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The Surprise That Shouldn’t Have Been A Surprise: The Electoral Rise of Juan Manuel Santos

3 Jun

by Hayward Charly In La Silla Vacia/ http://haywardcharly.blogspot.com

The first round Colombian Presidential elections turned out NOT to be heated elections. In fact, voter turnout, new media, and the youth ceased to be significant determining factors in predicting electoral results. Why? Because the first round election was NOT at a statistical tie. Most pollsters knew Juan Manuel Santos (Partido the La U) was ahead, but could not publish results. What Happened? Why wasn’t the election close in the end? And what about the “Green Wave” and the impact of Facebook and new media on elections?

A Statistical Debacle? Or The Statistical Tie That Wasn’t?

The correct answer is the statistical tie that wasn’t. On May 21, 2010 three major polls (Datexco, Invamer/Gallup, Consejo Nacional Electoral) published results showing both candidates at a statistical tie—Juan Manuel Santos (for the Partido the La U), with the support of 35% of those polled, and Antanas Mockus (for the Green Party) with 34% (Datexco). During the last week of the elections, Colombian law prohibits the publishing of poll results, so that polls do not influence electoral outcomes. However ridiculous that law (La Ley de Garantias) may seem to most statistics freaks, the law is the law, so the general public did not know candidate standings before voting.

When the actual voting results were reported on Sunday evening, Juan Manuel Santos, President Alvaro Uribe’s former Defense Minister, won the first round of elections with 46% of the vote and runner up Antanas Mockus obtained 21% of the vote. This result was a surprise to most, because every one expected a close electoral race. According to Jorge Londoño from Invamer/Gallup, his company conducted a private survey during the last week of the elections, and the poll showed that Antanas Mockus’s support had slipped by 15 points.  If Gallup’s results are true, then Sunday’s surprise wasn’t a surprise, because the poll results could have explained Santos’s relative rise and Mockus’s electoral fall this past Sunday.

Invamer/Gallup’s results could have also explained German Vargas Lleras’s success at the voting booth. German Vargas Lleras was the candidate for the Causa Radical party. On May 21, 2010 most polls placed him in 5th place with 3% of support, behind Gustavo Petro (Polo Democratico Alternativo) and Noemi Sanin (Partido Conservador). On Sunday’s election he received 10% of the vote, placing him in 3rd place.  Vargas Lleras participated in two debates done within the last week of the elections, and his successful performance most likely increased public support relative to other candidates.

Many in the media, and politicians like Juan Manuel Santos, German Vargas Lleras, and Gustavo Petro have publicly said, that the pollsters were the big losers for publishing misleading results. German Vargas Lleras has publicly said that pollsters should be regulated, because their observations were at a loss.  However, the statistics did not fail; they simply were not published.

By Arantiz Published in Semana

If anything the government’s law forbidding publishing poll results should be repealed. The government’s ban, on publishing survey data on the last week of an election, leads people to create and believe in conspiracy theories. These theories try to explain electoral outcomes that do not match polling results.  Although corruption exists in Colombia, conspiracy theories lead people to think that a country’s institutions are more corrupt than they actually are. One such conspiracy theory going around is called “Operation Titanium 4,” in which a hacker is blamed for implanting a virus within the government’s National Registry. According to the story the virus created a vote for Santos every time Mockus registered a vote. This is how this story explains that Santos doubled Mockus’s Sunday results. Conspiracy theories coupled with, the real reports of electoral irregularities found in previous elections, create a public feeling of paranoia and distrust in democratic institutions. These type of theories are currently rampant on the Internet.

Why Didn’t Voter Turnout Matter?

Voter turnout did not matter because it was not a close election. In a close election voter turnout matters because every vote counts. The winner is determined by whoever has the most votes, and winners in close elections win by a small margin. In recent Colombian events, the close race for the Conservative Party presidential nomination, between Noemi Sanin (1,118,090 votes) and Felipe Arias (1,080,313), required the National Registry to do a recount and determine a winner.  Sanin won only by about 37,000 votes.

Like mentioned in a previous blog post, in close races a party’s enthusiasm is a determinant in getting out the vote (by creating and repeating messages that inspire and help get people to the voting booths). Political parties can communicate with voters through all types of media to “get-out-the-vote.” A party’s organization is also key in doing this, because it logistically prepares its voters to get to the voting booth. Electoral strategies like the practice of clientelism, were a patron gathers his followers and offers them immediate material benefits (such as jobs, money, a lunch, groceries, or a subsidy guarantee) in exchange for a vote, can make it easier to get people to the voting booth, but lead to corruption.

