MY MISSION TO BOGOT�
In September 2002, the President of the United States proclaimed The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. In that document, he foretold that, as if for the first time,
[T]he United States will use this moment of opportunity to extend the benefits of freedom across the globe. We will actively work to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets and free trade to every corner of the world.
In fact, of course, our national government has �worked actively� on that agenda throughout the Cold War. It is a less familiar fact that American lawyer-missionaries have been traversing the globe since the 18th century, following Thomas Jefferson�s initiative in going to France to edit the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. I was such a one in 1970. We legal missionaries have had moments of achievement, but not many. My experience was, I think, fairly illustrative. Like most, I was ineffective. Because few academic authors write of their failures, it may be useful to confess to mine. I was Quixote himself.
In the 1960s, the Ford Foundation developed a major interest in the erection of legal institutions to provide benign democratic government for �developing� nations. The premise was, apparently, that vibrant legal institutions could cause economic and social development. That seems also to have been a premise of some programs of the United States Agency for International Development.
Among the institutions benefiting from Ford largesse was the University of Michigan Law School where I was then a member of the faculty. Michigan was an especially appropriate recipient because members of its faculty had played significant roles in early efforts to develop legal institutions in the Philippines and in China. In addition, two members of its faculty had just returned from a tour of duty in Accra, where they had founded a law school at the University of Ghana. And yet another had served the cause in India. Some of the Ford money was to be spent on graduate students, but there was also an understanding that the law faculty would participate in this global venture.
By 1968, there was a growing sense of embarrassment at the University that no Michigan law professor had made serious use of the Ford grant to support the law-and-development movement. That year, also, a group of legal academics and leaders of the legal profession from Colombia came to the Michigan law school on a tour conducted by Ford. They were much impressed with our library and our Gothic quarters. A consequence of their visit was that several younger professors were importuned to think about law and legal education in Colombia. I was an obvious candidate because I was then directing a study of American legal education for the Association of American Law Schools, a study that had been separately funded by the Ford Foundation. About the same time, the Stanford faculty was induced to take a special interest in Chile. And there may have been other such connections established. Accordingly, several of us made an exploratory visit to Bogot� in the spring of 1969 to see if we might not bring our light to that presumed darkness.
It was my lot to be the first of three Michigan missionaries to Colombia. This as I recall was because I was the only one of us who had studied Spanish in school and could be expected to become fluent in a reasonable period of time. Although my Spanish was demonstrated to be inadequate on the exploratory visit, it was agreed that I would be assigned to the faculty of law at La Universidad de Antioquia in Medellin, where I would help the faculty develop better teaching methods. To improve my Spanish, I would en route spend a month in Cuernavaca in a language school at Centro de Documentaci�n Internacional conducted by the rebellious priest Ivan Illich.
Accordingly, in November I headed to Cuernavaca. Just at that moment, the Ford Foundation notified me that there was a strike at Antioquia and that I might be reassigned on that account. The occasion of the strike was an intervention by the governing board of the university leading to the dismissal of the dean. Both students and faculty struck in support of the dean, a circumstance that was impressive indeed to those of us who were experienced in dealing with the backwash of student ire caused by the Viet Nam War. Because of the Antioquia strike, I remained in Cuernavaca an extra month.
My family joined me in Cuernavaca for Christmas and we rented a home there for the month of January. At the end of January, we moved to Bogot�. The Ford Foundation had made elaborate provisions for our arrival. One of their staff members was away on leave, and we were assigned to her home, which belonged to the Foundation. It came with a Ford station wagon and a full-time, live-in maid who ironed socks and underwear, did all the housekeeping and cooking, and guarded our door from unwelcome callers. So precisely planned was the city that our address disclosed to discerning persons that our front door was exactly 40 meters west of the intersection of Seventh Avenue and 86th Street. I was also assigned an office at La Universidad de los Andes and encouraged to interact with legal educators as much as possible, and to pursue a research interest.
I was advised to stay away from La Universidad Nacion�l. It was said that Americans were unwelcome there, the students being sharply divided into two groups, those loyal to Stalin and those loyal to Chairman Mao. I had no occasion to confirm that analysis. I sometimes lunched with colleagues at Los Andes and had occasional visits with students. I was a spectator to their lunchtime soccer matches played on a small pitch with a smaller, heavier ball. And I attended a student riot protesting an action of the national government so inconsequential that I cannot now recall what it was. I was never invited to participate in teaching students at Los Andes.
