Category Archives: Corruption

Peña Nieto on the front cover of TIME magazine


Last 16 February, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto made the front cover of TIME magazine. This issue spark off a heated debated in social media in Mexico, criticising Michael Crowley, the author, and TIME for allegedly “selling out” themselves to the Peña Nieto government.

As Crowley rightly points out, Peña Nieto only won the presidential election with 38% of the votes and therefore it is evident that his detractors react this way. I agree that perhaps the title of the story would have been better with an interrogation mark at the end: “SAVING MEXICO?”, but I must concede that the author presents both sides of the same coin. He highlights achievements and strengths of the country, but also points out the numerous challenges that the current government still has to overcome.

At the same time, I must recognise the sharp Mexican humor to transform the cover into this one.

In any case, I strongly invite you to read the article (or Spanish version) and make your own judgement.

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Filed under Corruption, Democracy, Development, Foreign investment, Macroeconomics, Mexico, News brief, Security, Uncategorized


International Crisis Group (ICG) recently published a report on criminal cartels activity in Mexico and the government’s strategy against them. The document presents an analysis of the situation and revises the strategies implemented by previous PAN government and the challenges and opportunities to the current administration.

crimenThe report highlights the participation of the three main political parties in the Pacto por Mexico proposed by Peña Nieto’s administration. The pact allowed the government to pass several major reforms, but in this particular case, the three parties backed up the security plan launched by Peña Nieto. ICG notes that the former PAN administration implemented a strategy to “fight a war” but if Peña Nieto wishes to finish with the violence in Mexico, his government needs to include additional actions, such as institutional capacity building, reinforcing police and justice systems and improving social inclusion programs.

The violent situation in Mexico is not only a challenge for the country, but also for Mexico’s Northern neighbour. The report indicates that the violence escalated after the US legislative ban in assault weapons ended in 2004. Mexico is confronted to domestic pressure to finish with criminal activity and externally to stop the flow of narcotics. Furthermore, Mexico’s situation seems relevant for other countries around the globe facing similar circumstances.

To download full report click here.

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Corruption, Brazil and governments of the left and right

If you’re following Brazilian politics you know that a number of very uncomfortable questions are being asked about the Worker’s Party (PT — Partido dos Trabalhadores), Lula’s former inner coterie, former president Lula himself, and corruption. The organic intellectuals, to use a term that the Gramscians on the left in the PT might like, are kicking into high gear and trying to provide a justification that will wipe away some of the cloying mud that is starting to stick to their side’s public image.

Carlos Alberto Sardenberg has just published a penetrating OpEd in the Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Globo that takes on these arguments with a very critical eye. The Portuguese version is linked here. (A quick Google translation is below because it is the holiday season… not fully satisfying, but it gives a sense of the piece’s content). Where all this will lead is an interesting subject for debate, and one that is very much vibrant and alive at the moment. What might be most interesting to watch is how Dilma will handle a potential maelstrom of corruption allegations and investigations that directly implicate her patron, Lula. So far she’s let Lula hold-overs caught on corruption charges swing in the wind. Such an approach might not be so easy with an ex-president who was instrumental in her election. As Sardenberg notes, like Lula she didn’t win election in the first round, but had to go to a second-round run-off.

Robbing for the people

Author (s): Carlos Alberto Sardenberg
O Globo – 20/12/2012
Intellectuals linked to the PT are flirting with a new theory to deal with the monthly allowance and other episodes like, would be inevitable, and even necessary, to steal a good popular government.

This is a clear response to the weight of events. Lifter inmates, their friends and dedicated Shiites, anyone with a minimum of apprenticeship feels comfortable with the story of the “farce of media and judiciary.”

If, however, there is evidence that public money was stolen and that political support was bought with public money, they have two options: either disembark from a heroic project that turned banditry or, well, join the thesis that all government steals, but the leftist steal and do less to include the poor.