Usually voter turnout in close elections is high. However, Sunday’s election revealed that the turnout rate was low, and 51% of registered voters did not vote. This absentee rate is not any different from other recent presidential election years.

On 1998 the last time Colombia had a run-off election, the absentee rate was about 50% for the first round. Then the rate lowered for the run-off election to around 43% of the vote, precisely because the race was a close race. Andres Pastrana (Great Alliance for Change) obtained 34.37% in the first round and 50.34% in the second round.  Horacio Serpa (Liberal Party) obtained 34.78% in the first round and 46.58% in the second round.  In this case Andres Pastrana won the run-off election by only three percentage points.

On 2002 the absentee rate was 54%, and on 2006 55% of registered Colombians abstained from voting during a presidential race.  In both of these presidential races Alvaro Uribe Velez (Partido Conservador/Colombia First) won by wide margins in the first round of elections. In 2002 he obtained 5.8 million votes and 53% of the vote, and in 2006 Uribe obtained 7.4 million votes and 62% of the vote.

Given that the absentee rate during presidential election in Colombia is in the 50% rate; this past election was a normal election.

What about New Media, The Incredible Facebook “Fan” Base for Antanas Mockus, and The Youth Vote?

The last post on this blog asked a question about the 2010 Colombian Presidential Elections, “Which will prevail? New Media or Clientelism?” It discussed how voter turnout and the youth vote could be a tiebreaker, if an electoral race is close.

It is difficult to know just how many Facebook “fans” became voters. These results are still inconclusive, because Facebook has not published any results on the amount of people that said they voted at the presidential elections in Colombia, through their network. Also, the Colombian government’s election website at the Registraduria Nacional does not break down the votes according to age. This lack of information makes it hard to know how many people ages 18-25 voted for Antanas Mockus. It is also difficult to correlate whether Facebook as a medium had an effect particularly on the youth vote in these elections.  Although Randi Zuckerberg, Marketing Director of Facebook, said that Facebook was instrumental in getting out the vote at the Iowa Caucus in 2008, it is hard to know whether these results were replicated in Colombia. The youth vote is generally apathetic to elections, and given Sunday’s absenteeism, the youth probably did not come out to play.

What is known is that the run-off election is on June 20th, and the Antanas Mockus’s page has broken through the 700,000-Facebook fan base. He still ranks 7th place worldwide in being one of the most liked politicians.  The other Colombian politician whose fan base has increased this week is that of German Vargas Lleras, whose fans increased by 51% after the first round of elections. So, Vargas Lleras is definitely building on his political future. What does this mean for Antanas Mockus and German Vargas Lleras? That they have a following with the public, but a “fan” base will not “get-out-the vote.”

Enthusiatic Followers & Weak Party Organization

Some reports believe that Antanas Mockus’s Green Party was not able to mobilize his followers to the booths.  Juanita León, a journalist from La Silla Vacia an Internet newsmagazine, reported that transportation to election booths was disorganized, and by the time the campaign decided to provide transportation to its base, public buses and taxis were already reserved by opposing political parties.

Another story from La Silla Vacia, reporting from a rural area in the Department of Choco reports that Betty Moreno, a Green Partisan, had the support from a great number of new voters, but that the Party did not send them logistical support or enough money to cover transportation costs. Voters stayed home, because they would have had to transport themselves through canoes or trucks, and travel for two hours to vote.  In these instances a political party needs to organize a “get-out-the-vote” campaign to get people to the booths. Calling potential voters, knocking on people’s doors, organizing volunteers, and getting transportation ready is very important during the last weeks. Since the Green Party is a new party with only 5 months of existence, it lacks logistical support especially in rural areas, which are dominated by traditional politicians that use clientelism to get votes. In the logistical aspect of a campaign, whether an election is close or not, a political party’s organization is a determining factor in translating public opinion into votes. It is an important factor for facilitating the vote and reducing the transaction costs of voting. If the Green Party wants to improve its electoral outcomes it has to resolve these logistical problems, or it is going to be a one-election party.

