January 5, 2008

Lessons from Nicaragua [Updated]


AUTHOR'S NOTE: In response to a number of comments about this post made directly at this blog, as well as on sites like Digg, I am adding a disclaimer. Please read the entire post before commenting. If you come away under the impression that I am blaming President Bush for Eric Volz's problems, please read it again. I am - unconditionally - NOT blaming the president; rather I am drawing a connection between the Nicaraguan justice system and the type of judiciary that results from politicization and ignoring the rule of law.



Back in June, I wrote a post called Save Your Outrage for Those Who Need It, about Eric Volz, an American entrepreneur sentenced to 30 years in a Nicaraguan prison for the rape and murder of Doris Ivania Jimenez, a woman he had been dating. The evidence against Mr. Volz was slim. Witnesses, telephone records and instant messaging logs placed him two hours away at the time of her killing, no physical evidence tied him to the scene, and only the word of one man - who had initially been arrested in the slaying, but granted immunity in exchange for his testimony - supported the charges against him.

Eric Volz went to prison, but he maintained his innocence, and his friends and family began an arduous legal campaign to get him freed. On December 16th, he won an appeal and was ordered released from prison, but every effort was made to maintain his incarceration illegally, with the presiding judge refusing to sign release papers, and his case file mysteriously disappearing for several days. With the public in an uproar over his overturned conviction, there was a very real fear that Mr. Volz would be lynched by an angry mob or murdered in prison, and the case has brought the shortcomings of the Nicaraguan justice system into sharp relief.

Finally, five days later, Eric Volz was released and he quickly went into hiding. Although he intended to stay in Nicaragua and pursue redress against his wrongful conviction, he was ordered deported by the government. His departure has left turmoil in its wake.

In an apparent effort to discredit the ruling to free Eric Volz - and to distract the public from the facts of Doris Jimenez's unsolved murder - two Sandinista Supreme Court Justices have initiated an investigation without the approval of the President of the Supreme Court, in violation of Nicaraguan law. Sandinista officials have publicly demanded the arrest of the two Appellate Court magistrates who ruled for innocence, and seem to be supporting the investigation in an effort to gain control of the Appeals Court in Granada by prosecuting and potentially imprisoning the judges.

With a parallel investigation producing evidence that the prime suspect in the Jimenez murder is from a powerful and influential Nicaraguan family protected by top-level government officials, all the elements of first-rate summer page-turner appear to be in place. Far from being merely an exceptionally sordid episode of Third World corruption, however, the Volz case should serve as an object lesson in the perils of subverting the justice system of any country. Without the rule of law, convictions and prosecutions can be bought and sold, and naked political ambition given a veneer of legitimacy through apparent judicial approval, however flawed. But is this a lesson we should take to heart in the United States?

Without question. One need only look at the presidential pardon of Scooter Libby, the Bush Administration's politicization of the Justice Department, the non-prosecution of crimes committed by military contractors, the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, or even the failure of the legislature to pursue impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney to see why.

I wrote in Laying the Foundation for a Coup D'Etat that the U.S. is a long way from a military takeover, but that the initial conditions to enable such an event now exist. We are perhaps already closer to a corrupt and undependable judicial system, but there is no doubt that we are still significantly better off than Nicaragua. Clearly however, the actions of our current president and the people who work for him (rather than serving our country) have inched us further down the path toward political lawlessness and justice for a few, rather than all. The tribulations of Eric Volz should remind us of the consequences.

8 comments:

Nathania said...

Blaming Bush for Eric Volz's imprisonment is totally ludicrous.

President Ortega is trying to impress Hugo Chavez and Nicaragua has increasing ties to Islamic terrorism. They wanted to nail Eric because he was American and that is the target of jihad.

Dig deeper into the facts instead of going for the Blame Bush paintbrush.

PBI said...

Nathania,

Did you even READ this post? In no way, shape or form, did I blame President Bush for Eric Volz's problems. Your statement that I did is what is ludicrous, rather than my article.

My "lesson from Nicaragua" is that what happened to Eric Volz in that country was a result of a compromised legal system and a politicized judiciary. President Bush has politicized the justice in the U.S. and flouted the rule of law at every turn. THAT's what leads to the kind of situation in which Mr. Volz found himself, not that George W. Bush had him imprisoned.

My point is that we need to head bring an end to the Constitution-trampling, law-breaking behavior we have seen consistently and repeatedly from this White House, because the end result of the road we're currently on - thanks to the president - is what we see in Nicaragua.

Finally, I'm not quite sure how you're tying jihad to Nicaragua, but if you have some information connecting Islamic extremism with the government of that Central American nation, I'd love to see it because it has eluded me to date.

Anonymous said...

I can't stand George Bush, and he truly has laid waste to our legal system. But he's not responsible for this particular travesty of justice. From what I understand, the US State Department actually helped out Eric Volz. How much (or how little) they helped will probably be learned as the family of Eric Volz is more willing to reveal exactly how he got out of the country.

The Nicaraguan justice system didn't need any more help from the US government to become completely dysfuntional. If you've ever been down there, as I have a number of times, you know that it's a terrible system.

PBI said...

Anonymous,

Please see my response to Nathania above and re-read my post.

I AM NOT BLAMING GEORGE W. BUSH FOR ERIC VOLZ.

MB said...

Nathan, drawing comparisons and sending an alert of politicizing the judicial process is the obvious point being addressed here. Justice must be blind to race, money, gender, political association. Every citizen MUST be held to the same standard, otherwise, we lose the rule of law. When a nation loses the rule of law FOR ALL, it starts the downward spiral into a banana republic. The was no blame for Bush, only an observation that Nicaragua's rule of law is no better than ours. Signed by a someone born in Nicaragua.

Brenda said...

Saw this posted on C&L

Nathania gives his website as:

http://politivity.com/

He's a wingnut and expecting him to actually read a post is expecting an awful lot. No one reading your post PBI, could honestly claim that you blamed Bush for Nicaragua's justice system. You were clear and make a good point. Nathania is a troll.

PBI said...

Thanks, Brenda.

Wow - my first troll! I don't usually get enough commentary here for them to actually crawl out from under their bridges!

I didn't think I had been unclear, and was pretty sure that Nathania was exhibiting trollism, but after I got an anonymous comment in the same vein - as well as another signed (but even-keeled) comment at Digg.com - I felt like I needed to add a note.

lilorphant said...

Comparitive politics is not something wingnuts have advanced to. The increasing Latinization (20th century) of our political system is evident in every factor, but they won't notice until our dollar is worth pesos, our president wears a military uniform (mission accomplished) our military is deployed domestically indefinitely, and we are marched into a football field to be "disapeared".