So it seems. Each passing day, the list of Venezuelan cleptocrats designated as undesirable by the United States and the European Union grows. It is not only a question of political hostility. There is an international reaction against corruption. Washington and Brussels have taken it seriously. It’s not a conjunctural phenomenon. It’s a practice that will continue and grow until all nations internalize it.
Numerous politicians, everywhere in the planet, fail to understand that the stage of impunity for the crimes related to corruption in the public sphere is coming to an end. For milennia, the rule was that whoever held the leadership of State would divvy up most of the revenue with the powerful. The monarch and his cabal enriched the courtiers and the latter kept them in their posts. The noblemen didn’t pay taxes but one of their duties was to support the king in his military adventures.
That practice continues in two thirds of the world. In that corrupt universe, there exists a secret alliance between the political and economic powers. Even in the nations where such a thing is not allowed, it is acceptable for businesses to bribe the functionaries and politicians in the countries where corruption is practiced. In Germany, up until a few years ago, it was legal to pay “commissions” abroad to those who ruled on the tenders.
In Spain, where bipartisanship is about to collapse due to the corruption of Popular Party and Socialist Party officials, it was learned that banks BBVA and Santander illegally funded Hugo Chávez’s election in 1998 with $1 million each. They bought protection (futilely), as it was always done during Venezuela’s democratic era, except that in that instance they were “buying the rope for their own necks.”
A Spanish businessman working for a multinational company told me, looking worried: “Go do business in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Arab world without offering bribes. You won’t even sell a doughnut.” In fact, that’s what happened in Spain itself until a few decades ago, when “influence peddling” was not even a crime and the transition to democracy was funded illegally by feeding the political parties on the margins of the Law.
But because everything evolves, including habits and customs, U.S. politicians have globalized decent influence with their Foreign Corrupt Practice Act. Any U.S. company doing business abroad must abide by it, and if it doesn’t (has happened to IBM in Argentina), it must pay the consequences.
This doesn’t mean that Americans are more honest than the rest of mortals, but that they’re obligated to follow the rules because they live under a notably punitive Rule of Law that keeps 3 million behind bars — and the calaboose is no trifling matter. Add to this the work of the Drug Enforcement Administration, which monitors traffic in narcotics, or the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is capable of imposing major fines when U.S. legislation is violated, as has happened to important Swiss and French banks.
In the U.S. government, the hypothesis is flourishing that not only drug trafficking endangers national security, as happens with terrorism or illegal immigration, but also the corruption ongoing in other countries, for its power to destabilize and, potentially, unleash violence in the failed states.
The influential Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has established this in its report “Corruption: The Unrecognized Threat to International Security.” That work contributes the vision that now governs Washington and, to a degree, Brussels. Every leader who is genuinely concerned should tell his Foreign Minister to read it. That’s the target.
Published in Spanish by El Blog de Montaner on Saturday February 17th, 2018