The Persistence of the Traditional Party Machinery

The short answer to the last blog post is that the party machinery won, as a strategy to get votes. Not so much because of the use of clientelism to buy votes, but because machineries organize “get-out-the-vote” campaigns especially among those in the electorate who have difficulty getting to the booth, be they living in far away places, disabled, older adults, and/or poor.

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The 2010 Colombian Presidential Elections, Which Will Prevail? Clientelism or New Media?

24 May

Over two months ago, at the start of the Colombian presidential elections, the race was an easy straight line win, but  it became a statistical rollercoaster. Presently the race has only gotten more exciting because the situation is less predictable—statistics show that the two favorite contenders Antanas Mockus, for the Green Party (34%), and Juan Manuel Santos, for the Partido de La U and President Alvaro Uribe’s former Minister of Defense (35%), are at statistical tie in public opinion polls (Datexco May 21, 2010). In close elections voter turnout is the most important factor in determining who wins. The political party capable of mobilizing most of its electoral base to the polls will win the election. The question for Colombians now is, not who will win, but which electoral strategy will win? Will it be “New Media” or Clientelism?  For the legitimacy of Colombia’s democracy let’s hope “New Media” wins.

In Latin American countries, the practice of clientelism or the use of political machineries is a prevalent electoral strategy for getting voters to the polls. In Colombia a “patron,” “cacique,” or “party chief,” operates mainly in rural areas, which account for 25% of Colombia’s population. He/she is in charge of getting voters to the polls by giving out favors such as: driving voters to the polls, handing out government jobs, buying votes through lunches, groceries, or by guaranteeing that a government subsidy will be efficiently given out to the voter (Familias en Acción). All of these favors are given, if the voter chooses the “patron’s” candidate.  This practice is routinely done to reduce the uncertainty of electoral outcomes.  Just on March 14th, 2010 during the Colombian congressional elections, MOE and other IGOs and NGOs registered an uptick in the amount of electoral irregularities in rural areas of western and northern Colombia. Irregularities included vote buying and altering electoral results at local voting registries. It is very possible that this type of behavior will occur on May 30th, 2010 at the first round of the presidential elections.

By German Silva

“New media” has been reported to increase voter turnout especially among the youth vote. New Media is mainly the use of the Internet to get a candidate’s message across.  This involves the creation of a webpage that allow candidates to show their platform, but the webpage also allows supporters to contribute to a candidate’s campaign. This medium is interactive. Donations can be made not only through economic means, but also by allowing people to volunteer, donate art, music, or by allowing people to upload pictures or video of rallies organized in favor of the candidate. Also, new media includes membership in social networking sites like Facebook, My Space, or Twitter, where people can get updates from a candidate or a political party.  Although it is hard to directly correlate the impact of a social networking site on voter turnout (because a voter may be influenced by many other factors to go out and vote) it is possible that just having a reminder to go out and vote, may increase the chances that people will vote in an election. According to Randi Zuckerberg, the marketing director for Facebook, during the Iowa caucus it is likely that Facebook impacted the turnout rate among voters in the age group 17-24, because they simply reminded this age group to go and vote at the Iowa caucus. According to Zuckerberg, the voter turnout was increased by 2,500-3,000%, which meant that tens of thousands of people turned out to vote.

If it is true that Facebook was an influence on this demographic, then it is quite possible that this result can be replicated. This is an interesting find, because usually the age group 17-24 does not have a high turn out rate. Which means that social networking sites could potentially have an influence on people that are usually disengaged from politics. Zuckerberg believes that simply reminding people to go out and vote, (like reminding someone of a person’s birthday), gets people thinking about going out to vote on that day. Moreover, she said that Facebook makes voting less a private event, and more a social event that is shared mainly among friends.

Why is New Media important for Colombian electoral politics?

New Media is significant because this medium is used by 22% of Colombians and this medium has been used before to mobilize people for a cause. According to Facebook country statistics, Colombia has 10 million plus users in Facebook, which means that about 22% of the population uses this social network. This penetration produced political mobilization–on January 2008 a group of students created a Facebook page to protest the use of kidnapping by armed groups like the Fuerzas Armandas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). This page coupled with the word of mouth brought millions of Colombians together on February 4th to protest kidnapping. Given these statistics and the ease of mobilization of Colombians, new media is a tool that can have an impact in increasing voter turnout.

