Transitional justice

A man makes millions of dollars helping Colombian guerrillas ship cocaine to hungry markets via Venezuela.

Or he makes them through bribing financial institutions in order to exempt them from legal problems.

Or he makes them by soliciting illegal kickbacks for certain government permits only he can give.

The details are not important. What is important is that he has power, and he knows how to trade it.

Imagine, for a second, tomorrow. The government that protects him, the one that gives him his power, the one that allows him to live the good life, falls. What happens to that man?

The only logical, human answer, the only one that anyone who has ever had to work for a paycheck or suffered the abuse of those in power, the only one those of us still with a soul can give is: he must go to jail!

And, of course, if this were just one guy, the decision would be a slam dunk. But the thing is, it’s not just one guy. It’s an entire caste.

We’re talking hundreds, thousands of people. Military and civilian in nature, the new governing elite has long understood that power in Venezuela is a commodity, easily and inconsequentially tradeable for money, and that money can be swapped for status, women, luxury, and admiration. Many have weapons. All have power and money.

The day may come when the government will change, and they will have less power, but they will still have weapons and money. And weapons and money allow you to defend yourself from the natural reaction of all decent people who oppose them. This means they will have at their disposal the means to destabilize any new government threatening the privileges they have accumulated by waving the “No more privileges!” red flag.

This is one of the key ethical dilemmas any new administration in Venezuela will likely face. The demands of those pining for punishment for the accomplices of a corrupt system will endanger the very stability of the system that supplants it.

We might as well get used to the idea of an incomplete, conditioned, negotiated justice. A transitional justice is not likely to be very just, but it may well be the only one available.

(Quico’s original version in Spanish here).