Trafficking in Persons in Colombia - Núm. 5, Mayo 2008 - Revista Via Inveniendi et Iudicandi - Libros y Revistas - VLEX 42489104

Trafficking in Persons in Colombia

AutorJorge Restrepo Fontalvo
CargoProfessor of Criminology, and Director of the line of research "Criminal Law and Reality" at the Universidad Santo Tomás in Bogotá

    Lecture read at the Three-Parties (Japan-Korea-Germany) Seminar on Criminal Law at the University of Konstanz (Germany), on June 21st, 2006.

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In order to understand Colombia's legal reality, it seems convenient to use the old "Sala Model" developed by FRED RIGGS for studying comparative administration, with special emphasis on the developing countries.1

RIGGS classifies societies attending to their degree of "diffraction". His model uses a metaphor borrowed from Physics: that of the process that takes place when a ray of light goes through a prism and is diffracted. If we take a look at the figure below, we see on the left a fused ray of light. On the right hand side, we could notice that the light has been diffracted. Any one who is far from being an expert on Physics could pose an elementary question: what happens to the ray in the moment that it is going through the prism? Elaborating on this simple metaphor, RIGGS classifies societies in three groups: fused, prismatic, and dif-Page 3fracted ones. Colombia is a prismatic society, Germany is a diffracted one, and so is Japan; I tend to believe that Korea is still, in some respects, a prismatic society. Law in general, and specifically criminal law, plays a very different role in these two kinds of societies.


As the fused ray of white light, that has not yet penetrated into de prism, contains all the colours present in the rainbow, in the fused or "primitive" societies exist a clear concentration of power in its many fold manifestations. In this kind of societies, all expressions of power are held by the same hands: one person, or a relatively small number of persons, holds religious, economic, and political power. The shaman is much more than simply a religious leader: he owns significant shares of the group's wealth, and rules the most important aspects of social life, including those related to health. He is, all at once, priest; economical, military and social leader, healer, and master of all arts.

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On the other hand, in "diffracted" societies, the power, on its different manifestations, is completely institutionalized, and there is a sort of systematic separation of roles: political, economic and religious powers (and, of course, also the academic one) are, somehow, independent from one another, and within each one of these areas of power, exists some kind of a hierarchy and division of tasks: political power, for instance, is effectively divided into the three traditional branches: ones are the persons who make the laws, and other ones those who enforce them, or apply them to concrete cases.

And, how do these structures of power work in a prismatic society? In this class of societies, it seems to coexist, in reality, the essence of a fused society, with the formal institutions proper of a diffracted one. Formally, prismatic societies seem to be diffracted, but, in reality, within them, there are many characteristic expressions of fused or primitive societies.

Prismatic societies, such as Colombia, pay a very high toll to formalism. Very often, forms become more important than real achievements. The groups that effectively control the different spheres of power frequently advocate for changes in the forms in order to maintain reality unchanged. As we often say, in Colombia everything is permanently changing so that everything remains unchanged.

This might explain the incredible volume of legal production in prismatic societies. Since I began to study Law, all main codes but one (the Civil Code) have been completely changed in my country. In a period of less than 25 years, we have had three Penal Codes, and during the legal life of each one of them, they were modified in several points, practically every single year. I am somehow worried for remaining too many days away from home: by the time I return I might find new laws regarding several of the matter that I am professionally interested in.

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So, Colombia could as well be defined as a country of laws, but we Colombians know that many of our laws frequently remain non-enforced. They are like the neat "sala" for visitors, while our "family rooms" (i.e., reality), at the back, keep messed and, somehow, barred to "outsiders", that is, to those (like many members of...

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