GUATEMALA CITY, MAY 8, 2001 (Zenit.org).- The weekend murder of an American nun is raising questions here, even as a trial is under way in the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi.
The bishop was a defender of human rights, and Sister Barbara Ann Ford was one of his collaborators.
The Associated Press reported that a government analyst has not ruled out the possibility that the nun was murdered to conceal the interests of influential sectors of Guatemala.
Sister Barbara Ann, 64, a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of New York, was killed Saturday on a street here after being assaulted by three men who stole her car.
“Because of the characteristics of the victim and the type of crime, we think it could be a political crime,” said Fernando Penados, who works at the Office of Strategic Analysis.
The nun worked in Caritas, a charity institution of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Santa Cruz del Quiché, where she had lived since 1989. Quiché is located 180 kilometers (112 miles) north of the capital.
“We do not know the reasons for such an act of violence,” Quiché Bishop Julio Cabrera Ovalle said in a statement to ZENIT.
“We urge the competent authorities not to allow this act of violence … to go unpunished,” he said. “We urge justice for someone who worked with all her strength for the good of Guatemalan society; to whom are owed many lives because of her singular dedication to the neediest people.”
At first, Sister Barbara Ann worked in preventive health care. This led her to organize an extensive mental health program, in which witnesses of massacres and war crimes recounted their experiences.
Many of these people are Maya Indians who, before Sister Barbara Ann´s arrival, had never spoken of their experiences during the country´s 36 years of war, Bishop Cabrera explained.
The analyst, Fernando Penados, explained that the nun “participated in the report on the ´Recovery of the Historical Memory,´ and supported witnesses of the war in exhuming [victims] of massacres.”
That report, also the work of murdered Bishop Gerardi, lists the atrocities of war, and attributes 90% of them to the army. Five defendants, including three military men, are now on trial for the bishop´s murder.
According to the Information Office of the National Civil Police, the nun´s murder was the result of “an attempt to rob a vehicle.” Yet, the car was abandoned a few meters from the scene of the crime.
Sister Barbara Ann´s last successful endeavor was a project for mini-irrigation. She worked in Guatemala from 1978 to 1986. She left for three years to work in a New York hospital, and returned to Guatemala in 1989 to live in Quiché, said a statement of the Sisters of Charity of New York.
On Monday, the nun´s remains were taken to the metropolitan cathedral, where a multitude gathered to pay homage to her life and work.
“What harm can a person do who gives her life for the poorest and neediest?” Bishop Cabrera asked. The bishop has gone to New York, to accompany the coffin.
In the past 18 months, six U.S. citizens have died violently in Guatemala. Investigations into their deaths have not yet yielded results, said U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Kay Mayfield.