We have seen two recent manifestations of this supposed new theory. In “Leaf”, Fernanda Torres in defense of Dirceu, drew inspiration from Shakespeare to speculate: maybe impossible to govern without violating the law.

In the “Value” Renato Janine Ribeiro wrote two columns to complete: Communist revolutionaries do not steal, steal reformist leftists once in government, but “might” have to do this to ensure the social inclusion policies.

Lifter false theoretical sophistication, this is the update very old thing. Yes, the reader guessed it: the staff are retrieving the “steals but does” created by ademaristas in the 50s. Now is the “steals but distributed.”

Nor is it surprising. Also in the recent election period, Marilena Chauí Maluf had placed on the list of mayors paulistanos filmmakers works in group Faria Lima, and out of the class of thieves.

It is so because: Dirceu is not corrupt, or gangster – but corruption and participated in the gang because if he did not, would not apply as the program’s popular PT.

How do you get this amazing stop-gap theory? Fernanda Torres offers a clue when he comments that the PT is taken as the party of the Brazilian people. Now, it follows, if the elites are a bunch of thieves acting against the people, what’s wrong to steal “for the people”?

Renato Janine Ribeiro works on the same theory, adding cases of leftist governments succeed and corrupt. It is not clear whether they are successful “despite” corrupt or, rather, for being corrupt. But for this last thesis is that the author leans.

It makes sense, of course. Begins is not true that every Conservative government is against the people and corrupt. Thatcher and Reagan examples maximum right, not robbed and brought great prosperity and welfare to its people. Here among us, and to go deep, Castello Branco and Medici also not robbed and their administrations brought growth and income.

On the other hand, the PT is not the people. Represents part of the people, the majority in the last three presidential elections. But attention has never won in the first round and opponents always have at least 40%. And in the first round of 2010, Serra and Marina did 53% of the votes.

Therefore, in democracies the government can not do everything, you have to respect the minority and this is done by respecting the laws, including the prohibition of stealing. And by respect for public opinion, expressed, among other ways, by the free press.

Why do not tolerate these limitations, the authoritarian parties, right and left, impose or try to impose dictatorships, explicit or disguised. They think that because they are the legitimate expression of the people, everything can.

So we fall back into old thesis: the ends justify the means, steal and murder.

Renato Janine Ribeiro says that Communist regimes have committed the sin of extreme physical violence, eliminating millions. But they were ethically pure, argues: liked limousines and dachas, but not put public money in his pocket. (By the way, take note here: this is a preview for a possible defense of Lula, when they begin to show signs that the former president and his family abused more perks than you know).

As communists, we say, were not “pure” by virtue but by impossibility. There was no private property, so that the corrupt were unable to build personal wealth. They stole money from his pocket and reserving part of the apparatus of the state, while the people they represented starved. Pure?

Notice: In China, a mixture of communism and capitalism, leaders and their families amassed, yes, large personal fortunes.

Returning to our Brazilian case, let’s speak frankly, no one needs to be a thief of public money to distribute Bolsa Família and raise the minimum wage.

They want it all?

Dilma can approve the MP ensures that a fall in electricity bills. The National Electricity System Operator says there will be more blackouts because there is no way to avoid them without investments that require higher fares.

That is, the account will be cheaper in compensation vai outa

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Jose Dirceu guilty in Brazil corruption trial

Lula’s former chief of staff and all-round superlative backroom operator Jose Dirceu has been found guilty of corruption for his involvement in the mensalão scandal. This matters because even though Dirceu fell from grace and saw his own presidential ambitions dashed when the scheme for buying legislative support for the Lula agenda was uncovered, Dirceu remained one of the most important movers and shakers not only in Brazil, but also in Latin America. Depending on the prison sentence length — if one is imposed and appeals don’t negate the whole trial process — it could more or less permanently push Dirceu from the scene. An interesting historical question will be the extent to which this causes people to reexamine Lula’s relationship to corruption during his presidency. At the moment he has a Reaganesque teflon shield that prevents the asking of awkward questions despite some questionable associations for the ex-president. While it is unlikely that anyone will suggest Lula lined his own pockets, people may start to ask how much he knew about what was going on, and if he didn’t, why not.

