Shooting of American Priest in Guatemala Raises Safety Concerns

May 22, 2009 07:30 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
The murder of politically active Rev. Lawrence Rosebaugh sparks speculation and calls to mind past violence in the capital of the Central American country.

Was Rosebaugh’s Death Just a Robbery?

He helped garner international attention in the 1970s for human rights violations in Brazil, and was a missionary in Guatemala for 10 years. But Milwaukee native Rev. Lawrence Rosebaugh fell victim this week to the violence he aimed to put an end to.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Rosebaugh was in a car with four others on the way to a meeting of missionaries in Playa Grande, Guatemala, when gunmen in masks stopped them. He was “shot several times,” and a Congolese priest in the car was injured. About $125, religious items and a cell phone were taken from the car. “Things that have no use for them at all,” Rev. Felix Garcia told the Times.
The blog Guate Living expressed suspicion that the attack was more than an every day robbery. “[V]iolent crime against foreigners is a relatively rare thing here,” according to the blog, and the author adds that it’s “unusual that the robbers felt it necessary to open fire on the vehicle in order to rob them.”

Speaking about Rosebaugh, his friend Sam Hladyshewsky told the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat, "As a priest he was not the collar type of priest. When you looked at him, you'd think he was the poorest of the poor.”

According to the News-Democrat, Rosebaugh attended seminary there in the 1950s.

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Background: Violence in Guatemala

According to Reuters, Guatemala is among the most violent countries in Latin America. There were “more than 6,000 murders” in 2008, as well as a great deal of extortion and a surge of violence against bus employees, which prompted the arrest of the leader of a street gang in April. The country also bears scars from a civil war that lasted from 1960 to 1996, and is trying to combat “youth gangs and drug cartels.”

In 1992, New York archeologist Peter Tiscione died from machete wounds to his neck in a bathtub in his Guatemala hotel room; his death was ruled a suicide, which was corroborated by officials at the United States Embassy there. But Tiscione’s wife remained suspicious that her husband’s death was not a suicide, particularly because he’d been researching in the Guatemalan highlands and “might have stumbled onto mass graves” from the civil war or discovered “illegal drug activity,” The New York Times reported in 1995.

On April 26, 1998, Bishop Juan Gerardi was killed in Guatemala City where he lived, just “300 yards from the presidential palace,” according to Spero News. Gerardi “was bludgeoned to death” and his killers have yet to be found.

Related Topic: Suspicious murder of Guatemalan lawyer

Rodrigo Rosenberg was shot on May 12 in Guatemala City. Before his murder, he filmed a video accusing President Álvaro Colom of ordering his death. The case has Guatemala in a state of chaos.

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