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A murder prompts demonstrations

Young people — linked through the internet — call for Guatemala's president to step down.

GUATEMALA CITY — In a country known for coups d’etats and military dictatorships, Javier Ogarrio is an unlikely revolutionary.

The blue-eyed, fair-haired 21-year-old who recently spent a year working as a computer programmer in Sweden admittedly paid only passing attention to politics — until last week.

That’s when a videotape surfaced in which a murdered lawyer, Rodrigo Rosenberg, said before he died that his death would come at the hands of Guatemala's president and his inner circle.

“If you are watching this message, it is because I was assassinated by President Alvaro Colom with help from [the president’s secretary] Gustavo Alejos,” Rosenberg said in the video, which appears on YouTube and was posted by Guatemalan and foreign news sites. He said he would be killed because he had documentation that allegedly proved Colom, the first lady and two associates participated in a money laundering scheme that diverted public money into dummy corporations and “nonexistent” social programs.

Rosenberg was found Sunday a few yards from his house in an upscale Guatemala City neighborhood, shot in the head. Police said he was attacked while riding his bicycle for exercise.

In the aftermath of the death, Ogarrio has become one of the leading organizers of ongoing demonstrations calling for President Alvaro Colom’s resignation. And he’s doing it through Facebook. (Colom told Reuters on Friday that he believes his enemies are behind the scandal.)

Thousands of young adults, mostly university students, have gathered every day in front of the presidential palace to demand that Colom step down. It’s all been organized via social networking websites.

The case showcases the Web’s power for political organizing, said Michael Cornfield, who studies the intersection between the Web and politics as an adjunct professor at George Washington University and vice president at 702 Strategies, a K Street firm.

“Video is a much more powerful tool than text for motivating people … and then Facebook provides a fixed platform where everyone can go to, from around the world, to contribute content,” Cornfield said. “In the last two or three years, we’ve seen that super-national quality of the Web be combined with the group communications quality. It’s powerful.”

Colom and the others involved have repeatedly denied the allegations Rosenberg made in the video, but the killing and the claims have created an uproar.

A United Nations-backed investigatory body has pledged to investigate the crime. U.S. Ambassador Stephen McFarland said the FBI’s regional representative, who is based in El Salvador, was sent to Guatemala to assist in the probe.

“The government said it wants a rapid and objective investigation,” McFarland said. “We, along with [the U.N. investigators], want to do everything possible to support this.”