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  Number 177 | Abril 1996
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International

The Fight Against Corruption: Banner of the Left

Extracts from the first chapter of Augusto Zamora's book, Nicaragua's Future, Fondo Editorial CIRA, Managua, July 1995.

Augusto Zamora

The word corruption comes from the latin corrumpere. Corominas says IT BE?came part of the language between 1220 and 1250. The Diccionario de la Academia de la Lengua offers seven meanings of the word, of which the second and third are of most interest: "to ruin, deprave, damage, spoil," or "to bribe someone with presents or in other ways." A corrupt person, then, is one who "allows himself to be bribed or bribes, perverts or corrupts." A corrupter is one who corrupts.

Corruption is one of Nicaragua's biggest problems and perhaps the hardest one to eradicate, since it is found everywhere. This problem must be addressed, because Nicaragua today is being crucified by corruption. Eradicating corruption is one of the country's greatest challenges and it cannot be put off. The future will largely depend on whether Nicaraguans respond to that cancer before it is too late.

Perennial Partner of Power

I don't doubt that quite a few will smile, or adopt Machiavellian gestures, believing that it's ingenuous at best to criticize corruption and that its practice is inherent to politics. They could even consider a proposal to eradicate it an expression of ignorance. Those who either openly or silently defend corruption often justify their position as "pragmatic," arguing that if they don't engage in it, others will, thus putting them at a disadvantage??which is in fact true in corrupt societies.

Corruption would then be the consequence of the idea that ends justify the means and, based on that, all's fair. One doesn't need to be an expert in politics, ethics or morals to look at daily life and intuit that things cannot and should not be like that. If all's fair, than nothing's fair. That is, if everything is allowed, everything loses its value. Orphaned from ethical and moral values, societies would enter??as Nicaragua and many other countries have done??into an irremediable spiral of violence and social and moral dissolution. A suicidal self?destructive spiral, in which the country and all its state institutions would be in the hands of unscrupulous and immoral people. In the best of cases, the countries would be condemned to remain bound to their underdevelopment and suffer dual societies. In the worst, they would end up like Somalia or Rwanda.

It has been said, correctly, that corruption is nothing new; that it inevitably accompanies power as its illegitimate son; that it's even a natural tendency manifested not only in politics but also in other aspects of daily life. These are the most commonly used arguments, whether as an apology for corruption or as a way to explain it. It would be blindness to deny that corruption has been present in human societies since time immemorial, yet we should also reject the argument that, being "inherent" to human nature, it cannot be fought. Such allegations mask the pursuit of prolonging corrupt practices in secula seculorum.

Laws exist precisely because human society is not perfect and its members require legal and moral codes to guide their conduct. It has been said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. "The theory and practice of democracy," explains one analyst, "grew out of the exact understanding of this nature of political power as the most rational way of putting a brake on its irrational tendency to abuse." New remedies for old evils.

On the other hand, it cannot be denied that there are different kinds and forms of corruption, and, like t?shirts, it comes in small, medium and large. Some people sustain that "the more we broaden the concept of corruption, the less operatively useful it becomes and the easier it is to water it down in rhetoric." This is a valid opinion. My aim is not to predicate a "conversion" of the human race by aspiring to triumph where others have suffered setbacks, but rather to propose an ethical and political axiom.

That societies censure homicide does not mean people have stopped killing. It means that whoever does it, pays for it. Social morality thinks it's wrong to kill and the vast majority of us don't kill. Nor do we rob. Socially censuring corruption and punishing it judicially are steps toward living in better, healthier and less poor societies.

The most pernicious corruption affecting political life and state institutions is what could be called "patrimonial corruption." This type, according to Sotelo's definition, "is unique to economically and politically underdeveloped societies, where political power, without democratic control, manages state finances and the country's economy as if they were the personal patrimony of the head of state. Somoza's Nicaragua and Hassan's Morocco are good examples of this patrimonial corruption." Nicaragua today is again suffering patrimonial corruption, not only in the executive branch but also the legislative and judicial ones.

