Bolivia has a new constitution. In itself, this is nothing unusual; the South American socialist states adopt them all the time. But Bolivia’s new constitution has an unusual provision, authorizing so-called “community justice.” Community justice is about giving village elders the authority to impose penalties on accused offenders without the rigmarole of trials, juries, or even laws. This supposedly takes Bolivia back to a more enlightened time, before the arrival of westerners and western ideas. What it really does is authorize and encourage mob rule.
A particularly prominent incident involves a major opponent of the new constitution:
Ahead of a referendum in January in which voters approved this document, [Victor Hugo] Cárdenas appeared in opposition television advertisements. He says that the constitution’s endorsement of “community justice” is a “mechanism of abuse”.
On March 7th a mob of indigenous people several hundred-strong attacked Mr Cárdenas’s house in a village on the shore of Lake Titicaca, violently evicting his wife, Lidia Katari, herself an indigenous-rights activist, and two of his children before setting fire to his belongings. The few police who turned up did nothing. The assailants claimed that they had staged an act of “community justice” against Mr Cárdenas. They later said that they would not allow him, the police or public prosecutors to enter the area, claiming that the new constitution gives them control over a large swathe of surrounding territory.
Mr Morales may well have had nothing to do with the attack. But his opponents have long claimed that he is opening the way to this kind of mob rule. The government information service implausibly claimed that Mr Cárdenas had staged the incident himself as a publicity ploy.
Tsk, tsk. But that’s just a Latin American banana republic that has intentionally turned its back on idea of rule of law. This has nothing to do with the west, right?
Don’t be so sure. In the UK, scapegoating of bankers is starting to result in mob violence. But that’s just the UK, right? Consider this:
Andrew M. Cuomo is starting to unearth some of the most closely guarded secrets on Wall Street: the identities of Merrill Lynch employees who collected large bonuses even as the brokerage firm lost billions.
Mr. Cuomo, the New York attorney general, won a legal battle on Wednesday to compel Bank of America, which bought Merrill in December, to provide his office with the names of the Merrill employees with the 200 largest bonuses. Mr. Cuomo said he would make the names public as early as Thursday.
He also vowed to identify publicly the employees who had received bonuses at the American International Group, whose payouts prompted an uproar, and to work with other financial companies that have received taxpayer dollars to consider disclosing more about employee compensation.
Mr. Cuomo pledged to press ahead with his effort even as Edward M. Liddy, the embattled chief executive of A.I.G., told Congress on Wednesday that some A.I.G. employees received death threats in recent days as the public furor over pay escalated.
The highest-ranking law-enforcement officer in the State of New York plans to publicize the names of AIG bonus recipients and other financial figures (with public opprobrium, to be sure), despite the fact that some of these people are already receiving death threats.
Even being uninvolved is no protection:
As AIG employees get disturbing threats from people ticked off about bonuses that came in the wake of the federal bailout, the state has thrown someone into the fire who did not belong there, a [Connecticut] state representative says.
Christopher Pohle, of New Canaan, was falsely identified as an AIG employee who received a retention bonus, State Representative John W. Hetherington, said in a news release Thursday. To be clear, everyone, he did not get a bonus.
Pohle is demanding that the State of Connecticut, including the Attorney General and the legislature’s Banks Committee, apologize and issue a retraction.
Of course, the United States is far from becoming Bolivia, but nevertheless we’re seeing is a breakdown in confidence in the rule of law, with public sentiment whipped up by cynical politicians.