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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Our Latin Americanized Legal System

There is an old political adage in Latin America:  For my friends, everything; for my enemies, the law!

The latest news from Texas is that Governor Rick Perry has been indicted by a grand jury for abuse of office.  His crime?  Using his constitutional veto power to deny funds to a district attorney's office whose head had refused to step down after being convicted of--and jailed for--drunk driving.  The liberal writer Jon Chait describes the case here:  Unbelievably Ridiculous  The motive: to torpedo Perry's presidential bid.  This seems obvious enough; it doesn't really matter if the charge is ridiculous.  Some people will buy into it.

Some years back, a Venezuelan friend described to me how the Carlos Andres Perez (CAP) administration had indicted his father on a phony drug charge.  The whole point was not to get a conviction, but to the keep his father under a legal cloud and to tie him up with lawyer fees for years.  It was just how the political game was played. 

(Later, this tactic would come back to haunt Venezuela.  Spurred by opposition forces within his own party, CAP was impeached on charges that in 1990 he used funds illegally to aid Violeta Chamorro's movement to unseat the Sandanistas.  Helping Violeta wasn't the problem; they just wanted to oust CAP on some charge because they hated his privatization policy.  (CAP was corrupt too, but never mind.)  In the end, this gravely weakened the political system when the wolf, Lt. Col. Hugo Chavez was right at the door.) 

In the US we've been seeing this more and more.  Perhaps the best recent case was how a special prosecutor went after Vice President Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby, ostensibly for revealing the identity of an undercover agent.  Libby was convicted, but not for the original charge, which was baseless.  The prosecutor kept going even after it was clear another individual in the adminstration, who was never charged, had in fact uncovered the agent.  But, the prosecutor had to convict Libby on something! 

General Rule:  if it isn't obvious what the crime is, it is purely a political charge.

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