A series of recent corruption scandals in Latin America and the Caribbean threatens to destabilize a number of nations that are already suffering from organized crime, weak institutions, and the highest levels of violence in the world. On July 15, 2015, the Perry Center examined this trend in its most recent Hemispheric Forum titled, “Corruption in the Western Hemisphere: Impediment to Citizen Security and Democratic Consolidation.”
Four expert panelists joined the debate. Ambassador Adam Blackwell, Secretary for Multidimensional Security at the Organization of American States (OAS), Ms. Claudia Dumas, President & CEO, Transparency International – USA, Dr. Derrick McKoy, Dean of Faculty of Law, University of the West Indies in Jamaica, and Dr. Harold Trinkunas, Senior Fellow and Director of the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution examined the multi-faceted elements of corruption.
Moderator Pat Paterson, a professor at the Perry Center, started by pointing out the recent headline-producing scandals that have a number of Latin American leaders under intense scrutiny for their alleged ethical lapses. In Brazilian cities, millions of people marched – some of them demanding the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff – to protest the Petrobras scandal in which billions of dollars were siphoned off in bribes and suspicious contracts. In Guatemala, Vice President Ingrid Roxana Baldetti was forced to resign on May 9, 2015 because of allegations of fraudulent enrichment. More recently, the Guatemalan Congress met to decide whether to strip President Pérez Molina of his immunity, an action that could subsequently lead to his trial on charges of corruption. In neighboring Honduras, President Juan Hernández has also been the subject of media and public protest for using as much as $200 million in public finances to fund his 2013 campaign. In Chile, President Michelle Bachelet’s approval ratings have plummeted by double digit percentage points because of her alleged ties to an enrichment scandal run by family members. In Trinidad and Tobago, former Minister of Security Jack Warner was arrested in the FIFA scandal about a month ago. And the recent escape of El Chapo from the Mexico’s Altiplano Maximum Security Prison – almost certainly with the assistance of insiders – is the latest blow to Mexican President Peña Nieto and his government. This follows in the wake of the Sept 2014 murder of 43 students in Iguala, allegedly at the orders of the Mayor and his wife. President Peña Nieto and First Lady Angélica Rivera faced massive protests a few months ago over the First Lady’s reported million dollar pay off by contractors who received preferential treatment.
Panelists emphasized that corruption is not unique to Latin America or the Caribbean. For example, the US has dropped a number of ranks in corruption polls because of the perceived influence of political favoritism through financial donations. Additionally, the US experienced first hand the obstacle that corruption can present to citizen security. In 2014, outgoing ISAF Commander General John Allen called corruption the most serious threat to stability in Afghanistan, even more so than Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or the weak government institutions in the country.
During the two-hour discussion – also live-streamed to nearly 20 countries in the hemisphere – the panelists identified a number of tools useful to combat corruption: public disclosure of politicians’ finances, freedom of information agreements (FOIA), protection programs for whistleblowers, hotlines, education programs, inspector general investigations, building political will, a robust civil society, a free press, and an independent judiciary among others.
For interested audience members trying to develop their own doctrines on the subject, Moderator Pat Paterson offered two reference guides that provide lengthy anti-corruption and counter-corruption guidelines.