I did lecture twice in the law program at Universidad Externado, and once at the university in Cali. All my presentations were brief. Those at Externado were included in a course of lectures most of which I attended. The students seemed if possible even less interested in the lectures of their regular professors than they were in my fumbling efforts to speak from my Spanish text. For their regular lectures, they had in hand an elaborate outline that would be closely followed by the lecturer. Often the lecturer was late to class, and twice he did not come at all. Like the other instructors, he had a busy law practice that had a primary claim on his time and attention. The students did not seem to mind such neglect but regarded it as a source of free time. On rare occasion, a student might ask a question of the instructor. The other students perceived such events as occasions for chatting with their classmates. They manifested no interest in either the question or the response. I never saw any evidence that any student prepared to hear a lecture. These conditions seemed to exist as well at the other law schools I briefly visited.
The students were, of course, undergraduates. It was in due course explained to me that for most of them, law study was a default course to be pursued for lack of any other interest, and without any professional goal necessarily being in mind. They expected to regurgitate the contents of the outlines and thereby acquire the status of college graduates. Among university programs, only the course in education was then regarded as less demanding than the course in law.
On one occasion, I was struck by a comment offered by an instructor lecturing on commercial law. He told his students that the legal text he was presenting was the product of earnest preliminary study by social scientists who had ascertained the needs of business and of society and had informed the legal philosophers of those needs so that they would be met precisely by the text of the code written by the philosophers and now being explained to the students. As it happened, I had had dinner the night before with a Chilean friend and law professor who had stopped over on his way home from Madrid and who had been importuned to spend a day in Bogot� knocking out an amendment to the code. Maybe he was a legal philosopher but I knew for certain that his draftsmanship did not rest on thorough empirical research by social scientists.
In this environment, it was hoped that I might introduce The Case Method, as that method had been experienced by the director of the Ford program in Colombia when he had been a student at the Harvard Law School some years earlier. That method, in its purer form, was already on its last legs in 1970. Its essential feature as I experienced it at Harvard and practiced it in my own teaching was to impose on students responsibility for participating publicly in their own instruction. It forced students to prepare for class and to deal intellectually with the uncertainties of law (especially present perhaps in American law). It fostered the moral and intellectual autonomy students would need to perform their professional role in a legal system relying on the adversary tradition and on private enforcement in civil actions of much of the nation�s public law. It was designed for graduate students who were reasonably mature and self-confident and who did not need or expect nurturing by mentors. It was expected that some students would find distasteful the role they were called by the Method to perform. Such students were expected to leave the school with the valuable information that they were not suited to professional work in law.
Somehow, the folks at the Foundation thought that if we could inculcate in students in Colombian law schools this method of approaching legal questions, the legal profession of that country would become more self-confident and intellectually aggressive in solving the problems of government and of business, and would become a source of strength enabling the national economy to take off. In this, they were, it seemed to me, victims of a fatuous arrogance not unknown among hierarchs in the American legal profession, i.e., the belief that it is the law schools that make the profession that makes the Republic.
I did go so far as to study the possibilities for a few days. I read numerous �opinions� of the nation�s highest court. These were not published in a timely way. They were brief and universally, it seemed, didactic. They would record the basic facts as found and cite a provision of the Code that was deemed applicable, but without further explanation. There were no dissents, and there was no opportunity to engage the mind of the authors of the decisions. They were not material from which any teaching method could be extracted. I reluctantly concluded that the Foundation�s hope for an improved method of teaching law in Colombia was not one to which I could make a material contribution.
The folks at Ford had another hope that struck me as even less promising than the hopes for The Case Method as a source of economic development. The other idea was rooted in social science that was being asked why prosperous Colombians were prone to put their money in Swiss bank accounts rather than to invest in local ventures that could compete in the global economy, create local jobs and wealth, and diminish the dependence of Colombians on imported goods and services. The answer provided by the scientists was that there was too much crime in Colombia and people with money therefore wanted to put it out of harm�s way. What then could be done to reduce the larceny rate? One could look out from Bogot�, Medellin, Barranquilla or Cali on vast barrios inhabited by millions of the homeless poor. And police protection was so disdained that a crime common in 1970 was auto napping -- the nappers were known to call the owners and ask for ransom in exchange for a return of the auto, secure in the belief that the transaction could be consummated without risk of arrest. There being no scientific data to explain why the inhabitants of Colombian barrios were prone to such crimes, resort was taken to data gathered in American cities. That data showed that there was less crime in those neighborhoods where the people had greater respect for law. How then might Colombians be taught greater respect for law? Perhaps by making the law more worthy of respect? By making the law more respectful of citizens? Ah, there might be an answer! And so a program was initiated to teach Colombian police officers to advise accused persons of their rights when making arrests. While it was a problem to identify the rights to which the Colombian arrestee might be entitled, the Colombian police were generally receptive to the suggestion, and were eager to go to Los Angeles or New York to observe the giving of Miranda warnings. Whether their adaptation of this device could indeed lead to lower crime rates, leading to more investment in local business, and thus to an improved economy, seemed to me incredible.
