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The Perversion of Justice: Latin America’s Achilles Heel

By: Javier Garay - @Crittiko - Jul 3, 2014, 8:19 am

EspañolHuman beings cannot achieve their goals in isolation. Although it may seem paradoxical, society is a sine qua non condition for human development.

Society must, however, meet certain conditions to reach its potential. One such requirement is that established rules are applied generally, and that, due to their legitimacy, will be respected and enforced by all individuals. In case of noncompliance, an organization entrusted with overseeing such laws will punish or sanction the offender. This is the primary function of the state.

Since human beings strive to satisfy their needs and desires — or in other words, to create wealth — it is possible to establish a direct link between economic development and justice.

Indeed, the quality of Latin America’s justice system has limited its economic growth. Such weaknesses have been apparent in at least a few ways: the state’s law enforcement, the relationship between law and society, and the laws themselves.

Three events this week illustrate such limitations:

First, the organizations in charge of promoting Latin American integration protested the US court decision to hold the Argentinian government responsible for paying back US creditors. As is commonplace, the response included statements about the alleged persecution of Latin Americans by developed countries, a mishmash of paranoia and inferiority complex. So, instead of reflecting on the content of the decision and how to abide by it, they prefer self-victimization and a call to disregard the ruling … and these are government representatives!

Next, the president of Uruguay, admired in Latin America for his demagoguery, railed against FIFA for its decision to suspend Uruguayan soccer star Luis Suárez after he bit another player during a World Cup match. This case not only illustrates how a nation’s president questioned the decision of a competent authority as an attack against his country, but also demonstrates an uneasy relationship between Latin America and abiding by the rules.

In Latin America, laws are not considered important predictors of behavior or guarantees of compliance, even when decisions go against personal interests. Instead, Latin Americans conceive rules as an instrument for appropriating wealth produced by others in a manner resembling rent-seeking. This phenomenon was described by Álvaro Vargas Llosa in his book Liberty of Latin America, where he called it the “political law.”

The laws are not respected in a general or previously established manner. Rules are only accepted when they come out in our favor; when they punish others; when we benefit from them; when they give us privileges, or free us from punishment.  That is, only those laws that do not serve the purpose of furthering a peaceful and non-interfering society are taken seriously.

Finally, this week, the Ecuadorian newspaper Hoy decided to end their print edition due to Ecuador’s new Media Law, which the newspaper considers an attack on their press freedoms. They expect President Rafael Correa and representatives of his cabinet to cover up the real reason and instead blame their closure on bad business management.

Many laws in Latin America are not designed to improve society, maintain it, or help its citizens reach their goals. Instead, they are written to defend the regime of whoever is currently in power. That is why we have laws that are not considered legitimate and reflect the belief that everyone is simply awaiting their “15 minutes of power,” so they can impose laws that benefit themselves and their cronies.

As a result, not only must we change the very conception of how justice, rights, and the law are applied in Latin America, but we must improve the twisted relationship between citizens and the law. As it stands, this relationship will only worsen corrupt judicial decision-making and help to perpetuate misconceptions, such as the the idea that Latin America continues to be persecuted by global powers or other similar delusions.

It also leads to notions of “integration,” whose ultimate goal are to promote the empty ideas of regional leaders to the international community. What is certain, however, is that these integration processes that people in the region mistakenly believe in will not replace reality. We must reconsider the importance of justice in every dimension to build societies that will permit personal advancement. There is no other option.

Translated by Daniel Duarte and Laura Weiss.

Javier Garay Javier Garay

Javier Garay is a professor at the Externado University of Colombia. He has written two books on international issues, such as development, after his doctoral dissertation focused on the same topic. Follow him on Twitter @crittiko and through his personal blog, Crittiko.