f_0016624_14366 - Twenty-Five Years of Latin American...

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The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations Twenty-Five Years of Latin American Judicial Reforms: Achievements, Disappointments, and Emerging Issues by Linn Hammergren I n the democratic opening of the early 1980s, judicial reform appeared on the policy agenda throughout Latin America. Although such efforts were not new to the region, their virtually universal and nearly simultaneous adoption into policy was novel, extending even to the few countries (Colombia, Costa Rica, and Venezuela) without recent de facto regimes. The movement eventually incorporated the entire justice sector (“sector ) rather than the courts alone. The reforms were locally inspired, though they received financial and political support from the donor community, and over time, other external inputs. Twenty- five years later, regional (and donor) interest has not waned despite a failure to deliver many promised improvements. Still, the sectors organization, operations, and political influence were altered substantially, and most of these changes appear irreversible. Whether perceived as down payments on future progress or as a source of new challenges, the changes suggest the project will not be abandoned soon. The following explores these arguments in three parts: first a review of the movements early history and the way new actors and circumstances broadened its agenda; second, an examination of its accomplishments, failures, and the causes of each; and finally, an exploration of issues that have emerged in recent years. A H ISTORICAL O VERVIEW OF THE M OVEMENT S D EVELOPMENT Early Emergence, Actors, and Agendas The early1980s saw a region-wide concern for re-democratizing Latin Americas governance institutions. Somewhat surprisingly, given the many other candidates, judicial reform was among the few areas with sufficient consensus on a plan of action to allow immediate implementation. 1 The reasons are worth noting because of their lasting effects. Linn Hammergren is a Senior Public Sector Management Specialist (Latin America and the Caribbean) at the World Bank. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and in no way meant to represent the official position of the World Bank 89
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HAMMERGREN The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations Although hardly unique to the judicial arena, there was widespread agreement on the need to remove the vestiges of dictatorial control. For decades, judiciaries and other sector institutions (police, prosecutors where they existed) had been either circumvented or subject to abusive external interference. The widespread perception that the organizations had colluded in perpetrating abuses might have inspired new regimes to take the usual steps—replacing the incumbents and returning to business as usual. Frequently, the traditional purges did occur, but two additional factors ensured that the changes would not stop there.
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