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Charging that the Guatemalan judicial system has been corrupted by blatant political favoritism, a Harvard law professor has decided to shut down a University program that trains judges and prosecutors in the Latin American nation.
Ames Professor of Law Philip H. Heymann testified before the House of Representatives this summer that the level of corruption was so severe that the federal government should not renew its contract with Harvard to fund the Center for Criminal Justice. The center had been operated here since 1987 under a three-year contract with the U.S. State Department.
Heymann told the House that he had decided against continuing the project because Guatemalan President Marco Vinicio Cerezo Arevalo had refused to investigate alleged political killings.
Heymann launched the program in August, 1987, in a series of meetings with officials of the Guatemalan judicial system, including the President of the Supreme Court, Dr. Edmundo Vasquez.
Although the project claimed a number of successes, the political climate made it nearly impossible for judges and prosecutors to operate effectively, said Ana Maria Salazar, who directed the Guatemala office of the program from January to its close in September.
"It was very difficult to expect officers without the insurance, backing or protection of the government to investigate political violence or security force violence," Salazar said.
Salazar said because the Guatemalan justice system relies on written statements, rather than oral testimony, it gives individuals almost no power to plead their cases. In addition, she said that public confidence in the system is so low that many people will not report crimes of authorities.
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