Looking for something constructive to do, I set about the task of learning about the law governing educational institutions in Colombia. I chose that topic because I had been active on related matters in the American Association of University Professors, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the American Bar Association. After I returned to Ann Arbor, I wrote a report for the ABA Committee on Individual Rights and Responsibilities that I translated into Spanish. After generous editorial revision, it was published by Revista de Derechos Humanos and stands as the sole product of my efforts as a missionary.
In Colombia, I read the applicable code provisions and tried through my clumsy Spanish to interview lawyers, school administrators and others such as the leader of the teachers� union. As in France, the law was remarkably elaborate in its efforts to assure every Colombian school child precisely the same experience in school. It almost seemed that every fourth grade class in the Republic was expected to be on the same page of each text at each hour of the school day. It seemed to me doubtful that the school in my upscale neighborhood could be the same as a school in the remote jungle of, say, Arboles on the northwest Pacific coast. My hope, no less vain than the hope that the economy could be jump-started by the Case Method or Miranda warnings, was that I might arouse a little interest among lawyers and others in genuine empirical examination of legal institutions such as those bearing on the conduct of public schools. Not only was I not intellectually equipped to provide such leadership, but the particular task to which I set my own hand would have been impossible for a great lawyer and social scientist whose Spanish was flawless and whose acquaintance with the local cultures of Colombia was wide and deep.
A part of my adventure in Colombia was an exposure to local politics. A presidential election was underway. I read El Tiempo daily and the candidates were all on television several times. One of the candidates was the appalling former dictator, General Gustavo Rojas-Pinilla, who had been driven out of the country fifteen years earlier. El Tiempo published an account of an event in 1953 or thereabouts as one that it had not dared publish at the time. It was said that Presidente Rojas�s daughter, Maria Eugenia, had attended a bull fight on a Sunday afternoon. The public address speaker introduced her to the assembled crowd. There were cheers, but also some boos that seemed to be centered in a particular place in the stadium. The gate soon opened, and the doomed bull was greeted by the crowd without further expressions of regard or disregard for Maria Eugenia. But the next Sunday, when the gate opened, it was not a bull but a squad of soldiers that entered the arena. It was said that they emptied their automatic weapons into that part of the arena from which the booing had seemed to come the week before. The crowd of course fled. But the soldiers reportedly remained to gather all the corpses so that they could be destroyed, presumably by being dumped at sea. Of course, one had to wonder about the accuracy of this journalistic account, but it was certainly well crafted to elevate one�s interest in the election. Maria Eugenia was a member of the national senate in 1970, and she denied knowledge of such an event as that reported by El Tiempo.
There was no doubt that Rojas had as Presidente sent a military detachment to join the United Nations force in Korea. There also seemed to be no doubt that many of the members of that detachment had been anti-Rojas demonstrators at the national university, and had on that account been pressed into military service. More than one cab driver told me that he supported Rojas because Rojas knew how to deal with overprivileged university students.
I had one opportunity to participate in political activity. One day while interviewing lawyers, I encountered a parade coming down a street that I needed to cross. Sure enough, here came Rojas in an open automobile followed by diverse supporters. These included a group of forty or so men carrying a banner proclaiming them to be veterans of the Korean War. Having been in the U. S. military about that time, I seized the moment to become one of that group for long enough that I could cross the street without cutting directly in front of anyone in the parade. Notwithstanding the fact that I had in this way possibly indicated support for him, General Rojas did not win re-election in 1970.
My professional frustrations left me time for tourism. My most memorable experience was of that sort. I was invited to attend a public event in the village of La Vega. The invitation came from my friend, Ferdinand, who was at the time Minister of Education and Minister of Law, as well as President of La Universidad Externado. He was an impressive man -- charming, wise, and eloquent. His wife had been the first to introduce me to the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The event at La Vega would be the dedication of a piedra. The piedra would mark the place where a new secondario would be erected to educate the adolescents of the surrounding area. When built, it would be named for Ferdinand�s father, and Ferdinand would make the dedication.
La Vega was a three-hour drive from Bogot�. It was located in a small Andean valley. Much of the distance to La Vega was unpaved road. A friendly Externado law student, Nels�n, undertook to go with me. The program was to begin at nine in the morning, so I met Nels�n before dawn at the most central intersection in the city. I drove the Ford Foundation wagon, he navigated, and we reached La Vega a little before nine. The village plaza was crowded, not least by a score of marching bands representing diverse secondarios who had been bussed in to celebrate the occasion. It was a glorious sight, for the bands were in spectacular uniforms, each even more colorful than the next. But there were no speakers in sight.
