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Cablegate: Judicial Branch Feels Pressure, Appreciates U.S. Program

VZCZCXYZ0013
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #1468/01 2111804
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 301804Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 8776

UNCLAS BUENOS AIRES 001468

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: KJUS PGOV AR

SUBJECT: Judicial Branch feels pressure, appreciates U.S. program
support

REF: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: On July 18, Ambassador lunched with key members
of Argentina's judicial branch. They expressed deep appreciation
for exchanges, speakers, and seminars which the Embassy has
sponsored for the last six years. They described the stark need of
the judicial branch in Argentina to enhance its professionalism,
independence, resources and public image. Participants stressed
that judicial independence is under pressure in Argentina, while
judges struggle to keep up with a growing caseload with fewer judges
and smaller budgets. End summary.

2. (SBU) Argentina's Association of Judges and Judicial Officials
of the National Judiciary, a private professional organization of
members of the judicial branch, invited Ambassador to lunch on July
18. Participants included senior federal judges and prosecutors as
well as individuals working on innovative outreach programs such as
the "Judges Go To School Program," which the embassy supports.
Ambassador was accompanied by Luis Maria Palma, Embassy Cultural
Affairs Specialist.

3. (SBU) The Ambassador spoke about the support the Embassy has
provided in the area of judicial reform and strengthening democratic
institutions. The judges expressed their gratitude for this support
and talked about the necessity of preserving and increasing judicial
independence, especially in view of the public image of the
judiciary, which has a positive image of only 13 percent among the
Argentine public. (A study published 30 July in La Nacion ranked
Argentines second to last among Spanish speaking countries -- just
ahead of Ecuador -- with only 11 percent of the public saying they
have confidence in the justice system.) To achieve this goal, they
emphasized the importance of making people aware of the way they
work through such programs as "Judges Go To School" (which receives
Embassy support), where judges visit schools to explain how they and
their courts work. The Ambassador mentioned college and high school
mock trial programs, which were developed in the U.S. for teaching
young people about the judicial process and interesting them in
careers in this field. The judges considered that a very important
and useful way to help people understand the constraints and
difficulties of their job.

4. (SBU) A key theme during the entire conversation was judicial
independence. The judges and prosecutors described the current
situation in Argentina as one in which the executive and its allies
in Congress regularly exercise pressure on the judicial branch to
achieve results that they desire, especially on politically
sensitive cases. At the same time, they noted the new process to
name judges has not moved rapidly leaving over 100 judicial slots
vacant and budget resources have been cut significantly. These
resource issues help account for the tremendous backlog in cases.
Simple car accidents take years to even get to court, so many people
never even consider using the judicial process, for example. This,
in turn, harms the public image of the judiciary, which is already
tainted by allegations of corruption from the era of President
Menem.

5. (SBU) The judges noted that they and many of their colleagues
are committed to reinforcing their independence, resisting pressures
and rebuilding. As one said, we have a responsibility to look out
for the rights of citizens that others neglect. He cited the
mentally ill or elderly, as an instance where it is the courts that
often step in to protect citizen rights, when no one else will. He
and others also recalled the heartbreaking situations that took
place during the 2001-2002 crises, when people's bank accounts were
frozen, and the judiciary was asked to preserve the rights of more
than 400,000 citizens and their life savings.

6. (U) Related to this topic, the Argentines talked about the value
of the exchanges which the Embassy has arranged in recent years with
U.S. judicial authorities and practitioners. One cited the
relevance of the "Class Action" speaker program developed by the
Embassy, and the necessity of enacting such a legal tool for new
collective lawsuits on public issues such as the environment - like
the current one about the very polluted "Riachuelo" river in Buenos
Aires. One judge said Argentina could profit from learning from the
U.S. experience and instituting an effective small claims court
system.

7. (SBU) The judges noted that their branch was now in a very
challenging position of dealing with the emotional issues
surrounding pardons and trials of those accused of crimes against
humanity during the 1970s and 80s. They said that there were
serious constitutional issues at play as well as seeking justice for
past ills, but the bottom line was that the judicial branch was
feeling much pressure from all sides.

8. (SBU) Regarding the judicial backlog, several judges noted the
big difference between the workload of the U.S. Supreme Court (which
accepts less than 100 cases a year) and Argentina's (with a total
workload of more than 36,000 cases).


9. (SBU) The judges talked about the "National Conference of
Judges" (to take place in Salta from September 6-8, which will
gather more than 500 judges from all around Argentina) as an
important part of the effort to make the judicial branch more
coherent and consistent in its practices. Embassy Cultural
Assistant noted that the key subjects to be discussed during this
Conference had also been consistently developed by the Embassy
through "Justice Undergoing Change" since 2001: case management,
court administration, improvement techniques using training and
technology, court backlog, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms
and judicial independence.

10. (U) Comment: The Embassy's multi-year investment in helping to
strengthen Argentina's judicial sector is clearly much appreciated.
Ambassador has heard much gratitude not only from this lunch group,
but also from the President of the Supreme Court (who hopes to
travel to Washington at the end of September to meet with Chief
Justice Roberts), the Attorney General and dozens of judges and
prosecutors. They clearly value drawing on the U.S. experience and
best practices, and consistently express hope that we will continue
and expand these programs.

WAYNE

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