This corruption essentially means using political power as a means of illicit enrichment. It is, according to Aragón, "the concept of power as a prize to share among friends and faithful, the prevalence of luxury and easy money in the collective mentality instead of austerity and hard work." Others have called it "state privatization" benefiting the governing group, the subordination of political power to private property. Corruption implies the use of political power for ends other than that for which it was created, which is to serve the community's general interests.

White Collar Criminals

Patrimonial corruption has its own characteristics. Those who practice it are not delinquents from the slums or marginal neighborhoods. On the contrary, they live in elegant zones, are well known and can even pass as honorable. To clarify the point even more, it is useful to gather here the five elements that Sutherland uses to define what he calls white collar crime:

*The action has clearly illegal characteristics.
*It is carried out by a qualified and respectable person.
*The person is in a high social position.
*The crime is committed as an extension of the occupation.
*It is primarily based on abuse of confidence.

Combining these elements and applying them to our political situation, depending on the neighborhood we live in, we will find that some white collar criminals are our neighbors, even devout Christians or dedicated members of some political party, who sit down with us to pontificate on how to get the country out of its crisis, without mentioning??or perhaps even mentioning??the fight against corruption as one of the most urgent measures to be taken.

Greater Poverty, Greater Corruption

Certain historic elements should be noted. Political corruption??which we will simply call corruption??is a relatively modern phenomenon, unique to political systems that emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries. In pre?democratic states??throughout the world before the 19th century and in the majority in the present one ??corruption had another dimension because the state as such did not exist. In Machiavelli's era, for example, the state was the property of a small group of aristocrats who administered it as part of their patrimony. They acquired, sold, conquered or transferred territories, principalities and kingdoms the way we today buy, sell or rent farms, houses and automobiles. Luis XIV reflected the confusion between monarch and state in his celebrated phrase "I am the State." And no one can steal from oneself.

In the 19th century, when the institutions born of the French Revolution expanded to Europe and America, the state had an exceedingly restricted function, and "democracy," represented by the right to vote, was limited to those who had property. This was an ancient idea. Aristotle considered that "idleness is the mother of philosophy," and that without property there was no time for real work. As Crick notes, "the poor have rarely had the privilege of citizenship." They were taxpaying democracies, where only the rich counted. Several Nicaraguan Constitutions in the last century established that only property owners could vote. One of the great conquests of the 20th century was universal suffrage and control of the state by its citizens.

The strengthening of the state, which began to play a fundamental role in all areas??including economic??of citizens' lives, the extension of the right to vote to all citizens and the consolidation of democracy brought with them the total separation of private and public patrimony. The enormous amounts of money and goods the state administered??which encompassed virtually all goods in countries that adopted a communist system??were like an open treasure chest that tempted even the just to sin. In dictatorial systems like that of Somoza, corruption is part of the system's dynamic and helps maintain it. Under Somocismo, Somocistas, businessmen and the "opposition" oligarchy all benefited from corruption. The 1950 "Pact of the Generals" between Emiliano Chamorro and Anastasio Somoza García is the most conspicuous example of that link.

The lack of liberties impedes public accusations and control by citizens of illegal actions, thus allowing corruption total impunity and admitted practice. The fight against corruption is thus linked to democracy and its persecution and punishment will be that much more energetic as democracy is solidified. The functioning of democratic institutions, on the other hand, is directly linked to levels of development or un? derdevelopment. The poorer a country, the more corruption it suffers. Inversely, greater levels of development and liberty bring greater persecution of corrupt practices.

There is agreement among the founders of political science that corruption is the enemy of the good functioning of republics and even of their very existence. It is also seen as critical that public interests predominate over private ones. As Saint Augustine said, respect for law distinguishes the state from a band of thieves and, without justice, kings are no more than bandits.

Right or Left?

