Thursday, April 7, 2011

Absolute Corruption, Absolutely Incredible

The April 4 issue of The New Yorker features the unbelievable but true story of a murder in Guatemala City. To summarize without spoiling the many twists in this intriguing tale, author David Grann describes how attorney and law school dean Rodrigo Rosenberg’s relationship with a client’s daughter set off a chain reaction of tragic events which ultimately almost dismantled the country’s government.

As investigators unraveled the mystery, a shadow of suspicion fell on the Casa Presidencial (Guatemala’s equivalent of the White House). Prior to his death, Rosenberg filmed an eighteen-minute video in which he accused the country’s President, First Lady, and other government officials of a massive conspiracy and a series of murders – including, he predicted, his own (see part 1 on YouTube with English subtitles). The video sparked outrage across the country when it was aired by the national media, and an independent investigation was launched by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (known by its Spanish acronym, CICIG).

While there are many law-related facets to this story which merit consideration, perhaps the most striking is the backdrop of corruption and violence. With a murder rate nearly quadrupling Mexico’s, and an appalling three percent of murders actually solved by police, assassinations are commonplace on Guatemala streets. (For background on the country’s violent history, the article references Francisco Goldman’s 2007 book The Art of Political Murder, which is available at the Perkins/Bostock library.) In addition to rampant violence, the country’s political scene is marred by abuses of power and questionable ethics. (Example: “To circumvent the Constitution, which bars the relatives of a President from succeeding him, the [President and First Lady] recently filed for divorce, in the hope that she can run in an election, in September.”)

Sadly, Guatemala is not alone in this state of violence and corruption. Transparency International publishes the Global Corruption Report, an annual survey on the state of corruption around the world. The group also publishes individual country studies on an irregular basis; the latest for Guatemala is dated 2007. There are a number of books in the Duke University Libraries on the subject of global governmental corruption as well; to locate them, search for the subject keywords “political corruption” in the online catalog.

To learn more about researching political corruption (in a particular country or worldwide), be sure to Ask a Librarian. The New Yorker issue is available in our Leisure Reading collection on level 3 of the library, and online through a variety of Duke databases, as well as currently for free at the New Yorker website.