Juan Guzmán Tapia: A Coherent Man

26.01.2021 - Santiago de Chile - Tomás Hirsch

This post is also available in: Spanish

Juan Guzmán Tapia: A Coherent Man

Over the years, the impossible becomes reality: Juan Guzmán does justice. At the cost of cutting his judicial career short, at the cost of losing promotions and opportunities typical of that office, but with the advantage of receiving, as few do in Chile, the affection of the people and the recognition of his peers in the world.

This week the great judge has left our time and space: Juan Guzmán Tapia. I immediately remembered the tribute we paid to him at the Laura Rodríguez Foundation 15 years ago, in 2005, when we presented him with the Coherence Award. I want to share part of my words spoken that day at the former National Congress, in a simple ceremony, but full of deep meaning:

Six years ago, when I was a candidate for the Presidency, I travelled to London to support the surprise detention of Pinochet by the British police, following an order that Scotland Yard received from Spain from Judge Baltasar Garzón. I must tell you that, like many, I thought at the time that no one in Chile would be able to judge the dictator. Well, today we will pay tribute to the Chilean judge who leapt above the pressures and prejudices of that time, which placed above all personal prestige the human rights of those who suffered in prison, torture, exile and murder.

Many of us fought against this dictatorship. Laura Rodriguez was one of those fighters and we like to remember her and follow her example. We remember her together with those who suffer most, those who are discriminated against, the woman in the slums opening up with all their strength a future of their children, the Mapuche people asking for centuries for the return of their land, and we also remember her raising the muffled voices of the victims of human rights violations. It is not easy to be consistent within a context of violence, injustice and discrimination. To be fair when the environment is unjust, to be honest in the midst of hypocrisy, to be non-violent when violence has been unleashed. These is essential, and these are the models we want as an example for ourselves and for the new generations.

Coherent action is not just any of the actions we take in our lives. They are actions that define existence and give meaning to it. Coherent action produces profound agreement within oneself and gives direction to life because they are actions that we want to repeat forever. They have the taste of proportion because in making them, all areas of life move forward together and not just one aspect of it. They have a sense of opportunity, because many times we retreat in the face of the enemy, but when their strength is weakened, we advance with total resolution. They also have the characteristic of being increasingly adaptive actions, because we must carry them out in a context of violence from which we cannot free ourselves, but neither can we accept it. It is the attempt to transform the environment in which we live, the attempt to transform the violence in us and outside us that gives coherence to our action. Finally, they are actions of solidarity aimed at overcoming the suffering of those around us. This is the direction of life that we recognize in Judge Guzman. We admire a kind of heroism of a man who, being a judge, went to the limit of his own function, tying his destiny to a just decision. He did as a judge what simple people and common sense recognize as justice. Against all convenience, against all “prudence”, against all “reasonable advice”, Juan Guzmán Tapia put Augusto Pinochet, the dictator, on trial. That fact alone made him stand out among his peers and made him a target for the established power. Because we all know of the unlimited power that the accused had. It has the power that comes from the weight of caste, the world of money, the world of favors and prebends. From networks of all kinds. Some are still unknown, but are real and continue to operate.

To know the man behind the judge, we have his voice expressed in his memoirs with the suggestive title From the Edge of the World. It is there that childhood appears, not tied to any one place, as the son of an ambassador of his country. There we can see the strong influence of the older poet who was his father, alive in his works and in the memory of his readers, from whom our judge gathers the sensitivity of the artist and the strength of his principles. But it is from his mother that he finds stability and dreams. An unconvinced law student, as time went by he became a judge, to become a model of what we understand a judge should be: a man who says what is right. For this reason, the civil servant destiny of his diplomatic father was born in El Salvador, and he traveled through many countries in his youth. In Paris, in the midst of the young revolution of May 1968, amidst the walls that demanded the impossible and imagination from the powers-that-be, he met love and what is today his wife and mother of his two daughters.

Over the years, the impossible becomes reality: Juan Guzmán did justice. At the cost of cutting his judicial career short, at the cost of losing privileges and opportunities typical of the function, but to the advantage of receiving, as few do in Chile, the affection of the people and the recognition of his peers in the world. Judges from all latitudes, universities from all continents, shine by bringing to their chairs a man who, above all, respected himself and his profound humanist vision of the world in which he was to be an actor. We understand that from the suffering, “monstrous and amorphous” reality of the exploited peoples – that is, everyone on the planet – the human intention can have a transforming effect of such supposedly natural and unchangeable conditions, to achieve the perfection of a society, in which the values of solidarity, diversity, justice, never again absent, establish a truly human world, in which needs are met according to shared rational and spiritual priorities, in a process of growing personal and social coherence, which makes us treat others as each one wants to be treated, for the construction of a true Universal Human Nation.

This is part of what we said at the time. Today, 15 years after the award, we thank this wise and courageous man once again. His coherent actions will never stop.

Categories: Human Rights, Humanism and Spirituality, Opinions, South America
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