The political tornado that is Odebrecht in Latin America continues tearing through the region.
With the suicide of former Peruvian president Alan García, who before being detained decided to shoot himself in the head, there is no end in sight to the consequences of the illegal contracts linked to the construction company. It is one of the greatest corruption scandals in Latin American history, and we are still far from discovering the full scope of the problem.
Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Venezuela and Peru are just a few of the countries that have been sucked into this huge network of bribes since a Brazilian judge uncovered the scandal in 2014.
The Brazilian construction giant allegedly paid up to $788 million to obtain political favours and more than 100 construction contracts, the majority of which were public projects, committing financial crime that threatens the integrity of Latin America’s democracies.
Out of those affected, Peru has been one of the cases that has taken significant steps to combat the corruption linked to Odebrecht. With arrest warrants against ex-presidents such as Alejandro Toledo, currently fugitive in the US, Ollanta Humala, and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the Peruvian judicial system has proved its capacity to take these accusations seriously.
Demonstrating that the highest tiers of government were implicated in this bribery scandal could have tragic consequences, such as the suicide of Alan García. The prosecution of those involved may reach new heights, but what can we expect?
New ammunition for the fight against corruption
The political nature of the death of Alan García opens up a box of many unanswered questions, among them is what need there is to ensure these crimes do not go unpunished, what the real limitations of judicial power in tackling these crimes are, and why the state was unable to prevent his death.
With the confirmation that Odebrecht provided financing to Alan García’s political campaign, the level of corruption that tore through the region becomes clear.
The tough approach that has been adopted by many judicial systems and civil society itself has allowed for an unprecedented investigation to take place, but very few imagined it would implicate the highest of powers.
With the confirmation that Odebrecht provided financing to Alan García’s political campaign, the level of corruption that tore through the region becomes clear. The capture of democracies by the economic elites was able to reach the highest levels of government to control multimillionaire investments for construction projects.
It would appear as though the only way to “do politics” in Latin America is by receiving financing from the elites and groups of entrepreneurs. Multimillion dollar campaign donations for presidential and regional elections turn democratic processes into a game of those who have the most money have the best chances of winning.
The criminal consequences of the Odebrecht scandal must provide an impulse for us to do politics with more transparency and honesty, demonstrating that democracies must reject those who wish to buy their way into power through elections.
Four years searching for justice
Beyond the case of Perú, the majority of countries involved in the Odebrecht scandal appear to block or stretch out their investigations, forcing one to question whether they truly desire to put those accused of involvement on trial.
In Colombia, Odebrecht has been banned from carrying out any kind of activity for the next 10 years, but the investigations that traced the journey of the 26 million dollars paid in public works concessions have come to a stand still.
In Argentina, two weeks ago a judge finally processed 26 people involved including an ex-minister of the Kirchners, that only faces an investigative process that may not be punitive in nature.
And in Brazil, country in which the scandal has its origins, judicial sentences have sent Odebrecht boss, Marcelo Odebrecht, and politicians such as Lula Da Silva to prison.
Many institutions that collaborated with this construction company ended up being co-opted by economic mafias that shaped the dynamics of contracting.
There are still many unanswered questions however, such as to what extent do those who accepted the bribes have full responsibility, when there were often many state institutions either involved directly, or aware but chose to turn a blind eye.
Odebrecht forced us to look in the mirror and face a reality that goes far beyond individual actions. Many institutions that collaborated with this construction company ended up being co-opted by economic mafias that shaped the dynamics of contracting.
In order to create mechanisms that are truly transparent and allow for state accountability, Lava Jato and other aspects of the corruption scandal must be investigated and the relationships with public institutions must be revealed.
The firm approach of the Peruvian justice system should be an example to others. The infiltration of corruption in state power structures that has allowed for the perpetuation of inequality and injustice must come to an end. Corruption attacks the very roots of democracy and if we do not tackle it, the whole building may tumble.