By Carlos Alberto Montaner
It seemed that Peru had been saved and marched steadily towards development.
That was what the World Bank predicted.
Having Chile as its neighbor was its secret. Peruvians had seen how the market, economic freedom, the mass of savings produced by the system of individual retirement accounts, and the seriousness in the management of finances and currency, had put Chile in a few decades at the forefront of Latin America and on the threshold of the First World. All that had to be done was to keep following the Chilean model closely.
It could not be done. It didn’t go that way. What happened? Perhaps, in general, the political class failed. Several presidents are behind bars, under house arrest, awaiting extradition or have committed suicide to avoid ignominy.
Peruvians have a very bad opinion of their leaders. While in Lima the show of the dissolution of the Congress was going on, in Curitiba, Brazil, Mr. Jorge Barata, Odebrecht’s strong man in Peru, revealed the names of several dozen corrupt Peruvian politicians, to the right and the left of the ideological spectrum, who had received money in exchange for favors for the Brazilian construction company.
Are the societies of Chile and Peru very different regarding the honesty of the public sector?
Perhaps. According to Transparency International, in a score where 100 means that no corruption is perceived, and 0, where the opposite happens and the country is rotten to the ground, Chile has 70 points, while Peru only reaches half ––35. The same happens with Uruguay (70) and Argentina (40), or with Costa Rica (56) and Nicaragua (25), bordering countries that even have a common or very close history.
Chile, Uruguay and Costa Rica, by the way, are the only Latin American countries that go above 50, a key point in which corruption is considered intolerable.
Venezuela, which is the worst, is 18, closely followed by Haiti, with just 20, and Ortega’s Nicaragua, which killed nearly 400 people in less than a year, only reaches 25.
It is not surprising that Chile, Uruguay and Costa Rica are the most predictable and calm societies in Latin America, while Venezuela, Haiti and Nicaragua -- the three countries perceived as more corrupt -- are in the opposite pole. There is an obvious relationship between honesty and stability, as there is also a relationship between robbery and institutional chaos.
That consistency has to do with republican institutions. The Republic is an artificial construction based on the premise that all human beings have the same rights and are equal before the law. From that belief, the institutions are set up so that there are no privileges of any kind.
Of course, there are “income seekers”, and even the existence of lobbies dedicated to these activities (in my opinion ignoble) is allowed, but the worst sin is to increase the price of goods and services for the benefit of the politicians and the officials who receive the bribes.
Why is it the worst sin?
At least, for three reasons.
First, because it teaches that wealth is not achieved through intense work and innovation, but by having the right friendships. Why study and burn the midnight oil if a powerful friend is enough?
Second, because it quickly rots the moral foundations of society. It is very easy to move from stealing the budgets to complicity with drug traffickers and mafias of all types of crime.
And third, because it generates great cynicism and an attitude of rejection of all the institutions of the Republic. The “let them all go” demand heard in Argentina is the return to the search for a dictator who saves us from our own inability.
In April 1992, Peruvians applauded Alberto Fujimori’s self-coup. 82% supported it. Over time, the strong man became corrupt with the help of Vladimiro Montesinos, and today they are both in jail. I don’t know how they don’t understand it –– we can only save ourselves by complying with the law and respecting the Republic’s institutions. Out of that is the abyss. Carlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest novel is A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected." His latest book is a review of Las raíces torcidas de América Latina (The Twisted Roots of Latin America), published by Planeta and available in Amazon, in printed or digital version.