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Brazilian justice and the Mensalão

Matthew Taylor from the American University has quite a good piece in Brazil in Focus up on the Mensalão corruption scandal and some of the larger points it tells us about deficiencies in Brazil’s justice system. A telling section of the piece:

Whatever the reasons, this triumphalism is misplaced. Indeed, the mensalão trial is an important cautionary tale about Brazil’s rise to world prominence. Brazil’s byzantine judicial system is a significant impediment to development, and its failings aggravate corruption, stifle business, and threaten human rights. The court system is delay-ridden and exasperatingly formalistic, structured in ways that serve and benefit elites and their lawyers. Regardless of what sentences the high court eventually imposes, it is hard not to be appalled by how long it has taken to resolve a case that broke in 2005, during Lula’s first term. Although it started in the high court, and thus cannot be appealed, the mensalão case already has lasted more than seven times longer than a famously equivalent case, also involving a presidential chief of staff: the US Watergate case. And this is not even one of Brazil’s longest trials.

Worth a read.

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Judicial reform in Brazil

A useful piece by Reuters on Eliana Calmon and her efforts to bring anti-corruption reform to the judiciary in Brazil. This is not to say that the entire judicial system in Brazil is corrupt. Rather, the issue is one of the challenges of what Guillermo O’Donnell called ‘horizontal accountability’ — the effective implementation and action of mutual oversight and checks and balances in a fully functional democracy. It looks different in each country, and Brazil is diligently and very publicly strengthening its horizontal accountability frameworks.

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Blunt appraisal of Guatemala from ANCLAS student

ANCLAS Honours student Luci Foote-Short recently spent research time in Guatemala. Her blunt assessment is that the country faces some very significant challenges.

Guatemala is considered lower middle income by the World Bank, which presents an image of modest hope for Guatemala. This is incorrect. Guatemala is facing problems so severe that moving towards a better future is going to take huge amount of work.

Like most of Latin America, Guatemala has high inequality and social division. A small group of elites control the country, like they did during the civil war, only now it is under a façade of democracy. Democracy has not been consolidated in Guatemala, whilst competitive party elections are held every four years the result means little for Guatemalans. Corruption is widespread and widely acknowledged. The Vice President Roxanna Baldetti recently announced that 11 arrest warrants would be issued to members of the previous government, which was led by Álvaro Colom. A lack of electoral campaign reform has meant that campaigns finances are unregulated and funded by business elites and drug trade organisations at the local and national level. There is no sense that the government is a mechanism for representation in Guatemala.

The National Civil Police force (PNC) is believed to be rotten with corruption, lacking resources to fight crime and an income high enough to prevent grafts. They are unable and in some cases unwilling to protect is citizens. Reforms demanded in the Peace Accords in 1996, which transitioned Guatemala to democracy have not been correctly carried out. The PNC worked as section of the military during the civil war, instituting terror as a mechanism for control, conducting massacres, tortures and social cleansing. Poorly organised retraining and recruitment, after the end of the war means that many involved in the violence are now charged with preventing it, and they are failing. The Minister of the Interior, Mauricio López Bonilla, announced that the government is to purchase weapons for the PNC, who have a deficit of 250,000 weapons according to the government.  One young man in Guatemala City told me – “if there is a robber in your house, it is better to tell the police that you have shot him and could they please come and take away the body, rather than ask for help”.  The PNC lacks the capacity to fight narcotrafficking, which is becoming an increasingly apparent problem in Guatemala. And internal security is again become part of the Guatemalan Army’s role, deploying Special Forces or Kaibiles, to fight narcotrafficking. The Kabilies committed extreme atrocities during the civil war, and are trained in combat, rather than civilian and state defence, but they are the only resource Guatemala has to fight the narcotraffickers.

