Archive for April, 2012

Que no hable, por favor (Don’t let him talk, please)

April 25, 2012

Constitutional Court judge Mirtha Camacho Quiroga became two weeks ago a center of national attention along with another judge, Gualberto Cusi Mamani, whom she tried to shut up –albeit not quite successfully- on an embarrassing  matter for magistrates all over Plurinational Bolivia. Judge Cusi made headlines a month ago when as a matter-of-fact he disclosed that he regularly uses coca leaves to consult on complex cases brought to his attention as a magistrate in charge of interpreting Bolivia’s constitution. And, according to Judge Cusi, coca leaves always gave him the right direction for his decisions dealing with constitutional correctness.

The statement, first on a TV interview and then before lawmakers, still disturbs many Bolivians, especially those who now agonize over their cases pending on decisions by Judge Cusi and his coca leaves. Even more surprised –and embarrassed- by the revelation was judge Camacho, a musician professor before graduating from a law school in Oruro, a western city, 130 miles from La Paz. Not wanting to be identified with her colleague’s convictions, she interrupted an interview where Dr. Cusi was declaring to reporters –presumably about his coca reading ability. She told reporters to please not interview Cusi because his statements made all justice members feel bad.  “I am judge Camacho and want to tell you that the words of doctor Cusi affect all members of the Constitutional Court. He is not authorized to talk to the press”, she said bluntly.

Then she snapped some mikes and covered cameras with her hands, as cameras and remaining tape recorders turned on her.  And so, Dr. Cusi’s publicly confessed belief in the mysteries enshrined in coca, fueled debate over the virtues -or unvirtues- of coca leaves.

Reading coca is an ancient ritual in Bolivian Andes, mainly among Aymara and Quechua natives. Practiced by –but not only- “yatiris”, medical practitioners and revered healers among natives, the ritual consists of letting a fistful of coca leaves smoothly fall from the yatiri hands. The way the leaves fall and the position they take on the ground would indicate the answer to the question posed by the yatiri. It was the first time that a judge openly admitted to coca reading before making a decision.

Dr. Cusi has since made clear his firm, unbending belief that coca leaves illuminate decisions better than written laws. He was elected late last year in a controversial election in which white and null vote where far more numerous than valid vote. The Bolivian government claimed that electing judges was a world-wide innovation in search of popular participation in appointing justice administrators.

Critics, though, have objected that electing judges by popular vote is not the right way in the quest to improve justice in a developing country: On what basis, beyond career merits, a judge will look for a constituency vote? What he or she would pledge for? Besides, judges are supposed to apply the law, not to abide to interests of no one in particular, persons or groups. Added to this was a law banning media to interview candidates, which was strongly opposed by press institutions and reporters.

After the incident, judge Cusi left the unfinished meeting without saying a word. What he would do next remained in the field of speculation.