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Why Libya Is No Accident

The attorney general has also told lower-court judges not to give letter-of-the-law protection to landowners victimized by the occupations. According to one judge who saw fit to go public, Paz y Paz came before a meeting of judges and declared that “certain cases are being handled by large law-firms, which cost a lot of money, so the victims can vouch for themselves in proceedings.” That instruction is against the law, as is the very fact that the attorney general came before the judges in an effort to influence them.

In May 2012, the Committee of Peasant Unity or CUC, an insurgent group identified in land seizures, staged a violent uprising in rural Huehuetenango province that grew serious enough for Guatemala’s president to declare a state of emergency. Local prosecutor Gilda Aguilar caught the case. One of the arrested militants testified to Aguilar that he and others had been extorted into joining with the CUC.

Aguilar brought that evidence before a judge, who issued ten arrest warrants. But then the attorney general herself paid a visit to the prosecutor’s office and demanded that the warrants be cancelled, saying that the UN high commissioner for Guatemala considered the CUC to be a human-rights group which should be treated with “some consideration.”

Aguilar balked at the attorney general’s request to withdraw the warrants. The prosecutor was publicly threatened by the CUC. Her car was attacked by gunmen on a mountain road and she barely escaped serious injury. The arrest warrants against the CUC were then cancelled without explanation by the same judge who had issued them. Subsequently that cancellation was reversed by a higher court, but the attorney general had made her position clear. With Paz y Paz’s blessing, and with the prestige of the United States a wind at their backs, CUC militias now hold sway in large areas of Guatemala’s countryside, and no prosecutor is likely to challenge them.

In those circumstances, American support for Paz y Paz is a problem of some gravity. It also lends perspective to Obama’s policy in the Arab spring. The idea behind the policy seems to be that if we just let “the people” express themselves, justice and democracy will prevail. That notion runs hard against America’s own experience. We are a republic of laws, not of people. Why should we consent for any other country to be different?

In Guatemala, as in Libya, our policy follows a brand of magical thinking whose obvious outcome is class hatred and social anarchy. Will the murder of our ambassador in Libya be followed by decades of turmoil and ruin, as it was in Guatemala? Will Guatemala’s people be victims of the same carelessness that has just undermined our envoys in Libya? Perhaps the sacrifice of our brave people in Benghazi can help us see the world with a fresh eye.