"It is very important to remember Monsignor Gerardi and follow his example" said Nohemi Bac, 25, of Alta Verapaz - region bordering the rainforest in northern Guatemala. On April 26, Guatemalans gathered at the Catholic cathedral in Guatemala City to commemorate the life and sacrifice of Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera - an outspoken defender of human rights who was savagely murdered 17 years ago in his residence. His death came just two days after he denounced the genocide of civilians during the fractious civil war that pitted Guatemala's national security apparatus and military against Marxist guerrillas and democratic activists for decades.
 
Bishop Gerardi headed the Human Rights Office of the Archbishopric and had launched a project of "recovery of historical memory" (REMHI-Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica en Guatemala) so as to record testimonies and documentation of the crimes committed (largely against Guatemala's indigenous population) that caused the deaths of some 250,000 people . According to the report, 90 percent of the crimes were committed by the military or state-sponsored civil patrols or "death squads." To these were attributed most of the crimes (massacres, torture, rapes, disappearances, mutilations) committed from 1960 to 1996, where nine out of ten victims were unarmed civilians or natives. A number of Catholic priests, religious, and lay catechists, as well as some Evangelical ministers were killed, tortured, or disappeared.
 
 
During the commemoration on April 26 of this year, a group of children and young people brought the volumes of the report, flowers and small wooden crosses with photographs of Bishop Gerardi to high altar of the Cathedral. "We cannot forget the figure of Mgr. Juan Gerardi, despite many years have passed, (...) a figure and example of one who fought for a different Guatemala" said Archbishop Oscar Vian during the ceremony. According to a UN report, Guatemala experienced a 36-year civil war that left 200,000 victims, dead or missing

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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