Every political ideology is more or less endowed with an ethic?or simply proclaims that it lacks one. Its attitude towards ethics can be expressed or seen from the final objectives it seeks. Both Marx and Adam Smith agreed that the objective of capitalism was to accumulate wealth, which inevitably produced growing inequalities and injustice. To capitalism this situation appeared inherent to human society. Since its principal motivation was to continue accumulating wealth, moral or ethical issues such as human suffering, hunger and disease did not disturb its sleep.

From its origins, on the other hand, the left assumed moral values like social justice, solidarity, the fight against inequality, the eradication of hunger and disease, etc. The opposition of both ideological currents referred not only to political and economic issues but, based on them, to different ethical and moral propositions. It was a values scale of opposites, where selfishness by the right was responded to with solidarity by the left; the desire for wealth with the desire for a just distribution of wealth; class society with a classless society; oppression by the minority with liberty for the majority.

The position or attitude taken towards corruption is a fundamental element that distinguishes the left from the right. That distinction, of course, should go farther than semantics and demagogic discourse, since there are many who talk with the left and write with the right.

These distinct political ideas lead to different moral values and ethics. Within capitalism, corruption is the coin of the realm. Galbraith says that "corruption is inherent to the capitalist system because people confuse market ethics with ethics themselves.... It is one of the greatest weaknesses of the system." If corruption is inherent to capitalism, honor should be inherent to socialism and all ideologies that claim to be leftist??not to give a propagandistic differentiation, but because the left's vision of the world bases society and man on different and in many senses opposed premises.

Society understands that difference, which explains why, in corruption cases, it reacts very differently to leftwing governments than to rightwing ones. When people from the right are involved there is little surprise, because they deceive no one. As one analyst concluded, referring to the British right, "It isn't only that conservatives are selfish; it's that they are nothing else. The horrible fact of amorality largely explains the conservative style."

The reaction becomes vehement when leftwing governments or people are involved. Corruption cases affecting French Socialist Party (PSF) leaders and officials were one of the fundamental causes of its electoral defeat in 1993. An editor of Le Nouvel Observateur explained the PSF's dramatic reversal with the electorate as follows: "The citizens do not forgive the left for having failed in areas in which they were expecting substantial differences from the right: ethical management of public life and a struggle against the lock? out." In Spain, the PSOE foundered on its own incoherences, one of which has been the proliferation of corruption cases among its members. In Italy, the Socialist Party disappeared from the political map when a multitude of corruption scandals erupted, with its political secretary Bettino Craxi at their core.

When people vote for a rightwing party, they know what they are voting for. Using public funds for its own benefit is in character; both elector and elected essentially share the capitalist totem: unlimited wealth. However, the leftwing voter seeks exactly the opposite: a politician who will honestly administer state goods and use them to reduce inequalities. That is why there is so much indignation when a leader from the left is corrupt. The irony is even greater when trust in his or her ethics was a decisive election factor. That's why corruption damages leftwing parties more than rightwing ones. If ethics is a fundamental element of the left, an inherent part of its identity, the loss of ethics leaves it abandoned and, in more practical terms, at an electoral disadvantage with respect to the right. Setting aside essential differences between the two forces, given that the right has been in power more, many prefer that those who have already gotten rich should govern rather than those who still need wealth, because the latter will eat up the public funds much faster. This is not a new idea; it has been dominant in previous periods. Montesquieu commented, "A free state has the advantage that income is better administered; but when it is worse? A free state has no favorites; when one has to enrich friends and relatives of each person who makes up the government instead of just favoring friends and relatives of a prince, all is lost."

Impoverishment of the Nation

There is not leftwing corruption and rightwing corruption, just as there are not good murderers and bad murderers. Corruption, which means sacking the state to benefit particular individuals, taking public goods away from the people, is a practice that every leftwing force, or simply every honest force, must combat energetically and unhesitatingly. That is precisely one of the fundamental differences between the left and the right. It is of no importance to the right to take wealth from the state, to use the state for enrichment, even though these actions harm the public good. State businesses are auctioned off in fixed bidding through commissions; false contracts are written to get bribes; state industries are bankrupted in order to sell them cheaply, then bought back through third parties; state credit is distributed so that earnings aren't invested, but are sent to foreign banks. The list is interminable.

