A Brief Report Card on Corruption in Latin America

Another important development has taken place in the anti-corruption wave in Latin America.

Another important development has taken place in the anti-corruption wave in Latin America.

This incident involved the vice president of Uruguay who resigned after months of accusations that he made personal use of the Uruguayan national oil company’s credit cards. The Vice President, Raul Sendic, was the president of the oil company called ANCAP from 2009 to 2013. It was proven that he used the company’s credit card for personal shopping to purchase jewelry, sports clothing and electronics. Likewise, he was ethically questioned by a forum of his own political coalition as he lied about his academic credentials. Sendic claimed he held a degree in genetics from a Cuban university, an argument he strongly defended but later admitted he never received.

This may sound like a joke to the average Latin American especially after the scandals involving the giant Brazilian company, Odebrecht. That scandal involved several Latin American governments, high level leaders and political parties which were implicated in a bribery scheme making the Uruguayan situation sound meaningless. Indeed, the impeachment of Brazilian former president, Dilma Rousseff, and the incarceration of the former speaker of the Brazilian House of Representatives are major acts of corruption where millions of dollars in bribes involved the highest levels of government in various countries.

Yet,the Sendic case is not a meaningless case. In fact, it is a symptom of something more important. It is not a matter of how little or big the scandal was or how much money it involved. Sendic was investigated by his own ruling coalition, the Broad Front, which found Sendic’s behavior ethically and politically unacceptable. The ethics committee of the Broad Front reprimanded him for denying wrong doing and found his behavior unbecoming as he was the one who set up the rules and regulations regarding the use of credit cards in the company he then presided over.

The unraveling of the Odebrecht scandal brought about the indictment of the former Brazilian president, Luis Ignazio “Lula” Da Silva, (who was condemned to 10 years in prison on a separate case of corruption). Likewise, an order of arrest was issued against the former Peruvian president, Alejandro Toledo, for receiving a bribe of 20 million dollars. A Peruvian judge ordered 18 months of preventive prison to the immediate past Peruvian president, Ollanta Humala, and his wife, both accused of money laundering.

Likewise, in Colombia,it is suspected that the electoral campaign of the current president, Juan Manuel Santos, received 1 million dollars from Odebrecht. The Colombian attorney general pointed out that Odebrecht paid the costs of the Santos campaign as well as his challenger,Oscar Zuluaga, in the 2014 presidential elections.

The role of heroic judges such as the Brazilian,Sergio Moro, who led the investigations in Brazil, had a spiral positive influence in parts of the continent.

Such a scenario is for now, difficult to imagine in Argentina where the former president,Cristina Kirchner, has a number of accusations of corruption that include money laundering, illegal association with a pharmaceutical company and public suspicion that she was responsible for the assassination of a prosecutor who was investigating her and her government. The current Argentinean government led by Mauricio Marci is investigating these cases but the generalized corruption in Argentina also reaches judges. If any successful indictment takes place in Argentina, it would be a miracle for there is no crime that is successfully resolved or corrupt politician that is successfully tried.

In Mexico, the government tried to undermine a team of international investigators that was working to resolve a case involving the murder of 43 students allegedly murdered with the complicity of local police and local authorities. The Mexican government spied on the international investigators and refused to cooperate with them. The sabotage of the investigation has serious complications in the war against drugs, as it is suspected that the mayor of the town where they were murdered had connections to drug cartels. A cover up of this kind has serious consequences for Mexico’s rule of law and constitutes a major regional threat as it encourages impunity for criminals and for government and law enforcement officials associated with them.

Of course, the deposal of such high government officials is inconceivable in countries like Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and certainly not in Venezuela.

The resignation of Mr. Sendic perhaps reflects how countries with a more democratic tradition are now reacting to corruption after an anti-corruption social movement, whose epicenter is Brazil, began to spread in Latin America. Countries with deeper traditions of corruption such as Argentina and Mexico are not likely to respond positively any time soon as they are armored against transparency and accountability. In Venezuelan, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, corruption and criminality are part of the very essence and identity of the regimes. The narco-state is the state where criminality is part of a method of governance. Corruption and criminality are not means but ends in itself, instruments of intimidation and control of the population.

There is a long way to go in Latin America to get rid of the illness of corruption that has conspired against economic progress, has betrayed public trust, and has turned government against its citizens and law enforcement and public officials into criminals.

Published by Center for Security Policy on Monday September 18th, 2017

*The opinions published herein are the sole responsibility of its author.*