Latin America lost one of its most beloved folk musicians this past weekend, when unidentified gunmen in Guatemala shot and killed Facundo Cabral of Argentina. Overun by gangs and mafia groups, Guatemala has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
EYES INSIDE – LATIN AMERICA
The United Nations had given him the title "worldwide messenger of peace." So when Facundo Cabral was gunned down Saturday morning on a Guatemalan road, the entire region mourned the loss of the 74-year-old Argentinean troubadour, who lived from hotel-to-hotel while singing his serenades for social justice.
Cabral's songs exhorted peace and optimism. It is a sad irony that his life would end in such sudden violence, snatched away in a chaotic country on the verge of political and social collapse. Overrun by organized mafias, Guatemala is reeling from rampant violence and corruption.
Cabral was riding in the passenger seat in a vehicle driven by his friend, nightclub owner Henry Fariñas Franco, who was taking the famous singer to the airport. Cabral was scheduled to fly to Nicaragua for a series of concerts, according to the Guatemala City daily La Hora.
The singer-songwriter of "No soy de aquí ni soy de allá" (I'm neither from here nor there) had just performed in Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango. Witnesses said gunmen traveling in three vehicles overtook Fariñas' car, which was being tailed by a fifth vehicle carrying the businessman's bodyguards. A shootout began and Cabral was struck three times, including in the face; Fariñas and Davíd Llanos, Cabral's road manager, were also seriously wounded.
Police believe the attack was aimed at Fariñas and not intended for Cabral. Guatemalan newspapers reported early Tuesday morning that police arrested two suspects. The search for the other suspected gunmen continues. Police are also investigating the possibility that the wounded nightclub owner was involved in some type of criminal activity.
In an interview with a Mexican radio station on Monday, Guatemala President Álvaro Colom said he plans to contact the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration concerning unconfirmed reports that Fariñas is one of the Sinaloa cartel's major money launderers. "We have not received any indication of this," he said.
On Sunday, thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets of the capital to mourn Cabral and demand that the government do more to bring peace to their nation. "We are shocked and enraged by the violence that affects our country, and ashamed that this great poet was killed here; all he did was bring us love and culture, "a university student told Prensa Libre.
According to official figures, 98% of Guatemala's violent crimes go unpunished or unsolved. In a strong editorial, La Hora blamed the Colom government for allowing organized crime to penetrate all facets of society as well as the people for not standing up.
"Guatemala is in a hole not only because our international image has reached rock bottom with the unspeakable and heinous murder of Facundo Cabral, but because this is just a small reflection of how things are here," the editorial reads. "And they are like this because we are a people who don't react, who fail to demand, who fail to implore and who never stand up on our feet to say: Enough already!"
But in an interview with Spain's El País in May, Colom blamed the two previous administrations – led by Presidents Óscar Berger and Alfonso Portillo – for "planning to turnover" the country to drug traffickers.
"I can not tell if it was the presidents or the ministers, but there was an agreed upon plan between the mafia and its connections in those respective governments," Colom said.
Cabral's body was sent Tuesday by the Guatemalan government to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he will be buried, according to Argentinean ambassador Ernesto López.
In one of his last interviews, just two days before his murder, Cabral told the daily El Quetzaltenango that he had cancer. "If I get a little more time – I have very bad health, I have terminal cancer – I might go to one of the many hotels where I have known to stay and work alongside the gardener. I dream of finishing my life growing flowers, it is the thing I like most, as well as carpentry. I like the smell of wood. If I get some time I'll do it and if I go, it will be just like that."
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