Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Defamation

A Guatemalan friend of my wife was recently unfairly criticised on one of the local (largely ex-pats) classifieds groups in the manner that threatened to go viral on social media.  

He requested to join the group so that he could answer these criticisms, but was denied, having been informed rather curtly that it was a ‘closed group’. So he has decided to sue them for defamation, and in this I have to congratulate him. 



Handily, Guatemala has a fairly draconian provision in the penal code against calumny (section 164), with those found guilty facing prison terms of between two and five years. This should focus a few minds. 

In the past twelve months I too have twice been the victim of some pretty cack-handed attempts to defame me, though not in digital format. 

My would-be detractors both had in mind to use Guatemala’s equally draconian laws designed to protect women from male aggression. 

In the first instance, my neighbour’s not-so-smart spouse was put up to take me to court for having insulted her using what she described in the police report as obscene language. Fortunately I had the stamp in my passport showing that I was not even in the country on the day she called the cops.

The judge duly declared her to be in contempt of court and she was also informed that she was lucky to have avoided the sort of counter-prosecution that would have resulted in a custodial sentence. It was joyful to behold how pale and flabbergasted her lawyer became upon learning that she had been lied to by her client and friend. 

A couple of months later my dog and I were attacked and hurt by a loose pit bull owned by other residents of the village. When they refused to accept responsibility, I made a police report and their initial defence  recorded by the microphones in the courtroom  was that I had attacked a pregnant woman in the aftermath of the attack, thereby causing her to be rushed to hospital for a premature birth. 



Luckily for them, they changed lawyer and tack for the final audiencia, as I had security camera evidence showing how they had called up the pregnant woman and how she then arrived on scene some thirty minutes AFTER I had departed. (I also know the date her baby was actually born, as she told the world on social media. Duh!) 

I don’t think I would have hesitated to sue for defamation in this case. And if I ever get a sense that the damaging lie is still being spread around the village, I may still do so —  especially as the CCTV footage strongly suggested that the pit bull was deliberately provoked into attack by the pregnant girl's mother. 

A further testament to the somewhat heavy-handed nature of the newish 'femicide' laws in Guatemala (I’ve heard some in the legal profession here complaining that they have been funded by and largely foisted on the country by foreign NGOs) is that another resident of the village recently had a restraining order placed on him by his own neighbour before he had had any opportunity to appear in court to defend himself. He had to bring his own case against her, which he won, but the six month prohibition against interactions with her remained in place. 

Anyway, in the previous case I shook hands with my neighbour’s wife in the courtroom on the understanding that we would both try to keep the peace in future, but I may now review this ‘treaty’, as her husband clearly has no intention of honouring it, and they are now in breach of both the law against defamation AND that protecting women, as he has since repeatedly insulted my own wife (using suitably obscene language) in front of multiple witnesses...and cameras. 

That said, the due process of legal satisfaction in La Antigua is notoriously painful, with lawyers and judges seemingly working in tandem to string things along and to then deliver inconclusive rapprochements between all parties. 

My experiences in 2018 have nevertheless been enlightening and I have acquired a new legal representative  himself a former judge  who I feel will be a better guide through this minefield, if ever I have the need to traverse it again. 



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