HBO's 'The Art Of Political Murder': Who were Lima Estrada and Lima Oliva? Here's how Gerardi murder convicts died
In 1998, Bishop Gerardi exposed the atrocities committed by the Guatemalan army during the Civil War and two days later, he was bludgeoned to death
HBO's documentary 'The Art Of Political Murder' details the assassination of Human Rights activist and Guatemalan Bishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera and the hellish chaos that followed. In 1998, the Bishop published a report chronicling the atrocities committed against the people of the country by the army during the Civil War. Two days later, he was bludgeoned to death. The brutal murder shook up the country, and wild theories began to spread. From being attacked by church thieves to a crime of homosexual passion, Gerardi became the victim of much speculation and gossip.
For a long time, the theory that he had been mauled by Gerardi's assistant priest, Mario Orantes's German Shepherd Balu, did the rounds. However, the truth came out after the body was exhumed and a second autopsy was done. Finally, it was proved that Gerardi had not been mauled to death. The initial witness, Ruben Chanax, came around years later, and gave crucial testimony that changed the trial. At first, he had said he was a homeless person sleeping on the steps of Gerardi's house. Later, he confessed that he had been asked to spy on him, and record his every move.
Who were the people responsible for Gerardi's murder? Chanax named Colonel Byron Disrael Lima Estrada, Captain Byron Lima Oliva and José Obdulio Villanueva. They had threatened him the night Gerardi was murdered, and he had been compelled into silence. However, he had a change of heart and decided to walk on the path of meager redemption. In the documentary, Lima Oliva tried intimidating Chanax at the trial, but he held his ground. Finally, the assailants were all convicted of the murder.
Who were they?
Byron Disrael Lima Estrada commenced his military career under the inspection of the United States Army. He had trained at Fort Benning, after which he pursued studies to become an intelligence officer. He joined the Guatemalan Army as a platoon leader, and ended up as a colonel. His son, Lima Oliva, fought against leftist guerillas for years, before becoming an intelligence officer and working with the presidential guard. He shielded those political groups, as well as protected the state secrets. Later, he and his son became suspects in the murder of Bishop Gerardi and were arrested in January 2000.
Where are they now?
Gerardi's murder case was a turning point in the Guatemalan judicial system, as for the first time, high ranking military officers were tried in civil court in 2001. Lima Oliva and Lima Estrada were sentenced to 30 years in prison. They made an appeal in 2005, and their sentence was lowered to 20 years. In 2012, Lima Estrada was granted parole and enjoyed his freedom till he died in 2019. On the other hand, Lima Oliva was shot dead in jail, in July 2016. It is believed that he had been the leader of organized crime within his cell and was involved in nefarious activities. He had his own set of bodyguards, who were fellow inmates and this led to standoff. He was shot in the head with two bullets and died instantly.
Villanueva had been killed in a prison riot in 2003 before the appeal verdict was reached. Mario Orantes was sentenced to 20 years and was granted parole in 2016.
'The Art Of Political Murder' airs on December 16 at 9 pm on HBO.