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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Corruption supersized

Stop stealing our money, pendejos

Unending Graft Is Threatening Latin America

Published: July 30, 2005

RIO DE JANEIRO, July 29 - As he campaigned for the presidency in 2002, Luiz In�cio Lula da Silva boldly pledged to clean up the sordid politics of Brazil. His, he vowed, would be an ethical, honest and moral government the likes of which Brazil had never seen.

President Luiz In�cio Lula da Silva of Brazil promised an honest government, but a party functionary was caught smuggling $100,000.

That pledge helped him win the votes of more than 50 million Brazilians and a sweeping mandate. But now, in a gloomy echo of what has happened time and again across Latin America, Mr. da Silva's government is mired in the biggest, most audacious corruption scandal in his country's history.

A congressional inquiry has heard testimony that the governing Workers' Party paid dozens of deputies from other parties a $12,500 monthly stipend for their support. This month, a party functionary was detained at an airport with $100,000 - stashed in his underwear - which he claimed to have earned selling vegetables.

Mr. da Silva's chief aide has been forced to resign, as have the president, secretary general and treasurer of the Workers' Party. While Mr. da Silva has not yet been accused in the scheme, speculation that he could face impeachment is widespread, and the first street demonstrations against him, small but indignant, started this week.

Brazil's scandal is just the latest reminder of the unremitting corruption that has marked Latin American politics since colonial times, when absolute rulers regarded newly conquered realms in the New World as their personal property. The important difference today is that popularly elected governments now hold sway, and corruption has emerged as one of the gravest threats to the hard-won democratic gains of the last 20 years.

Across the region, these second-generation democrats have proved a disappointment, and their ineffectiveness and low standing have allowed political instability and economic disparity to grow. Opinion polls routinely cite corruption as a top cause for a dangerous disillusionment sweeping the region. The disaffection has led to violent popular outbursts, including the lynching of public officials in Peru, and has helped force out eight heads of state in five years.

"This is the great problem, and there simply has not been a break from the past," said Edgar Villanueva, a congressman who is leading one of several investigations of the government of President Alejandro Toledo in Peru. "What has happened in Latin America is we have not been able to get good people into power. The person in power always maintains ties to his small power base, and they forget the people, they forget their promises."

Mr. Toledo, too, came to power with similar pledges to clean up past corruption, succeeding a government under Alberto K. Fujimori, whose byzantine networks of bribery and extortion seemed to set a new standard for the region.

Today more than a dozen of Mr. Toledo's relatives, including his wife and brothers, are accused of using their influence for personal gain. Opinion polls give him among the lowest ratings of any Latin American leader, and his government has been bled by nearly constant media sniping over the scandals. Similar accusations in Ecuador contributed to the fall of President Lucio Guti�rrez in April.

Farther north the story is nearly the same. In Mexico, President Vicente Fox came to power in 2000, sweeping out the notoriously corrupt and authoritarian Institutional Revolutionary Party that governed for more than seven decades. But he has failed on almost every front to reverse corruption's course, from police departments along the increasingly violent border with the United States to scandals in his own administration.

Not only have Mr. Fox's efforts to prosecute former government officials suspected of funneling state oil money into political campaigns come to naught, but it has come to light that his own campaign fund, Friends of Fox, took illegal contributions. His wife, Marta Sahag�n de Fox, is embroiled in a series of scandals over the use of millions of dollars flowing into her charity organization, and her sons have come under congressional scrutiny for contracts they won to build public housing.

Why do Mexicans move to the US, well, this is one reason.

posted by Steve @ 1:27:00 AM

1:27:00 AM

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