A few weeks back I was lucky enough to attend a mini-conference hosted by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy entitled “A Worthy Mission: Controlling Corruption in Latin America.” The conference featured an opening keynote address by Yale Professor Susan Rose-Ackerman, with a brief response by BYU Professor Daniel Nielson, followed by two panels. The first of these panels (which I moderated) focused on anticorruption prosecutions in Latin America generally, and featured Thelma Aldana (who served as Attorney General of Guatemala from 2014-2018, and is rumored to be a likely presidential candidate), Paolo Roberto Galvao de Carvalho (a Brazilian Federal Prosecutor and member of the “Car Wash” anticorruption Task Force), and George Mason University Professor Louise Shelley. The second panel, moderated by Columbia Professor Paul Lagunes, focused more specifically on corruption control in Mexico, and featured Professor Jacqueline Peschard (former chair of Mexico’s National Anticorruption System), Claudio X. Gonzalez (the president of the civil society organization Mexicanos Contra la Corrupcion y la Impunidad (MCCI)), and Mariana Campos (the Program Director at another Mexican civil society organization, Mexico Evalua).
Video recordings of the conference are publicly available, so I’m going to follow my past practice of sharing the links, along with a very brief guide (with time stamps) in case anyone is particularly interested in one or more particular speakers or subjects but doesn’t have time to watch the whole thing. Here goes:
The first video has some introductory material (including welcoming remarks by Baker Institute Director Edward Djerejian), and Professor Rose-Ackerman’s keynote address (which is a useful general overview of corruption and government) starting at 5:15. Professor Nielson’s response, and Professor Rose-Ackerman’s reply, begin at 38:28. (Perhaps of interest here, Professor Nielson raises the question of whether we need to focus more on psychology and cultural norms, while Professor Rose-Ackerman, without denying that these can be relevant, defends the utility of analyzing corruption from an economic perspective.) The Q&A with the audience starts at 47:32.
The video of the first panel is here. After some opening remarks, panel chair Erika de la Garza (Program Director of the Baker Institute’s Latin America Initiative) posed a question to each panelist as a cue for their introductory remarks:
- Starting at 4:20, Ms. Aldana (whose remarks in Spanish are simultaneously translated into English in the video) responded to Ms. de la Garza’s request for more information about the 2015 “La Linea” scandal in Guatemala, which forced the resignations of the President and Vice President, as well as her role as Attorney General.
- At 10:57, Mr. Carvalho responds to Ms. de la Garza’s question about how the Car Wash Task Force is helping to fight corruption in Brazil.
- At 22:24, Professor Shelley addresses Ms. de la Garza’s question about the link between corruption and illicit trade.
- In the moderated discussion section of the panel, I first asked the panelists about the broader political consequences of anticorruption crackdowns, including how to think about and address concerns that populist demagogues might hijack anticorruption rhetoric and exploit public anger over corruption in ways that might not be consistent with a broader rule-of-law agenda. This exchange begins at 36:27.
- At 47:41, I pose a second question to the panelists about the use of settlements and plea bargains in anticorruption investigations, as well as the possibility of offering financial incentives to whistleblowers.
- The focus then turns to what the US government can or should do to aid the fight against corruption in Latin America. At 1:01:45, partly in response to some of the discussion during and after the opening keynote, I highlight some positive signs for progress on the US side, including the expanded use of geographic targeting orders in the real estate sector, and the hope that a more general crackdown on anonymous companies might occur in the current Congress.
- That led into my third and final question for the panelists, starting at 1:05:08, about what single recommendation they would propose to the US government that would assist the countries of Latin America (and elsewhere) in their fight against corruption.
- General Q&A with the audience starts at 1:10:55.
The video of the second panel is here. This panel was chaired by Tony Payan, Director of the Baker Institute’s Mexico Center, who opened with some introductory remarks, and then posed questions to each of the panelists.
- At 3:00. Mr. Payan asks Professor Peschard about the creation of Mexico’s National Anticorruption System and what it will take for that system to have an impact.
- At 13:49, Mr. Payan asks Mr. Gonzalez about how his organization, MCCI, has contributed to the fight against corruption in Mexico.
- At 27:52, Mr. Payan asks a similar question to Ms. Campos about how her organization, Mexico Evalua, has monitored the use of public funds and how this has contributed to the control of corruption.
- In the moderated discussion portion of the panel, beginning at 44:25, Professor Lagunes asks the panelists about possible solutions to corruption from the sub-national level or grassroots, in contrast to the focus on the new presidential administration and the national government generally.
- Starting at 55:10, Professor Lagues then posed an additional question for each of the three panelists. To Ms. Campos, he asks what “local heroes”—people doing important anticorruption work at the sub-national level—should be recognized and invited to future international conferences. To Mr. Gonzalez, he asks why Mexico has so far done so little in the way of domestic prosecutions growing out of the Odebrecht scandal (in contrast to countries like Peru). And to Professor Peschard, he asks what she would like to see newly-elected President Lopez Obrador do to back the NAS. (Notably, her answer here includes a critique of President Lopez Obrador’s approach to anticorruption.)
- The audience Q&A starts at 1:10:47.
I hope that some of you out there find these videos interesting and useful!