The “social” or “peer pressure” aspect of networking sites like Facebook, may offset clientelistic practices that are part of Election Day politics in Colombia. Many users check Facebook regularly, which is a beneficial feature for a political campaign.  A political campaign using Facebook is able to captivate people’s attention at least until Election Day by keeping them engaged in a cause they like, by sending daily updates. This interactive communication tool along with the power of peer pressure to “get out the vote” is a reason why Facebook is a powerful ally for political campaigns on Election Day. During the 2008 U.S. Presidential Elections people took cell phone pictures of the ballot as they voted, they also pressed a button on their Facebook page to show friends that they voted. People also used their status to get their friends to vote. All of these actions make voting a social event that makes people want to be a part of.  In Colombia it is possible that these results may be replicated, because of the way membership in Facebook pages has catapulted particularly in the case of Antanas Mockus’s page and the Green Party’s page.

The Facebook statistics are impressive. Just three months ago Antanas Mockus had less than 100,000 fans. Today (Monday May 24, 2010) Antanas Mockus is in first place with 698,694 fans, which makes him the most popular aspiring politician on Facebook. His fans have increased by 50% in the month of May. His fan numbers surpass those of his rival, Juan Manuel Santos, who has 186,864 fans. To be fair, it is possible that Mockus’s “fan” number may be inflated because sympathizers of other parties are joining his (and the green party) fan page, to make comments against his campaign (La Silla Vacia Article 1 and Article 2). Either way, Mockus surpasses other international politicians such as 2008 U.S. Republican Presidential Nominee, Senator John McCain, who has 565,587 fans. According to the Colombian Green Party website, and to Facebakers, a website that provides the latest statistics on Facebook, Antanas Mockus’s Page ranks number 7 in the top ten of political pages on Facebook. According to Facebakers’s statistics, the politician page ranking is spearheaded by U.S. President Barack Obama and his 8 million plus fans and counting. Sarah Palin is in second place with 1.5 million followers. John McCain is in 9th place, and finally the Colombian Green Party has 487,844 fans, placing it in 10th place.

The increase in the use of social networking sites (SNS) in the Internet is valuable for developing democracies such as Colombia’s where clientelism is and has been rampant. Joining SNS is a healthy phenomenon for democracies as it leads voters to join a political cause, because they believe in their preferred candidate’s or party’s capacity to govern. This is very different from when a voter votes for a candidate or party, because they receive instant gratification from voting, such as a lunch, a subsidy, or a job. Voting unconditionally increases the legitimacy of the democratic regime. A winner in a clientelistic regime wins because he or she has more resources at his/her disposal to handout. Whereas, a winner in an election who convinced voters that he/she is able to govern, wins through arguments, not bribes. The candidate wins because most voters were convinced with the his/her arguement, and losers have to accept that the winner’s argument won the election.

Ilustradores con Mockus featurured in El Tiempo

Given that Antanas Mockus and Juan Manuel Santos are statistically tied, could the tie be broken at the voting booth?

In other words, given the speedy rise in the polls and the virtual popularity of Antanas Mockus, can this success translate into actual votes on the May 30th and the June 30th election days? It is quite possible. In close elections voter turnout is the most important ally a politician can have, and voter turnout is driven by voter enthusiasm. Voter enthusiasm is definitely on Mockus’ side. Mockus’s mantras “Life is Sacred” and “Public Funds are Sacred” inspired people to create art and sing. Artists and singers created illustrations and songs for the campaign. Singers of a variety of musical genres such as hip-hop, champeta, reggaeton, folkloric sounds, tropipop, and alternative rock have shown support by creating songs and ringtones. YouTube videos sent to the campaign from major world cities such as Brisbane, London, Paris, Montreal, Miami, Madrid, New York, Barcelona, and Buenos Aires, to name a few, are recorded by common people showing support.  “Green marches,” “Green bike rides,” “Green ‘ring around the rosies’,” and  “Green Flash mobs,” became a normal weekend activity in cities all over Colombia throughout the month of April and May. Flash mobs were staged in malls, parks, and plazas throughout Colombia. Again staged not by leaders of the Green party, but by everyday people who brought their “Green” t-shirts and printed out campaign posters from the campaign’s website. (If the election was determined by the size of the t-shirt market, then the Antanas Mockus campaign would be the winner, because his campaign has created an informal market for t-shirts, which are advertised through Facebook.)

