- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

Delayed justice by Guatemalan government

James Morrison's "Embassy Row" column of March 11 reports the Guatemalan government's "acknowledgement of responsibility" for the 1990 murder of renowned Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack. Unfortunately, there may not be much substance to this acknowledgment.
For more than a decade, the Mack family has pressed the Guatemalan government to take action on this case. In fact, the deterrents to bringing this case to justice have been so blatant and so numerous that on Aug. 1, 2001, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights agreed to hear a case against the Guatemalan government for its involvement in the murder and for its failure to ensure timely application of justice for the Mack family.
The Guatemalan government tried to put off the case. A few days before the public hearing before the Inter-American Court, the government requested a suspension, arguing that the controversy had ceased to exist because the government now stipulated to the basic facts related to the case. The lawyers for the Mack family objected. They argued that the government's position was less a recognition of responsibility than a ploy to avoid a public hearing. The Inter-American Court decided to proceed with the hearing.
The Guatemalan government responded by walking out of the trial. Its lawyers left the courtroom, returning only for the closing arguments. With this action, the Guatemalan government refused to listen to the testimony of 13 witnesses and experts.
Even during the closing arguments, the Guatemalan government refused to accept full responsibility. When asked by the court if the government of Guatemala's position was to accept full responsibility, the state's legal representative responded that he had not received orders to do so.
It was not until four days after the trial had concluded that the minister of foreign relations, in a letter to the Inter-American Court, stated that the government acknowledged full institutional responsibility for the killing. In his letter, he apologized for the government's behavior before and during the hearing, claiming that the state's legal representatives had misunderstood his orders.
The Guatemalan government has repeatedly acknowledged facts and responsibility for this case, only to withdraw or reinterpret its acknowledgment at a later date. Given the government's history of equivocal statements, the state must come forward with a full and complete acknowledgement of the facts presented in the pleadings and during the public hearing. In its latest letter, the Guatemalan government engages in a wordplay in order again to avoid responsibility.
A full recognition by the state would include acknowledging what the witnesses showed: that Myrna Mack was executed as part of an intelligence operation planned and carried out by the Presidential Security Guard (EMP); that the EMP, the Ministry of Defense and the judiciary played specific roles in obstructing, delaying and denying justice for the Mack family; and that the state repeatedly has failed to protect the Mack family, witnesses and others involved in the case. A full recognition would include plans to punish those responsible for these acts.

Program officer for Guatemala
Washington Office on Latin America

Butting heads with the tobacco industry

In his column "Cigarette tax delusions" (Commentary, Monday), Bruce Bartlett relies heavily on a study by the Small Business Survival Committee (SBSC) that concludes that increased cigarette taxes in New York City caused a drop in employment among store workers. The SBSC study would seem to suggest that states and localities should stop raising cigarette taxes.
What Mr. Bartlett did not tell the readers was that SBSC's March 5 press release touting this study made the following admission: "Funding for the study was provided by Philip Morris, USA." Philip Morris USA, the largest cigarette manufacturer in the country, has, of course, a huge financial interest in keeping cigarette taxes as low as possible because, as it has acknowledged in its annual 10-K report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, "increases in excise and similar taxes have had an adverse impact on sales of cigarettes."

Senior attorney
Tobacco Control Resource Center
Northeastern University School of Law

In his column "Cigarette tax delusions," Bruce Bartlett rails against tobacco taxes by citing a study by the Small Business Survival Committee and invoking the words of Adam Smith. It's unfortunate that Mr. Bartlett neglected to mention that the study in question was funded by Philip Morris USA. It's also too bad he didn't read more of Adam Smith to see what Smith said specifically about tobacco taxes in 1776: "Sugar, rum and tobacco are commodities which are nowhere necessaries in life, which are become objects of almost universal consumption, and which are therefore extremely proper subjects of taxation."

Institute of Public Health
Georgia State University

The left's fascist face

Martin Gross raises the question of how the left has mutated to rise in defense of fascist regimes, their traditional enemy, and he answers that the left resents the victories of right-wing American presidents more than it opposes fascism ("The left/fascist 'peace' coalition," Commentary, Monday). True enough, perhaps, but the left's convictions are both deeper and simpler than Mr. Gross suspects. As he does hint, though, the transformation is genetic.
The left arose as a rebellion against tradition. Long ago, this made it a champion of freedom, the natural foe of oppression in the guise of religion. Even now, the premise of a Pat Robertson that faith in a creator undergirds a free society sends chills down its back. This much hasn't changed. The left has always countered faith with science, but "science" used to mean rational inquiry. Today, that word has come to mean nonevaluative study. Applied to society, a scientific perspective must necessarily presume that no social institution is right or wrong. It just is.
It is this notion "Margaret Mead politics," one might say that has overtaken the left. A Western belief in liberty, in sum, it now regards as a local prejudice. The left objects to any assumption that moral law applies to people universally. Moral law sounds too much like God. Right and wrong sound too much like religious absolutism. Yes, the left still thinks it is defending freedom of a sort, but freedom for everybody, individually or collectively, to live by any arbitrary standard they chance upon, whether religious or secular. Freedom is now a synonym for moral chaos. Principled freedom is, thus, now the enemy.
So this is where Mr. Gross' analysis falls short. It isn't enough to point out the inconsistency of the left's defense of an overseas fascist regime. One must also understand it in tiny detail on our own shores, such as why left-wingers object to forwarding the career of a minority such as federal appeals court nominee Miguel A. Estrada. It's this man's apparent belief in moral standards that disqualifies him from being a judge.
Standing against the irrationality of faith once implied reasonableness, but reason became science, science became relativism and relativism led to rejecting principle on principle.
Liberalism's acceptance of tyranny, then, is just one manifestation of its inner contradictions, just one instance of how "reason" has mutated such that men having an intuitive grip on moral standards that is, having faith are the only ones making sense today.
The hidden factor that Mr. Gross fails to see about the modern left is its conviction that every country's traditions must be defended except our own. This conviction is sweeping across the world.

Holden, Mass.

Animal farm

As a volunteer at a sanctuary for farm animals, I am very disappointed to learn that the National Zoo has plans to open a petting-zoo exhibit of farm animals ("Petting zoo critics say it's a jungle out there," Page 1, Saturday).
I share the concerns of Animal Awareness President Janet Deery: i.e., that this exhibit will present a sugarcoated picture of the way farm animals are treated.
In light of the numerous recent deaths because of human error, the last thing the National Zoo should be considering are plans to open another exhibit.

Silver Spring, Md.

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