Juan Guzmán Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Confronting Chile's History: Conversation with Juan Guzman, Chief Judge, Court of Appeals, Santiago, Chile; 4/17/01 by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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Is this process changing you, are you being transformed as part of this process, besides the chains that you are tied to in undertaking this? How is it changing you?

Well, yes, it's changing me, as I think all difficult tasks change a man. I like to have fun, to play with the kids and make jokes and try to be funny -- I'm not very funny, but I try to be funny. Well, curiously, I have continued being that way. I mean, I need to, in order to be able to continue hearing and reading and investigating so many things. I won't put another adjective to the sort of things I have to see. But I have changed internally. Guzman visiting with former student Alejandro Huneeus in San Francisco, April, 2001; Huneeus is now a grad student at UC BerkeleyI could say, without being pretentious, that I am starting to know more what the human condition is without understanding it. I cannot understand how so much hatred can exist. I don't think I've known hatred. I don't think you know hatred, you have a beautiful look in your eyes. Hatred is something you receive and you feel. Well, I don't understand hatred. And in all the criminal affairs, there is a certain proportion of hatred.

These three years that I have been working on this case have made me see a little bit more in the hearts of men. I also have seen much compassion, people that are victims, people whose relatives have died or been tortured, and it's incredible the capacity of compassion that many people do have. So besides many, many other things I've been realizing, I think this case is very educational for me as well. I'm not the same man I was before; I've changed internally. I feel older, in another way, not in a physical way, but perhaps in a way. I think I have, in three years, taken the maturity that could take twenty years for another person to achieve. Perhaps this was the way I had to mature.

What general insights have you drawn, if any, about what leads to stepping over the boundary, in terms of these forces of hatred you're talking about? Is it that we're all capable of something like that? Is it that power corrupts? Is there any tentative generalization that you're ready to make without making a judgment on the case?

You know, just one, that I think that man doesn't know how to construct and I think he has a need to destroy also. I think that's the only conclusion. We would have thought that the Inquisition and terrible things like that would not have made a better society for us in the twentieth century; why did the Holocaust occur then? I don't know.

It's a good thing to have a trial, but I think that we are, or have been always, with our values absolutely changed. For example, when we came here, say, the Europeans, and killed so many Indians or natives for the glory of religion, and at the same time we got our pockets full of gold. You don't know, really, what to believe. I think that we, in Chile, now, are buying planes from the States, the States is selling arms to Chile and to other countries. Well, I don't know. I think that there's something we, mankind, have not learned. So those are just thoughts that arrive to me every day, and perhaps I didn't think so much about these matters before the case.

You were a student of literature who became a judge. In this phase of your career, are you more of a pessimist or more of an optimist about humankind, and even though you're a judge, does literature help you reach a balance in your conclusions?

It gives me lots of interior peace. I could say that. Reading religious literature -- now, I'm reading something about the Dalai Lama. Fiction also gives me peace. A few days ago, I just finished reading the first edition of Lady Chatterely, the first version of it; much better than the last. Literature helps me very much, for my interior peace; it's like prayer. Perhaps it makes me make better written decisions, but I don't think these readings interfere in the decisions by themselves.

Are you more inclined to be an optimist about mankind and womankind or more of a pessimist because of this recent experience?

In spite of all, I am very optimistic. This issue of human rights that we were speaking about -- and it all really relates to human rights -- the fact that the world is worrying so much about human rights today makes me very optimistic. It makes me see that at least in our intentions, we have better thoughts than we had in the past. And as a person, I am very optimistic, I have always been.

Judge Guzmán, thank you very much for taking this time to be with us, and to talk about your life and your current work.

Thank you very much, Harry.

And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation With History.

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