“If you’re seeing this, it means I’m dead”

A documentary tells the story of murdered Guatemalan lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg

The body of lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg, who predicted he would be assassinated in an eight-minute video recording.
The body of lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg, who predicted he would be assassinated in an eight-minute video recording.

"Unfortunately, if you are watching this message it is because I was murdered by President Álvaro Colom... the reason I am dead owes to the fact that I was the lawyer of Khalil Musa and his daughter Marjorie, who were also brutally killed by President Colom."

The video in which wealthy Guatemalan lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg announces his death, and directly points the finger at his murderers, lasts eight seemingly eternal minutes. Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and pale blue tie, and speaking in a neutral tone, Rosenberg gradually explains the details surrounding his predicted death, which eventually occurred one Sunday in May 2009 when he went out to ride his bike close to his home in a residential area of Guatemala City. At the time the Rosenberg case rocked a society already traumatized by violence: 15 people are murdered in Guatemala every day, and 98 percent of killers go unpunished.

The documentary I Will Be Murdered, directed by the Catalonia-based British journalist and filmmaker Justin Webster, dives headlong into the case in the style of a political thriller, as it leads you into a complex web of doubts, lies, vengeance, betrayals, violence, political confrontations and love. The Spanish prosecutor Carlos Castresana, the then-head of the United Nations-organized International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), was in charge of directing the investigation into the case. He also narrates the documentary, alongside one of his sons, Eduardo.

It was like entering the lion's den"

"The complex investigation was carried out in the midst of huge political pressure, in a country that was on the verge of chaos and was undergoing very harsh conflict between the right and the left," explains Castresana, now a prosecutor in the Spanish Supreme Court. "I put a first-class team of 10 Guatemalan civilians and 20 from other countries at the disposal of the case. They investigated and they fought with the politicians. We took a lot of risks. Just to make the final arrests of the 10 involved we had to mobilize 300 members of the security forces. It was like entering the lion's den."

The extremely delicate nature of the case is summed up by the words of an ambassador of a Western nation who asked about the progress of the investigation. "Well you better hurry up," he said, "because if you don't resolve it, the tanks will." Castresana still remembers the statement with horror.

It was Webster's patience and the results of his personal research for the documentary that finally convinced Castresana to participate in the film, after initially refusing. "I was already out of Guatemala. I wanted to leave those years behind and I was very wary about what going back might mean. But Webster gradually showed me the progress of his work and there was nothing I could do but give in to it."

I Will Be Murdered, which is available to subscribers of the Canal + Yomvi service, and was shown at the last edition of the Documenta Madrid documentary film festival, takes you through the most unexpected and secret discoveries of the dark and difficult truths that the Rosenberg case concealed. "This film demonstrates that reality far surpasses fiction," says Webster, a former journalist for the UK daily The Independent and now devoted to bringing stories of truth and justice — principally in Latin America — out into the light.

This film demonstrates that reality far surpasses fiction"

As well as an unexpected and surprising ending, the film features a passionate love story: that of Rosenberg and Marjorie, who was murdered alongside her father, a powerful industrialist who had accepted a political position. It also reveals the personality of Rosenberg himself, an enigmatic man given to extreme actions. "What most interested me about the case is the crossover between politics and personal themes, which takes the story down unimaginable paths," Webster explains.

Co-produced by the BBC, the film can be seen at the Cineteca at the Matadero de Madrid cultural center over the next few weeks. So far it has only be screened at one festival in Guatemala, where it is still awaiting a general release.

Meanwhile, Hollywood has spotted its dramatic potential and looks set to turn the story into a feature called The Foreigner, which would mark the directorial debut of actor Matt Damon, who will also play Castresana.

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