The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – On Venezuela, Integrity, and Wrongful Conception
Any sensible resolution to the ongoing crisis in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela ought, arguably, to go beyond the current simplistic sloganeering of being for “Team Maduro” (Russia, China, Cuba) or for “Team Guaidò” (US, UK and others), depending on the nation’s political interest.
The current situation there is also far more complex than one to which our neutral foreign policy shibboleth of being “friends of all and satellites of none” might apply so as to offer a helpful suggestion, and Barbados patently does not possess the necessary geopolitical clout to be a major player in any final solution. Indeed, it may be reasonably regarded as an issue that we might prudently steer clear of, had it not been for the relative proximity of Venezuela to the Caribbean basin and the high probability of regional contagion from any civil war there.
We might consider aligning ourselves with our CARICOM neighbours, but, even in that body, there exists the identical divisions that exist internationally, each member state’s position being voiced in accordance with its own perceived national interests. As a collective, the region appears to have agreed on a rational call for further dialogue and diplomacy in the matter, although it might be legitimately queried whether the time for this has not already passed. Yet the alternative is too awful to contemplate. Clearly, the immediate outcome will be either a continuation of the existing Maduro regime or a change to an unelected Guaidò-led government.
The paramount consideration in this matter ought to be the best interests of the ordinary Venezuelan people, even if, from a purely legalistic point of view, the rule of law would consider the current Guaidò claim to the presidency nugatory. In this scenario, the issue should ideally be resolved by democratic arbitrament, but Sr. Maduro has already resisted this course. But therein lies the real complexity. How does one replace or install a governing administration outside of the constitutionally stipulated mode of doing so, except by changing the grundnorm, (the supra-constitutional order) which gives that administration its legitimacy? Revolution, (not necessarily violent), an outcome that no one wants, but one that now appears inevitable, usually effects that change.
It might be a commentary, sad or otherwise, on the current state of local social existence when the return of a wallet containing a sum of money found by some schoolchildren goes viral on local social media. Of course, it was a commendable gesture, but I am assuming that it is not widely known that the alternative might have involved each of them in a possible criminal charge of theft by finding, so that their good deed was not only morally right but also the legally correct thing to do.
On Monday last week, four pupils from the Reynold Weekes Primary School found a wallet containing a substantial sum of money and agreed among themselves to give it to the snack vendor in order for her to contact the owner. Not that they did not explore other options –“We had a plan to just leave it…” “We were saying that the money would have benefited us for a long time but then we realized it was wrong to take it…”
At the same time, the honesty of these children should be a teaching moment for many of us, including those public officials for whom the state is currently seeking to establish elaborate and expensive legislative machinery to prevent and control corruption in public life.
It was the youngsters’ conscience and not their knowledge and fear of the criminal law that ultimately dictated their plan of action. Would that our public officials were similarly minded when confronted with the possibility of benefit from corruptly using their office through illegally conferring a benefit on another for reward.
The difference may lie in true education. Here, I am drawn to the words of the school’s principal as reported in another section of the press. He stated, “Education is not only about academia, but it is also about building character…”
Perhaps we should engage in the re-education, as defined by the Principal, of our public officers rather than enacting complex legislation to guide them as to the right thing to do.
The children’s response in this scenario demonstrates clearly that corruption may be grounded in an admixture of selfishness, greed and a lack of concern for the plight of others. In his book, “Born a Crime”, Trevor Noah, the host of the popular “Today Show”, distinguishes between the circumstance where the criminal is aware of the identity of his or her victim and that where he or she is not. In the latter case, there is usually little or none of the remorse or sympathy that might be felt in the former situation. An act of corruption in public life is of the latter ilk; the victim is some remote, unidentifiable entity. Remorse? What remorse?
Someone or other must have compiled, by now, a volume recounting legal actions brought in the weirdest circumstances. Such as that of the burglar who sued a homeowner for the personal injury he sustained when he fell through the skylight of a home in the course of an attempted burglary. Or the one brought by Mr Vezmar of Austin, Texas who filed action against his date for the cost of the movie ticket after she spent a substantial period of the evening on her phone. According to Vezmar,
“… she used her phone at least 10-20 times in 15 minutes to text and [to]check her messages.”
Not all weird lawsuits originate in the US, however. During last week, we learnt of an Indian man, Raphael Samuel, who is suing his parents for giving birth to him without his consent and thereby causing him a life of suffering.
I am at a loss as to how this suit should be classified. I am fully aware of actions for wrongful birth, as for example where the parents of an unwanted child sue for the economic loss resulting to them from the birth of the child. There is also the action for wrongful life, brought by the child alone or with the parents on the ground that the child should not have been born. These actions are ordinarily brought against medical authorities that may have been negligent in performing a sterilization operation or in advising as to the success of one.
The suit here though seems to be one for wrongful conception, in that the man is suing both his parents and is complaining that he was created without his consent. In my opinion, this action is doomed to failure. For one, his claim of no consent to his own conception is plainly far-fetched. According to his mother, a lawyer –
“… if Raphael could come up with a rational explanation as to how we could have sought his consent to be born, I will accept my fault..”
For another, the law sets its face, rightly or wrongly, against regarding the birth of a healthy child as an actionable wrong. So that for all of Mr Samuel’s notion that “the world would be a much better place without human beings in it”, based on his belief in anti-natalism – a philosophy that argues that life is so full of misery that people should stop procreating immediately, it is doubtful that he will find a fellow believer in a temporal court that itself thrives on human existence.