The Man of the Year and the Usual Vice

To avoid the sentence of 19 years in prison, Marcelo Odebrecht has betrayed his accomplices in his capacity as an “effective collaborator of justice.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 31 December 2017 — Marcelo Odebrecht is the man of the year in Latin America. This Brazilian engineer born in 1968, grandson of the founder of a huge business conglomerate, is the prince of the planet’s bribe-mongers. To avoid a sentence of 19 years in prison, something he accomplished just a few days ago, he has betrayed his accomplices in his capacity as an “effective collaborator of justice,” destabilizing many of our countries, showing (much to their dismay) the miseries and cynicism of many politicians and officials.

The Odebrecht Organization was a huge civil engineering company, with almost 200,000 workers and a turnover of more than 40 billion dollars, of which it has already lost a third. It operated in a score of countries, some of them with a GDP lower than the company’s income, but the bulk of its operations and its bribes were carried out in Brazil.

It distributed a total of about one billion dollars. In absolute terms, the most corrupt country outside Brazil was Venezuela (98 million), something totally predictable, because its government is a kind of vile toilet, but the Latin American nations that received the most per capita in bribes were Panama (59 million) and the Dominican Republic (92 million).

The modus operandi was simple. The Odebrecht men detected a candidate with possibilities and began to negotiate. Brazil had large advertising and magnificent campaign cabinets. That great expertise was placed at the service of the person chosen together with important amounts to cover the cost of the operation.

All that the candidate had to do, once elected at the polls, was to approve the large budgets and entrust Odebrecht with the execution of the planned public works. The enormous amount was paid for by the taxes paid by the people or by loans that would have to be faced someday.

The Odebrecht Brazilians, on the other hand, did a good job on the roads, tunnels or whatever, and took care to pay seriously what was agreed to in Switzerland, in Andorra or in some other tax haven, carefully organizing the logistics of corruption. They kept their word. Theirs was not to deceive politicians or to rob the thieves, but to provide them with the famous secret slogan of “steal, but produce,” while increasing the turnover year after year.

You could trust the words of mobsters endowed with silk ties and five thousand dollar suits. They lacked ideological color. Without the slightest scruple they agreed with Venezuelan Nicolás Maduro or the Ecuadorian Jorge Glas, Rafael Correa’s vice president — apostles of 21st Century Socialism — natural enemies of the private market economy, of which the Odebrecht company was the quintessence.

The problem, of course, is not Odebrecht, but the mentality that prevails in Latin America. On a more modest scale, it is like this, through bribes, small or large, that most of our governments have worked since time immemorial, with a terrible aggravation: our societies do not care. Corruption appears at the end of the list of the evils that should be eradicated in most surveys. In Mexico they have come to affirm, seriously, that “corruption is just another way of distributing income.”

Why does this lack of principles happen in our world? Maybe, because most of the Ibero-Americans — including the Brazilians — do not perceive clearly that public money is contributed by all of us and corruption is as if they had put their hands in our pockets and stolen our wallets. What happens with the State does not concern us.

Perhaps, because the cynicism is total and we take for granted that the government is going to steal and it does not worry us, as long as it is “our own” that is enriched with the resources of others. We are victims of a clear moral anomie.

Undoubtedly, because patronage, that small bribe granted by the government, is a form of corruption, a type of harmful behavior, in which millions of Latin Americans are trained.

That is why it is not surprising that, despite Lava Jato (Wash the Calf), as the judicial operation against corruption was called in Brazil, once again they chose Lula da Silva, who today heads the polls despite his dirty business. Years ago the Peronists in neighboring Argentina said in a graffiti that time has not erased and that reveals the drama at the heart of it: “Sodomite or thief we want Perón.”


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