The Rule of Law is the belief that we all are equal under the law, no matter who you are or who you know. Without the Rule of Law, you might end up like Victor.
Victor was an honest, gentlemanly Mexican who worked as our chauffeur in the challenging traffic of Mexico City. At least he did until his wife decided to take their two children and divorce Victor. Going before the Mexican divorce court Judge, Victor's wife cashed in her "who you know" card. The Judge was her childhood friend.
With a wink and and a nod, the biased Judge determined that not only was the divorce entirely Victor's fault, but that he would have to give 90% of his pay to his ex-wife. Let me spell that out clearly so there is no doubt, Victor was to hand over to his wife ninety-percent of his pay.
What would he live on? Where would he get money for the bus to work? Neither the Judge nor his ex-wife cared. Killing off the golden goose Victor was as good as getting 90% of his paycheck. Without the Rule of Law, Victor's ex-wife held all the cards. Victor held nothing. He disappeared from our lives and probably, his own.
The lack of the rule of law leads to myriad examples of injustice.
- In Lima, Peru in the late 1960s the former military officer, Juan Velasco came to power to get rid of the corruption of the oligarchs. With an adios to the free press and an end of pretense of the rule of law, Dictator Velasco's military cornered the market on corruption for themselves, leading to the rise of the "communist revolutionary organization", the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso).
- In Asunción, Paraguay the former military officer, Stroessner was dictator of the country for 35-years. (Another military officer and another dictator. There is a theme here which might explain my self-admitted fear of all military.) Living in Paraguay from 1979-80 we experienced life withOUT a free press. Our landlord ran an illegal export of protected birds and animals with impunity. Trying to meet neighbors we were met with a paranoid citizenry afraid to talk to strangers, people who might government spies. It was a time when difficult citizens in Latin America were disappeared by various means including being dropped alive out of airplanes over the ocean. Add that to your nightmares.
- In Guayaquil, Ecuador in the late 1980s, the General Manager of an American owned company was asked by government authorities for a 'private meeting'. Behind closed doors, the American GM was threatened to either pay up, or the government representatives would audit the company and the company would have to pay more--the assumption being the company was cheating the government of Ecuador. The law abiding American GM responded that they were welcomed to audit the company. Given the parent company's internal auditors did so, maybe the Ecuadorian government auditors could explain why the company paid one of the highest tax bills in the country despite being smaller than other, non-American held companies. "Let me know if you find anything because we might be paying too much," responded the General Manager with confidence.
- In Mexico City, we paid property taxes that included garbage pick up. But the garbage men had their own system. Each home was to pay 10 pesos a week as a "tip" (wink wink). Not more than 10 pesos and certainly never less. If you didn't pay the tip the garbage men didn't pick up the garbage as my Mexican neighbor learned when she stopped paying for a handful of weeks, only to find her garbage left behind repeatedly. Don't even ask if we couldn't report this enforced bribe, I did say Mexico.
- And should anyone smirk at the predictability of so much Latin American corruption, let me share one last tale of the cost of the lack of the rule of law in the United States of America. An unnamed friend told me how her husband got off the drug dealing indictment in the 1980s. Mommy and Daddy went to the oh, so white bread Republican Country Club in a southern town to meet the Judge who would hear their son's case. With a shopping bag in hand passed to the Judge, the charges evaporated like sweat in Arizona.
Yes, it can and does happen here as we are unfortunately watching from our sheltered lives in America. Pay attention. It is not normal, but it can become so overnight. And what will you say to your grandchildren? There once was a shining country on a hill, but we didn't bother to fight for it?
So protest, write your House member...learn their names, write your Senators or call them (but be nice to the poor person who answers the telephone). Suit up for Thanksgiving family gatherings to tell those who shrug that this IS a BIG F-ing deal. Fight for your rights or we all may lose them.