Finally, supporter enthusiasm was shown as Mockus went on the campaign trail. Green party videos show hundreds if not thousands of people at his rallies, in areas of Colombia where many thought that an independent politician from Bogotá would have a small reception. His closing rally at Bogota’s Plaza Bolivar was filled with thousands of people who stood in the rain to show support chanting “mas agua, mas verde,” (“more water, more green”).

Statistically, Who Are Mockus’s Voters?

Statistically speaking, the type of voter attracted to Mockus, is more likely to “get out and vote.” In Antanas Mockus’s case the Datexco survey data reveals that his supporters are young, between the ages of 18-45. This is the age group that also happens to be daily users of Facebook.

Mockus is also popular among the middle to high socio-economic groups—stratas 3-6. In Colombia socio-economic status is measured by how much property taxes a person pays. This tax is a combination of property and public utility taxes an individual pays, and the tax amount determines a whole neighborhood’s status and person’s economic strata. Levels 1-2 is low strata, Level 3 is the middle strata, and Level 4-6 is the high strata. The higher strata (levels 4-6), the higher the taxes paid. Mockus is popular precisely among levels 3-6. This is an interesting fact, because he has said that he would tax them more if he becomes president (Gran Debate Presidencial). This is an important aspect of Mockus’s style of governance because when he was Mayor of Bogotá in his first term, he was able to convince 65,000 of the wealthiest citizens to pay and extra 10% in taxes to improve the cities infrastructure and he was able to do this because of his uncorrupt image and good management. As he said in a televised debate, “I will be tough, but seductive with the rich… you have to say ‘sirs: Guatemala raises 12% of their GDP through taxes, Colombia 18%, Brazil 32%, USA 35%, France 44% and Northern Europe 50+ let’s choose at what rate we want to advance?’”

In terms of education, Mockus is also popular among those in the electorate with a college education, who is 18.2% of the population surveyed in the Datexco poll versus, those with a basic education, who are about 81.8% of those polled. He is also popular among those who are students and those who are actively employed, versus those in the electorate who are not in the workforce, be they housewives, retired, or unemployed.

In contrast, Juan Manuel Santos for the Partido de La U has garnered political support from older Colombians ranging in ages, 46 and above. Santos is also more popular among those in the low socio-economic strata, and among those with basic levels of education, who are unemployed. Santos is split with Mockus with those who are employed.

Antanas Mockus’s Statistical and Logistical Obstacles

Mockus’s electorate is richer and more educated, but demographically speaking they are a minority within the Colombian electorate, which poses a numbers problem on election day. In contrast, Santos’s electorate is poorer and less educated, but this population is a majority of Colombia’s population. If democratic theory is correct, education and income is a determinant of voter turnout. The more educated and the richer, the more likely a person is to vote. This would benefit Mockus. However, usually older voters are more disciplined than younger voters, and this would benefit Santos. Moreover, practice of clientelism benefits poor and less educated voters, who sell their vote for a lunch, groceries, or a government subsidy. Clientelism requires extensive political party machinery, which the newly created Green Party does not have (and does not wish to have), but which is likely to favor a traditional candidate like Santos and his party La U.  As mentioned earlier well-organized political machineries will pick up voters and take them to voting booths, thereby lessening the transactions costs of voting for rural voters. Transaction costs, which ease the costs of voting, but lead to electoral corruption.

Will the Youth Vote Come Out To Vote for Mockus’s Eccentricities?

In this election, what will be interesting to see is whether the youth vote will be a determinant of who will win the presidential election. Given the clientelistic obstacles found within Colombian political system, Mockus’s campaign has two qualities in his favor for mobilizing voters: successful experience and awkward charisma.

Antanas Mockus’s Proven Success

First, Mockus is an independent candidate that has shown politicians and citizens in Colombia that it is possible to be an honest politician and still be efficient. His first government in Bogotá created a surplus—something nobody thought could happen in a city buried deep in corruption. His past successes challenge mainstream politicians, and because of this, he is able to raise the standard of the political debate. For example, during the six televised presidential debates, the issue of increased security became such point of consensus among all candidates, that the debates became more focused on other socio-economic issues such as: education, the economy, corruption, and the status of forced displacement victims. Social issues have been a weakness of the current government headed by President Alvaro Uribe, and so they were issues where Juan Manuel Santos, who was Uribe’s fomer Defense Minister, has had to be on the defensive.  The debates, which focused more on social issues allowed Mockus and others to present new ideas and criticisms.

