Recent developments in the fight against corruption across Latin America seem to have prompted an increasing number of conferences, workshops, and similar events that focus on this issue. (I was able to participate in one such event at Rice University’s Baker Center a few months back.) Last month, Columbia University’s Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity (CAPI) held another, similar event that may be of interest to those who follow these developments (indeed, perhaps of even greater interest to those who haven’t been following them, but would like to get up to speed). The panel, entitled “Anti-Corruption Efforts in Latin America: Perspectives from Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico,” was moderated by Daniel Alonso (Managing Director of Exiger), and featured four senior lawyers from the region: Eloy Rizzo Neto (Brazil), Gustavo Morales Oliver (Argentina), Diego Sierra (Mexico), and Daniel Rodriguez (Colombia). The video of the discussion can be found here. And here’s a quick overview of the discussion, with corresponding time markers for the video:
- Alonso’s introductory remarks begin at 1:30.
- Neto opened the panel discussion with an overview of the Car Wash operation in Brazil, starting at 8:07. He emphasized the unprecedented scale of the corruption uncovered, and raises concerns that there may be corruption in the Brazilian judiciary, as well as the legislative and executive branches.
- Beginning at 17:05, Mr. Alonso then asked the panels for their views on why corruption seems so intractable in Latin America, and in particular why it seems more endemic in Latin America than in the United States or other parts of the world. The four panelists touched on several themes in response, including (1) the difficulty of learning about the extent of corruption given the efforts to keep in concealed; (2) the possibility that corruption is harder to fight in the Latin American region because the countries in the region are less economically developed and therefore have more limited resources and weaker institutions; (3) the possibility—on which the panelists disagreed to some extent—that part of the explanation for the difference has to do with distinctive features of Latin culture.
- Starting at 25:57, Mr. Alonso asked the panelists to discuss some of the laws and policies that might help combat corruption in their countries. In response, Mr. Rodriguez emphasized the importance of Colombia’s new whistleblower law, which offers not only protections against retaliation, but also substantial financial incentives, to those who come forward with information that aids prosecutors. Other points touched on by the panelists in this exchange included the importance of citizen pressure on the government to make significant reforms (as was the case with the constitutional amendments in Mexico that created the national anticorruption system), the importance of new technologies and a free press, as well as education.
- Beginning at 34:50, Mr. Alonso and the panelists had a brief exchange about the positive role of organizations like the OECD, as well as the United States, in advancing the anticorruption agenda in Latin America.
- The conversation then turned to a discussion of recent developments in Argentina. Starting at 37:20, Mr. Morales provided an overview, focused mainly on the so-called “Notebooks” scandal that has implicated former President Cristina Kirshner and others. He emphasized that a key factor that contributed to the effectiveness of this investigation was that it was the first time that investigators have taken advantage of new laws that allow prosecutors to grant lenience to defendants who cooperate with the investigation and agree to serve as witnesses. This approach, though common in other jurisdictions, was relatively novel in Argentina, and has led to a great deal more cooperation with the criminal investigation than had been typical in the past.
- Finally, at 42:27 Mr. Alonso and the panelists discussed the importance of a free press in the fight against corruption, and challenges to press freedom in countries like Mexico and Brazil.
- The panel concluded with a brief Q&A, beginning at 47:06.