By Carlos Alberto Montaner
One of the unforeseen consequences of globalization is the fight against corruption. I do not know if Lula da Silva realizes, and I do not even know if he is interested in realizing that his current Brazilian nightmares originated in a public orphanage in Milan, Italy, in 1992, when Mario Chiesa, the manager, charged the cleaning company contracted by the institution a small bribe of around 20,000 dollars.
It was the ninth time the poor fellow had to pay. Chiesa’s justification, which is quite possibly true, is that he had to share the money with his bosses. The contractor was wired by the police. Tired of paying bribes, he had complained to the police and had microphones on him. A prosecutor who did not fear the government, Antonio Di Pietro, began to investigate and discovered what all Italians felt, although vaguely – the country was a cesspit. It was rotten from head to toe.
The “Operation Clean Hands” organized by Di Pietro ended with the total destruction of the political structure built after World War II, 1,233 sentenced to jail, 429 acquitted defendants and about 30 suicides of corrupt and not-so-corrupt individuals, desperate because their reputations had been mistreated by the press, which hastened, as always happens, to finish off the wounded by giving them a civil death with a newscast or an editorial pointing at their napes.
The scuffle partially ended when Silvio Berlusconi, sentenced to 7 years, but acquitted on appeal, had the nerve to eliminate by a decree the prison sentence for the crimes of fraud and bribery, typical of the criminal skein unraveled by Di Pietro in what the press called Tangentopolis: the city of bribery. (Tangente is the elegant Italian word for those illegal revenues.)
Now Lula da Silva and almost the entire political structure, to the left and the right of the political spectrum, face prosecutor Sergio Moro, in a plot that links the great Brazilian business community, especially Odebrecht, to the country’s greatest source of corruption, Petrobras, as revealed by the magnificent series The Mechanism, presented by Netflix.
As in the Italian case, Brazilian corruption (and Mexican corruption, and that of almost all of Latin America) permeates society and has become a daily way of living. The most important officials and politicians allocate the big bids to the largest companies for a huge surcharge that they share among themselves, knowing that the citizens will pay it without protesting too much because many will collect their bribes for other illegal businesses.
That attitude is coming to an end everywhere as a consequence of the globalization of the fight against corruption. A phenomenon that expresses itself in the imitation of the heroic behavior of brave members of the judiciary who dare to judge powerful people, as happened in Italy and today happens in Spain, Brazil, Argentina or even Africa, where José Filomeno dos Santos, the son of former Angolan dictator Eduardo dos Santos (1979-2017), has been accused of stealing 500 million dollars from the public treasury.
In fact, it is very convenient that impunity ends. It is not a coincidence that the most developed and prosperous countries in the world are, basically, the most honest, or, at least, those in which there is no impunity. What is the relationship? Regardless of the indignity that these demoralizing behaviors entail, there are at least five key arguments to fight corruption:
- First, overpricing makes goods and services outrageously expensive.
- Second, market economy, based on private property, relies on open competition in prices and quality.
- Third, productivity – doing more and more with fewer resources – depends on competition. Without a gradual increase in productivity there is no progress or prosperity.
- Fourth, what would the entrepreneurs strive if the only important thing is the bribery and the relationships to do dirty businesses?
- Fifth, how can one complain about society’s contempt for governments where politicians and officials steal with impunity?
Since the end of the 18th century, the states under the rule of law have been established on the premise that sovereignty relies on citizens, and that all are equal before the law. A ruler cannot become rich illegally and demand that another individual does not sell drugs. All laws must be obeyed or otherwise we suffer the consequences.
Actually, it’s not something new. Globalization is not just a commercial issue. The necktie, the computers, the literary fashions, almost everything, conquer us gradually. Now it’s the turn of corruption. It’s good that Latin American governments realize that it is not a short-lived phenomenon or many politicians and businessmen will end up in prison. 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 book is the novel A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected."