the respected Guatemalan newspaper elPeriódico reported that, indeed, Pérez Molina had six passports registered under his name at the time, and also revealed other contradictions in his alibi.

This raises the question, of course, of why, in April of 1998, the general may have decided to come and go from Guatemala in secret. Many believe that it was Pérez Molina’s reluctance to answer questions about this and other recent allegations of his criminal past that led the candidate to cancel his participation in the final presidential debates, contributing to his sudden fall in the polls, and to his loss on election day.

Francisco Goldman

Brooklyn, New York

Aryeh Neier replies:

I felt comfortable reviewing Francisco Goldman’s fine book because of the evidence he presented; because I had independent knowledge of some of the matters I discussed in the review; because I could verify other information by checking other sources; and because there was a court decision convicting certain individuals for the murder of Bishop Gerardi. The role of General Pérez Molina did not fit any of these categories. He was the one person identified by Goldman as a possible murderer who was not prosecuted, tried, and convicted. Under such circumstances, I was glad to accept an editorial suggestion that I should mention his son’s denial of his involvement. The evidence cited by Goldman to indicate that he was involved did not, by itself, seem to me to be conclusive.

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