Thursday, April 2, 2015

R.I.P. Carlos Gaviria, Colombia's Civil Libertarian

Carlos Gaviria, 1937 - 2015.
Ever wonder at Colombia's surprisingly liberal laws, at least on things like drugs, gay rights, medicine and prostitution?

Brought to you by Carlos Gaviria.
For many years, the 'personal dose' of cocaine and marijuana was legal to possess and consume (altho not to buy and sell).

Colombian same-sex couples can't marry or adopt together, but they can inherit, receive each other's pensions and almost all other rights of heterosexual couples - surprising for a very Catholic developing nation.

Same thing for prostitution, which is conspicuously legal here.

And, to the Catholic Church's endless frustration, in Colombia abortion is legal in several narrow circumstances, and this is one of only three nations which allow euthanasia.

For these civil liberties thank - or blame - to a big extent academic, politician and Supreme Court judge Carlos Gaviria, who died this Tuesday at age 77.

Gaviria grew up in the Antioquia region, where he worked for many years as a judge, professor and human rights activist. In 1987, he fled Colombia during a wave of murder of leftists by right-wing forces linked to the government. Gaviria returned in the early 1990s and became a judge on the Constitutional Court, where he remained until 2001.

Gaviria is remembered for participating in two milestone court rulings: A 1994 ruling depenalizing the possession and consumption of the 'minimum dose' of drugs. Prohibitionist drug policies, Gaviria's opinion held, "damages human dignity, personal autonomy and the free development of the personality."

In 1997, he was the driving force behind a court ruling depenalizing doctor-performed euthenasia. Today, only Colombia, Belgium and Holland allow this practice.

Thru his support for these and other civil liberties, Gaviria helped set a liberal tone for Colombia's courts, which are markedly more progressive than either the populace, presidents or Congress.

As the far-left Polo Democratico Party's presidential candidate in 2006, Gaviria got trounced by far-rightist Alvaro Uribe. Yet, Gaviria still won a historically high vote for a leftist candidate.

During the campaign, Uribe labeled Gaviria a "disguised communist," which Gaviria denied. But Gaviria incited controversy by declaring that 'killing so that people lived better,' was different from killing for money, a statement which seemed to justify guerrilla crimes.

So, the next time that you smoke something that's not tobacco, violate church dicta or otherwise think for yourself in Colombia, you can thank Carlos Gaviria.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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