April 22, 2006

The Washington Post Profiles the Bolivian Justice Minister

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An interesting article about the Justice Minister of Bolivia, former maid, Casimira Rodriguez was published by the Post. The article talks about Rodriguez's humble origins and how she at the age of 13 was working as a maid without being paid.

The article also talks about how precarious is the state of justice in Bolivia. It says:
Bolivian police regularly demand bribes from crime victims before pursuing their cases. The country's criminal courts refuse to hear 96 percent of the cases that come before them, and those that do go forward often end up delayed to the point that the courts lose their credibility, the Washington-based nonprofit Partners of the Americas said in a 2005 study.

A full 64 percent of Bolivians have little or no faith in their justice system, according to a February survey by the Apoyo Opinion y Mercado firm, which says the figure was as high as 84 percent just two years ago.

According to the Post, Rodriguez has no plan yet, but ideas. She wants to:
Rodriguez is unfazed. She says she hopes to humanize and build trust in the judiciary while strengthening traditional Indian justice systems that depend on community elders rather than courts.

Rodriguez says she'll fight to boost spending for the judiciary and make it work for the poor, who account for more than 60 percent of Bolivians.

She also wants greater respect for traditional Indian justice systems, still used in much of the country, where community elders hear cases and decide on sentences that can include corporal punishment.

Communal justice in Bolivia doesn't only mean corporal punishment. Often it means lynchings and flat-out murder. One interesting book to read about this is Daniel Goldtein's "The Spectacular City: Violence and Performance in Urban Bolivia". The book is an anthropological view at communal justice in the surroundings of Bolivia's fourth largest city, Cochabamba.

The implications of pursuing a policy of sthrengthening communal justice in Bolivia can be a dangerous game. There is certainly the potential for human rights abuses to be perpetrated.