Bogota Change a 4th Documentary by Cities on Speed on Successful Cities Around the World.

A “Kick-Ass” Politician?

Antanas Mockus’s second quality for attracting voters is his awkward style of charisma more similar to the movie “Kick-Ass.” In “Kick-Ass” the teenage superhero grabs people’s attention by wearing a spandex suit and helping a kid who is getting beat-up, but the hero never stops being a “geek.”  Mockus is an awkward hero. During his first Mayoral term, he dressed up as “Super Citizen” a lanky hero that picks up garbage and follows street signs. His charisma is definitely not in the style of the “strong caudillo,” the “charming” Bill Clinton, or the “cool” Barack Obama, but his “geeky” style makes it easy for people to follow him because he never carries an air of superiority, self-righteousness, or perfection. His most famous political moment is when as National University president; he mooned an unruly crowd of students to quiet them down. However, his other less well known moment, but the action that got him his first job as Mayor of Bogotá, was when he got into a fist fight again, with members of an unruly crowd of students, after one of the students threw animal excrements on him an the rest of the candidates while they were exposing their ideas on the future of Bogotá. It is contradictory that as president of The National University it was students who challenged him, and today it is students that follow him. His ambition to champion honesty and respect, in a system where violence and corruption override the rights of the powerless, attract people towards him, especially now that Alvaro Uribe’s administration is mired in corruption scandals.

The Determinants: New Media and Youth

Whatever the tied statistics say, the fact is that Antanas Mockus’s unorthodox political methods have engaged a great part of the electorate in just three months of campaigning. Now it will be interesting to observe what the exact impact of New Media and the youth vote will be on election day, May 30th 2010.

“The Judge and The General” a Celebration of Chile’s Democracy? Yes.

11 Apr

“The Judge and The General” is a documentary on the criminal investigations of human rights violations, which took place during the military regime of General Augusto Pinochet from 1973 until the early 1990s. More than recording the life-changing investigations of Conservative Judge Juan Guzman, who presided over the investigations, the documentary dramatically shows how Chilean democracy is strengthening and slowly shedding the legacy of authoritarianism.

At the individual level….

The film presents a dilemma on individual responsibility. Can an individual put aside, or transform, his or her worldview when he or she is a witness to government human rights violations?  It questions whether an individual is able and willing to stand up to the injustices committed by governments, even if the individual in question approved of such governments. Can a Chilean supportive of the Pinochet regime acknowledge human rights abuses, just like a German supportive of Hitler’s regime acknowledge the holocaust?

The protagonist of this documentary is Judge Guzman, who is an educated man and a lifelong political conservative mainly because his family belonged to Chile’s Christian Democratic Party and his father was a Chilean diplomat.  Like conservatives of the time he was influenced by the chaos of the early 1970s. Baffled by Salvador Allende’s trips to Castro’s Cuba and his socialist propositions to nationalize private industries, he believed the military led by General Augusto Pinochet was doing the “right thing” by ousting the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende from power. Today, Judge Guzman believes that he would have continued to live in a bubble protected from the truth, had he not been appointed, by lottery, to oversee the allegations of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Chilean military dictatorship. In 1998 when Judge Guzman was appointed to investigate thousands of cases, it was thought that his Christian Democratic background would be an obstacle to the investigations, but instead his loyalty to the law, the justice system, and the overwhelming evidence supporting human rights abuses led him to rule in favor of the victims. The documentary is important because its footage showcases how Judge Guzman was able to present a case against General Augusto Pinochet for human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship.

The importance of the judicial process…

The film also takes the audience into the processes of the civil legal system as practiced in Chile. In this inquisitorial legal system, the judge has to use state resources to gather evidence and make a judgment on accusations facing a legal party. The inquisitorial legal system is different from the adversarial system of law as practiced in the United States. In an adversarial system, two parties, the prosecution and the defense, present and argue their cases to a judge and jury. The judge presiding over a criminal case in the United States acts like a referee between two parties, the jury decides whose argument is best, and finally the judge uses his/her discretion on the type of penalty placed on the individual. In the legal system as it exists in Chile and in many Latin American countries, the role of the judge is more powerful than in the United States because he is an investigator, a prosecutor, and a judge–based on his/her discretion and evidence, he/she decides what penalty to impose on the accused party.