While we were standing on the sidewalk admiring the view, a man introduced himself to me as Alfonso, the Alcalde, or mayor, of the village. We chatted for a few minutes and then he invited us to his club where we might await the arrival of the Minister. I was flattered by the invitation and of course accepted. The club turned out to be a bar located near the plaza. The structure was the sort known to me as a Quonset Hut, but the interior was nicely appointed with a long mahogany bar. I was offered a seat at the bar, that being the only sort of seat available. Alfonso ordered himself a drink of scotch. I was not accustomed to whiskey in the morning, most especially without breakfast, but I did not wish to be unappreciative of hospitality and so I accepted an invitation to join him. He then told the bartender to be especially gracious to me. The bartender put two six-ounce glasses on the counter and filled both, mine to the brim, with Johnny Walker Red Label. Nels�n somehow avoided this situation. I said nothing about the giant drink to Alfonso other than muchas gracias, supposing that surely the Minister would arrive soon and I could leave most of the scotch in the glass, perhaps to be returned to the bottle from which it had been poured.
Alas, that was not to be. The Minister�s arrival was long delayed. And every few minutes another member of Alfonso�s club would raise a toast that I could hardly refuse to join. By eleven when the Minister arrived, I had packed away at least five ounces of straight scotch whiskey on an empty stomach. Notwithstanding this impediment, I was able to greet the Minister warmly if not soberly as he got out of his Mercedes limousine.
Now that we were all assembled, we could march our parade up the hill to the place where the piedra was located. The marching bands played as we strode up the hill. The future school would have a marvelous vista that we could enjoy during the program. The first speaker was the governor of the department that would some day build the school. He spoke on the importance of secondary education to the development of Colombia. He said quite a lot on that subject. Indeed, he spoke for fifty minutes. He paused perhaps a score of times for applause, and each time the twenty or so bands would strike a few notes of exultation. After a ringing peroration, he turned the platform over to Alfonso. Alfonso spoke with equal passion on the same subject, but more succinctly. He spoke for only thirty-five minutes. It was a good speech, but I was finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on the speech as I became obsessed with wondering whether there might be plumbing somewhere on that hilltop. When Alfonso concluded, the bands struck up with increased vigor, and he received even more applause than had the governor. He then introduced the next speaker, who would someday be the head of the secondario. This schoolmaster was also a good speaker and he was personally excited about the prospects for his school. He spoke for only twenty minutes and subsided amidst a roar of approval from the crowd, and a special fanfare from the percussion sections of all the bands.
Thus came Ferdinand to the platform. He spoke in a gracious and subdued tone, in sharp contrast to the rising crescendo of the previous three orations that had held the throng for a solid hundred minutes. His calm overwhelmed us with pride and sentiment. Best of all, he spoke for only ninety seconds, that time being sufficient to utter the final dedication of the piedra. There was an explosion of cheers and tears. It was truly the most stirring moment of public speaking I ever had the opportunity to observe.
After he spoke, Ferdinand was seated under a tree where he could greet the school children and band members. He also signed many autographs. Alfonso then kindly showed me the outhouse and took me at last to lunch. This was a catered affair brought up the hill from La Vega on a truck. The main dish was chicken and rice, a customary fare to which no objection could be made. He instructed the lady with the ladle to serve me generously. There was, however, more than a little anxiety on my part regarding my prospects of getting out of La Vega without dysentery. I had so far encountered no such infections, but in these remote mountains I could not muster much confidence in the public sanitation. There was nothing about my encounter with the outhouse to alleviate that concern. And then my dish was served from a very large corrugated tin can that in my inculturated vision appeared for all the world to be a garbage can. I could, however, hardly refuse to taste the offer of lunch, and my hunger, undiminished by the morning libation, led me to clean my plate with gusto.
And so the crowning achievement of my term as a legal missionary to Colombia was that I got home without dysentery. By the time of my return to Ann Arbor, both the Ford Foundation and my colleagues on the law faculty had lost the faith, and no one followed me to share in my efforts. It would be unjust and inaccurate to condemn all such evangelical efforts of American lawyers as such clownish failures, but those who could report any success were generally summoned to their roles by foreign governments that were genuinely interested in the services they had to offer. It was my observation that Colombian law, like law everywhere, was a cultural artifact unlikely to be modified in any significant way merely in response to Yankee initiatives. The same appears to be true of the institutions of market economies, which do not �develop� in the absence of credible law.
Cultures change, sometimes for the better by my inculturated reckoning. Outsiders can sometimes provide a little assistance when it is genuinely desired. Many of my antecedents and contemporaries were forced to similarly disappointing conclusions by similar experiences. And there are no striking counterexamples. Our collective experience thus teaches that the most we can usually hope for is that our legal missionaries will return home without dysentery.