The final product of generalized corruption is the country's impoverishment. At least a third of Latin America's foreign debt comes from corruption. The result is the closing of schools, hospitals and health centers, the loss of jobs, the abandonment of rural areas and finally, the corruption of all of society. When the evil extends throughout the social body the state begins to decompose. This is Nicaragua's present situation.

Bertrand Russell stated in a 1949 dissertation, "Ever since humanity invented slavery, the powerful have always believed that they could reach their goal through measures that brought pain on others." Capitalism currently condemns two?thirds of humanity to the slavery of underdevelopment and poverty, which is the worst of human pain, in order to enjoy its own goals and prosperity.

A Form of Economic Terrorism

In the exploited countries of the Third World, a corrupt minority in symbiotic union with the dominating classes of the First World self?satisfiedly shows off its ill?gotten wealth among the most abysmal poverty. They represent the national and worldwide right wing. Their victims are in shacks, in shanty towns. Can one be from the left and share the fruits of corruption, travel the same streets with illegal wealth, arrive in luxury vehicles, yet preach equality, solidarity and justice? "Socialism in a Jaguar," was the ironic comment in Spain about a PSOE legislator, lawyer for a businessman who had swindled dozens of humble families and, in payment for services rendered, received a $70,000 car? Can one be both corrupt and from the left?

Corruption will always be an expression of stingy selfishness, of moral poverty and a particularly serious form of economic terrorism. Common terrorism, whether practiced by extremist organizations or by a state, openly kills innocent people. Its expression is dramatic and visible. We rapidly link cause and effect: bombs, deaths, orphans. Corruption acts in another way. This form of terrorism is indirect, many times invisible, while also more perfidious. Cause and effect are not directly linked, but many more innocent people are killed. They are killed by closed hospitals, unaffordable medicines, reduced access to food, limited drinking water availability, maintenance of illiteracy. Corruption also condemns entire countries to underdevelopment, foreign dependence and intervention.

It can never correspond to a leftist ideology, no matter how much those who practice it profess their faith, to breakfast on red star?shaped rolls and carry on their chests an effigy of Sandino, Carlos Marx or Che, or all three. If corruption is inherent to capitalism, honesty should be inherent to the left in all its dimensions, whether socialism, communism, social democracy or a national version like Sandinismo. This conclusion has a consequence: the forces of the left must courageously and decisively take up the struggle against corruption and the corrupt. It is imperative for them to have ethical codes and the ability to sanction irregular conduct, recognize mistakes and take responsibility for errors.

A Question of Life or Death

When in political life the forces of the left are corrupted, becoming like those of the right, politics makes no sense, because ideas are converted into a fight between mafias. Italy is the most recent example of the disappearance of political parties as a result of corruption. The most notable case was the PSI, whose former leader, Craxi, took refuge from justice in Tunis, where he had earlier made investments for a comfortable retirement with appropriated funds. But it was not the only party to disappear. The other was the apparently solid Christian Democratic Party, whose internal decomposition led it from governing Italy for 40 years to becoming a third order political force, until it was formally dissolved and its inheritance shared among different heirs, inaugurating a period of chaotic uncertainty. Loss of reputation, however, did not pull down the heirs of the Italian Communist Party??today divided into the Leftist Democratic Party and the Communist Refoundation. It remained outside the panorama of corruption that invaded Italy after World War II and exploded after the cold war ended. All the corrupt parties disappeared from Italy's political map, a fate also to be desired for other parties that share the bad example.

In Europe and other regions of the world, the struggle against corruption has extended to almost all spheres of national political life and has reached international forums. News on the issue has proliferated in the press and, due to rejection by the citizenry, many governments and parties have pressured to adopt anti?corruption laws and norms. For example, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which unites the world's 24 most industrialized countries, is preparing a code of conduct against international corruption. The president of Venezuela proposed to the Fourth Iberoamerican Summit in 1994 to equate corruption with drug trafficking. In June 1994 the European Council approved an international accord against corruption in France and in November 1994 a parliamentary committee, in a 650?page report, approved shock measures against corruption. Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng declared to the National Popular Assembly in March 1995 that eliminating corruption is a "matter of life or death" for China.

