Folk Singer’s Death Highlights Guatemala’s Senseless Violence

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After the murder of Facundo Cabral, a well-known Argentine singer, Guatemala’s government was quick to offer an explanation: the hit was aimed at a nightclub owner traveling with the musician. But for millions of Cabral’s fans, nothing can absolve Guatemala of its responsibility.

Cabral was gunned down alongside Henry Fariñas, the Guatemala-based owner of Elite, a chain of exotic nightclubs that operate throughout the isthmus, and Cabral’s promotor, David Llanos. They were attacked at about 5:20 a.m. as they drove the short distance between the Grand Tikal Futura Hotel, where Cabral had performed, to the airport. Cabral died on the scene from an apparent shot to the head. The other two men survived but were badly injured.

The attack bore all the signs of organized crime. Two vehicles pulled along each side of Cabral’s car and opened fire on it with high-powered weapons. A third vehicle attacked another car traveling with the singer, which carried four bodyguards.

The bodyguards shot back, then gave chase before returning to provide assistance to Cabral’s car, which had taken at least 18 bullets and swerved off the road.

From this evidence, presented by the government, it’s clear the attackers had information about the early departure of the car, which left the hotel ahead of schedule. They came with overwhelming force and chose a wide avenue, with multiple escape routes.

“It’s people who are involved in organized crime,” Ministry of Government head Carlos Menocal told the press. “They aren’t street criminals.”

Authorities later found an abandoned Hyundi on a road leading to El Salvador, with the back windshield shot out and signs of blood, which they said belonged to the one of the attackers.

Guatemalan authorities pointed the finger at Fariñas, who is under tight guard at a local hospital. “The crime scene analysis shows that the majority of the bullets that hit the car … were directed at the driver, Henry Fariñas,” Menocal told the media.

Fariñas is a Nicaraguan citizen who resides in Guatemala and had apparently struck a deal for Cabral to perform in Nicaragua. He also owns the Elite Night Club, which operates in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Its website humbly promotes it to be the “best night club” in those countries.

But little more is known about him. There are unconfirmed reports from Mexico, citing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), that indicate he may have been involved in money laundering for the Sinaloa Cartel. And the Associated Press says he has filed two formal complaints for minor offenses in Nicaragua, but Nicaraguan authorities offered little else to the agency when it inquired.

Many questions remain, the most important of which is if the attack was directed at Fariñas, why wait until he picked up Cabral and his promoter? It’s possible that the point of attack point offered the least protection for the target, and the most escape routes. But as the map on the right shows, it’s a very short window of opportunity.Between the hotel (yellow pin) and the airport (green pin), it’s a 10 minute drive, at guatemala_cabral_route_newmost, at that hour on that day.

Perhaps more disturbing is to contemplate just how the attackers knew about the car’s early departure. According to news accounts, the 74-year old Cabral said on Friday night he was going to take the hotel bus to the airport. But Fariñas, who was presumably with him when he said this, offered to drive him and his promoter. This suggests that someone heard this conversation or had access to this information between Friday night and 5 a.m. Saturday morning, and was able to intercept him just before the caravan entered the airport (red pin). (See multimedia map here.)

The government is presumably thinking through these and other questions. Menocal said he has a special unit investigating the crime, along with the United Nation’s sponsored foreign prosecuting body, known by its acronym the CICIG.

But even if it turns out that Fariñas was the target, it’s doubtful Cabral’s fans will forget how or where he was killed. From the pictures and video (see below) of Nobel Peace Prize winner and current Guatemalan Presidential Candidate Rigoberta Menchu crying at the scene of the crime to the massive outpouring on social media, there is a mixture of pain and anger, some of it directed at Guatemala’s ineffective government.

The event sits alongside other startling, surreal crimes that surpass even the most creative Hollywood screenwriters’ ideas: the brutal bludgeoning in 1998 of a high level church official who had authored a report about political crimes of the military during the country’s war; the 2007 murder of three Salvadoran lawmakers and their driver, allegedly by Guatemalan police, who were themselves murdered once they’d been jailed; the incredible 2009 suicide of Rodrigo Rosenberg, who hired assassins to kill him, causing a scandal that nearly consumed the Alvaro Colom administration.

But this crime may be even worse for the country’s reputation. It is hard for non-Spanish speaking audiences to fathom the importance of Cabral. He is the Pete Seeger of the region, a man who put his ideals into his lyrics and politics into his performances. During a visit to Guatemala in 2009, he called the violence in the country “stupid.” His murder, it appears, was just as idiotic.

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