A few days ago I attended an event of the interAmerican Dialogue in which the president of Transparency International, José Ugaz held a conversation with Michael Shifter. The event was titled: “Harnessing the anti-corruption wave in Latin America”. It was very well attended and ably conducted by Shifter. I was very impressed by Mr. Ugaz, who seemed to be very much up to date on the topic of corruption in our region. Ugaz gave us a panoramic view of corruption in Latin America, including the following, as I remember:
· There is an old corruption and a new corruption. The old corruption mostly had to do with families and individuals. The new corruption has much to do with political, transnational gangs.
· There are different types of corruption: historical, systemic, public-private alliances. Ugaz mentioned the cases of Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Peru, even Colombia. Several of these cases connected Peruvian former presidents to the Brazilian company Odebrecht. Ugaz mentioned how Presidents Humala and Toledo were accused of receiving money from Odebrecht and also mentioned the name of Alan Garcia as suspected of corruption. I was glad to see that Ugaz did not hesitate in naming names, because corruption remains an abstract, empty word if it is not connected with the names of the corrupt.
· The fight against corruption, he said, is in two tracks: accountability and prevention. I had the impression that good progress had been done in the former but not much progress had been achieved in the latter, since cases of corruption today were more numerous than ever before.
· The models of the fight against corruption were essentially two: the Guatemalan model, in which there is international intervention and the Brazilian-Peru model, in which the fight is carried domestically, thanks to civil society and the initiative of courageous, honorable judges
· Ugaz mentioned the split within the OAS, which made it difficult to progress in sanctioning Venezuela. In answer to a question from the audience he described the Venezuelan situation as really chaotic and very corrupt
· Some of the mechanisms in the fight against corruption include legal action against illicit financial deals, the fight against drug trafficking, more transparency in the identification of the owners of shell companies, investigation of the private-public sectors links, etc.
Is it possible to create a supranational organization to fight corruption?
I asked Mr. Ugaz if he could envision the creation of supranational organizations that could tackle the issues of corruption, now that “old” corruption had morphed into transnational organized crime and a country by country fight only seemed to have limited power. He answered that he was not optimistic since states that would make up such a supranational entity are frequently the very sources of corruption. This is, of course, the tragedy of the OAS, as we all know well. His answer was logical when viewed in the conventional way of organizations such as the OAS or, even, the United Nations. However, it could be possible to create an Anti-Corruption Global Forum, public-private in nature, made up of organizations of civil society such as Transparency International and of countries that feel strongly that a fight against corruption should be expanded. Such a global entity could investigate transnational corruption and, based upon these investigations, allow states that so desire to apply unilateral sanctions. Such a Forum could carry much clout as a moral force in the world, even if it does not have legal authority to sanction.
This is just a very sketchy thought and could well be impractical, but in the fight against the new faces and mechanisms of corruption we might be forced to think outside the box.