Although covering the legal process may put many people to sleep, showing of the legal process is what makes this documentary interesting, because Judge Guzman with his conservative Christian Democratic background could have blocked each point of the investigation’s process, but he did not. Guzman could have dismissed charges of human rights abuses as propaganda. He could have selectively overlooked evidence pointing at human rights abuses. He could have not interviewed the families of those who had disappeared thirty years before. Even after gathering evidence of human rights abuses, he could have sentenced low-level military officers who committed acts of torture, instead of going for high-level officials who masterminded the whole oppressive operation. Why didn’t Guzman, a conservative judge, obstruct the investigation? This paradox is why the documentary is valuable for students of democratic regimes.

The film is also valuable for those of us studying countries dealing with high levels of violence, and who are trying to grapple with how truth commissions work and are organized. Whereas in Chile the state actively engaged in killing citizens based on their political beliefs, in Colombia armed social groups on the left and the right of the political spectrum have killed citizens based on their political beliefs. Civilian deaths have taken place many times with the complicit knowledge of government officials. The Colombian government under President Alvaro Uribe has attempted to implement a law called the Law of Justice and Peace, to investigate human rights abuses committed mainly by right-wing paramilitary groups such as, the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) during the mid 1990s and early 2000s.  However, the judicial investigations into the crimes perpetrated by the AUC have been limited by small budgets and to date no high level AUC member has been convicted for human rights abuses.  Some high level AUC members have been extradited to the United States for illicit drug trafficking, but none have been convicted for organizing and carrying out systematic massacres throughout Colombia.

The importance of patience…

The lesson this documentary on Chile gives those of us studying Colombia is that patience is a virtue—it may take more than thirty years for the truth to be revealed and for victims of violence to receive respect and compensation for their suffering. Getting to the truth involves dealing with slow moving institutions and astute political leaders such as Augusto Pinochet. For example, before his 2000 detention in England, Chilean democratic governments failed to try him because he was a Senator for life and was protected under parliamentarian immunity.  Once in England, Pinochet avoided being judged in Spain for human rights abuses based on mental incompetence. Upon the General Augusto Pinochet’s return, Judge Juan Guzman accepted the argument posed by the victim’s lawyers to withdraw Pinochet’s immunity, and argued at the Court of Appeals that the ex-dictator should be tried in Chile. However, the court’s ruling was lukewarm. It took away Pinochet’s immunity, but held that he was mentally incapacitated to stand trial.  Still, in a moment of arrogance, Pinochet granted an interview to the television program “Maria Elvira Confronta” a news program, which airs in Miami’s the Mega 22 television network. This 2003 interview allowed Judge Juan Guzman to present the case that Pinochet was mentally fit to stand trial, and this 2006 judgment finally placed Pinochet under house arrest while he waited to be tried.

Democratizing the legal system…

The significance of the documentary is the democratization of Chile’s legal system. “The Judge and the General” highlights the success of the Chilean democratic system and the courage shown by judges and lawyers to uncover the truth. In the new democratic system the judges and lawyers were no longer reduced to mere legal secretaries, who were told to create reports and deny the writ of habeas corpus to “prisoners” that had already been killed by the state’s intelligence organizations.  In the new democratic system, judges and lawyers made their own investigations and made conclusions based on evidence. The investigations made by Judge Juan Guzman and other judges, and their courage to charge General Pinochet with fraud, torture, and murder, allowed the democratic system to remove Pinochet’s criminal immunity and place him on house arrest. Even though Pinochet died in December of 2006 without being tried, these events coupled with the election of Chile’s the first woman Prime Minister Michelle Bachelet (who was imprisoned with her mother during Pinochet’s regime and whose father was tortured and killed) had to personally affect General Augusto Pinochet, because he always thought of himself as someone above the law—an untouchable, who was an “overseer” of Chilean politics. His arrogance was constantly reflected during the documentary in his continual denial of state violence and in his final request to be cremated to avoid his tomb’s desecration.

The legal process shown in the documentary celebrates and strengthens the Chilean democracy, because it shows how the legal process became part of Chilean society, instead of remaining just a dictate given by a military dictatorship. The legal process (however slow or convoluted it may have been) was democratized, as it involved witnesses, victims, the media, lawyers, experts, officers of various courts, and overall Chile’s people even if they continue to be polarized on the topic of Pinochet and his military rule.