In Colombia, a prosecutor crusading against drug corruption put 10 percent of Congress behind bars and almost brought down the president. The Honduran attorney general has jailed several Cabinet ministers and a former mayor.
Guatemalans are watching televised trials with the gusto Americans displayed for the O.J. Simp-son case - and beginning to build faith in a court system that for decades delivered anything but justice.A quiet revolution is taking place in judicial systems throughout Latin America, where slow, corrupt and politicized courts have long undermined public confidence in the law.
Much of the region has begun to move away from the seemingly endless exchange of written arguments typical of the inquisitory legal system inherited from Spain. Many countries are adopting versions of the U.S. system, with public trials, oral arguments, prosecutors and citizen juries.
Nowhere is the change more dramatic and sweeping than in Venezuela, which is investing $120 million to revamp a plodding criminal justice system that has jammed jails with defendants awaiting trials.
"This is about the survival of our democracy," said Gisela Parra, president of Venezuela's Judicial Council.
Congress passed the Criminal Procedure Law in December, scrap-ping the secretive, written system that often gave rise to scandals like the arrests in early May of a Caracas judge and three of her underlings on charges of taking bribes to acquit a drug gang.
Scheduled to be fully implemented by July 1, 1999, the new law aims to curb such corruption by making trials public. By doing away with lengthy paperwork, it is also supposed to ease the system's astounding backlog - at last count, only 7,945 of the 25,379 people in Venezuela's jails had actually been convicted; the rest were waiting for trials.
"In the new system, a person's right to liberty will be respected," Attorney General Ivan Dario Badell told The Associated Press.