It’s time to update international instruments against corruption

LA NACIÓN: The Inter-American Convention against Corruption was signed in March 1996 within the framework of the Organization of American States (OAS). It was the first international instrument on the matter. At that time, it was a matter of promoting, from a multilateral organization, the fight against all known forms of fraud against the States of the continent, given that the governments would be unlikely to take that initiative on their own. Bad rulers don’t want to be controlled and good ones often think they don’t need to be.

Hardly anyone can advance beyond its historical moment. Even so, the convention contained innovative clauses: the crime of transnational bribery was incorporated, at the initiative of the United States delegation, and a commitment to legislate illicit enrichment was required, at the request of Argentina, which already had it in its Penal Code. It was also stipulated that banking secrecy against corruption investigations would not be applicable and a dozen preventive measures were promoted, among which is the protection of whistleblowers.

Hugo Chávez had not yet become president of Venezuela nor had Daniel Ortega returned to Nicaragua. Furthermore, the convention was based on the expansion of a request from then-Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera, who requested that political asylum be denied to the rulers and officials accused of crimes related to fraud against the public administration. Unfortunately, the same president who proposed this great initiative had pardoned, two years earlier, Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez for his attempted coup against President Carlos Andrés Pérez. This is how the egg of the serpent began to hatch in the country with the oldest democratic tradition in South America.

Neither had Kirchnerism reached the government of Argentina, where it applied a model of corruption that it had already practiced in Santa Cruz, Kirchner’s native province, and implied a change in nature with respect to the forms of fraud put into play until 2003. It consisted of asking for bribes to appropriate sectors of the national economy, state and private companies, and creating companies with the sole purpose of monopolizing the money destined for public works. The Argentine people suffered from the plundering launched by Néstor Kirchner against all productive sector, which continues to this day, as well as from the suffocation of the initiative of individuals with the intention of buying their businesses for coins or making it possible for others to interests related to the ruler take over the market.

In 1996, that arrogant left that sows resentment against those who earn money by working while its leaders illicitly enrich themselves and curtail individual freedoms had not yet been installed in America. At least, it had not been installed in the governments, because the communists always had money left over.

Those of us who participated in the drafting of the convention in Washington D.C. hoped that the nascent globalization would discipline the rulers and advance best practices. They had to if they did not want to be left without investments and, therefore, without resources. We still did not have the extreme selfishness of populism, which was capable of plunging its people into misery in order to accumulate power and destroy institutions. And although we were aware of the ravages of drug trafficking in Colombia and Mexico, the darkest business on the planet had not yet shown its power to model government plans along the lines of the San Pablo Forum.

After a series of reforms carried out in the 1990s by the nations of the hemisphere in order to comply with the commitments assumed with the OAS, new leaders arrived -some later, others earlier- who sowed hatred and division in their towns and devastated the republican institutions in order to enrich themselves. The money circulated among them for the purpose of supporting each other and forming a bloc against democracy in America. They no longer just robbed, but killed, imprisoned opponents, subdued or displaced judges, and mobilized mobs of fanatics to protect their ill-gotten fortunes.

The Inter-American Convention against Corruption was a revolutionary instrument for its time, but today it is essential to go a step further. The retraction of investments in countries with poor institutions no longer frightens corrupt officials, who have the reserves of their robbery and the inexhaustible resources of drug trafficking. It is necessary to adopt new economic measures against them and their accomplices, with the support of international rules.

Whoever has contributed to the plundering of a people, to the liquidation of its democratic institutions and to the popular confrontation from power should be treated with the same rules that are used against terrorism, seizing their assets wherever they are found.

The prevailing situation demands an inter-American court with powers similar to the Court of The Hague. Not to replace the local Justice where it can act, but to act in cases in which the judicial powers are overwhelmed or for action outside the jurisdiction of the injured State itself, since, in these extreme cases, corruption should be considered an international crime.

This is not about having an international court to judge each bribery, which would imply a dangerous excess and the distortion of international instruments; but an inter-American instance is lacking. The assumptions foreseen in the very preamble of the convention is when “corruption undermines the legitimacy of public institutions.” To be effective, such a court should have police power or international agreements that facilitate the arrest of officials of the highest ranks of governments, wherever they may be, by the Justice of other countries. The immunity enjoyed by the heads of state cannot protect those who destroy the very laws and institutions that they later seek to protect.

The current secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, has already taken a big step in this direction. In 2019 he activated the Democratic Charter against Nicaragua. But it is essential to update the Democratic Charter itself in order to allow new sanctions, beyond the suspension of a country from the inter-American system.

The generation of these instruments takes years; conferences in different countries, long subsequent negotiations in international organizations, proposals and counterproposals, and a task of healthy persuasion of the political forces of each nation, some of which, even in good faith, resist this type of system .

It is better for the good guys to organize themselves internationally, because the bad guys did it a long time ago.