The US refuses to provide military aid until those responsible for Human Rights violations that occurred during the civil war are bought to justice. But with an impunity rate measured at 98% by the UN’s special Guatemalan Mission, justice is hard to come by and any widespread investigation into crimes committed during the war, of which the state is responsible for 93%, would fracture the entire system. Which according to a journalist I spoke to, is entirely based on impunity, obvious in the fact that the current President Otto Peréz Molina is suspected of committing such abuses during the war.


Filed under Analysis, Corruption, Democracy, Guatemala, Uncategorized

Lula and his legacy?

On the whole, Lula did a good job as president. He pulled 30 million out of poverty, rapidly expanded the middle class, and entrenched Brazil as an economically and politically credible country. His charismatic touch continues to stroke Brazil. If he ran in an election today he likely could win without campaigning. The very genuine love many Brazilians hold for Lula might explain why so few trenchant questions are being asked about how he governed, questions that probably should be resurfacing very forcefully with the publication of this photo:

Public reaction has not been what we could call good. O Estado de São Paulo is running reports of general disgust at the cheerful body language between Lula (left), Fernando Haddad (centre, and current Workers Party candidate for mayor of São Paulo) and Paulo Maluf (right, former governor and mayor of São Paulo and current federal deputy).

Why is this an issue? Maluf’s current job as federal deputy is providing him with a handy escape route from prosecution for corruption. In 2005 he actually spent 40 days in jail on accusations of racketeering, tax evasion and money laundering, being sent home from a private prison cell with personal telephone line and cable tv for house arrest because he was over 70 years of age. In 2007 Maluf was indicted in New York on charges of conspiring to steal $11.6 million, with prosecutors having additional questions about some $140 million that passed through an account he controlled with Safra Bank in New York.

For Haddad the question is whether or not the apparent chumminess with Maluf in the photo will have a negative impact on mayoral run.

The questions for Lula should be a lot deeper.

While there is hopefully little substance to charges that Lula himself is actively corrupt in the sense attributed to Maluf, a certain stench is starting to surround his legacy. Just a couple of key examples stand out.

First, Lula’s first term was marked by a vote buying scandal that saw presidential confidant and adviser Jose Dirceu engineer a program of paying federal congressmen to support the government’s legislative agenda. Dirceu was run out of congress, which entailed a suspension of some key political rights such as a temporary ban on running for office. But Dirceu was not run out of the Lula machine, continuing on as an informal adviser and shuttle diplomat managing various left-wing irritants in South America.

The second and more damning suggestions come from the legacy Lula left Dilma, whom he effectively appointed to the presidency when term limits prevented him from running again. Stuck with a number of Lula’s ministers as the price for the former president’s benediction, Dilma appears to have taken a rather pragmatic attitude of letting the corrupt hang themselves. One of the first to go was her chief political minister Antonio Palocci amidst charges that he exploited his public position to amass some serious consulting contracts. At least a further six ministers have subsequently been ditched for corruption. Keeping track of the accusations and resignations is getting to be a bit like following the convoluted plot of a telenovela.

The leading foreign policy journal Foreign Affairs has recently published a vigorous exchange of articles and replies about whether or not Brazil can sustain its development path. Corruption very much remains a part of the picture, and in particular an attitude to the corrupt activities of high officials that still holds too much in common with the sort of local boss characters found in a Jorge Amado novel. As the Estadao articles from June 19 and 20 appear to suggest, public patience is wearing very thin.

What will be interesting to see is if this will lead to questions and a vibrant and inclusive public discussion about Lula, his legacy, and future directions for Brazil. Estadão has already started with awkward musings about how far Lula will compromise for his electoral ambitions. Others might start to ask how much Lula knew about the nefarious activities of his ministers and closest advisors, and if he didn’t know, why not? Dilma is likely quietly counting on this to kill her padron’s ambitions for a return to office in 2014.

–Sean Burges

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