Why is there such a strong reaction against corruption and the corrupt in different parts of the world today? The causes vary from region to region. In Europe, the disappearance of the USSR and the end of the cold war liberated forces that could not raise their heads previously on the pretext of the fight against "Soviet expansionism." That pretext permitted the tolerance of corrupt practices, whose most dramatic expression was seen in Italy. The disappearance of the "enemy" meant the disappearance of the pretext. There was no longer justification for illicit enrichment at the cost of the state.

But there is also the fact that, when the values that grew out of the fight between communism and capitalism suddenly disappeared, what was left, as Lipovetsky has said, was "a moral vacuum.... We have glorified victory, money and even rights, while the notions of duty, public service and sacrifice have practically disappeared." Remoralizing public life appeared as an almost social imperative, because the proliferation of corrupt conduct threatened the existence of the democratic system. That an important part of the scandals would affect leftwing governments and parties (PSI, PSF and PSOE and the Spanish and French governments) contributed to the seriousness of the debate.

Corruption of public life, of politics and governments, can end by invading all society and destroying a political society. As Machiavelli expressed, "The defects of the people have their origin in the princes," and permissiveness toward evil can bring down democratic societies. There is corruption in dictatorships, but the nature of the system does not allow it to be public. Corruption is even one of the ways that dictators manage to prolong their dictatorship, to which we have forty years of testimony in Nicaragua.

Democracies assume the contrary. Control of power and freedom of expression are the ways society combats corruption. The principle of legality and equality in the application of laws is the pillar of social coexistence and the functioning of the state. Consequently, as Aragón says, "when corruption proliferates, it is made clear that not only is political life corrupting, but something more serious: what is being corrupted is the democratic system itself, because the mechanisms to control power are not functioning correctly." In other words, where corruption sets up its tent, democracy is a joke and governments are a legalized association of white collar criminals.

Holes in the Conscience

The conversion of the state into the plunder of the governors cannot be tolerated without putting the whole system in danger. The most recent example is Russia, which after the USSR suicide fell into a still irreparable process of dissolution.

Russian society is at the mercy of the mafia, and the prostrated country looks as if it has just emerged from a prolonged war. Democracy is a parody and the economy is a bottomless pit that has swallowed over $90 billion of foreign aid, 40% of which has been channeled outside the country. The minimum salary ranges between $10 and $15 and disease and hunger proliferate. No economic program can work in these conditions.

But there are many reasons. Federico Amat summarized that "the lack of moral values and ideology creates holes in the collective conscience, and these holes are filled with filth and vanity." And Mario Benedetti says, "When corruption is converted into custom it inevitably generates a false ethic; who resists entering the dirty game is weak, timid, stupid. Seneca's skeptical comment??'What used to be vices are now customs'??could be a diagnosis of the end of the century." Money, rather than laws, functions in these societies. And there is no security for anyone. This is what is now happening in Nicaragua.

What can Civil Society Do To Defend Itself?

The first answer is to mobilize itself to build the citizenry's consciousness about the magnitude of the problem. In democratic societies, or those that aspire to be democratic, public accusals are a factor that influences elections. The vote is the instrument of the citizenry's defense. A second task is awareness building if, as in Nicaragua today, it is weak or does not encompass the degree of evil. Creating awareness is an arduous task requiring incessant daily work. A society needs guiding values that serve to keep it on the right path, like Ariadna's thread in the minotaur's labyrinth. These values can be obtained though the International Human Rights Pacts and through the conviction that, in order to build a more fraternal world, politics must take place within minimal ethical parameters, with the fight against corruption in first place.

The demand that politicians fulfill their tasks with honesty and openness does not imply, as Adela Cortina notes, that they are "charged with determining what is good and what is bad; being a political representative confers political legitimacy, but it does not even remotely confer moral authority. Politicians have no more moral authority than any other normal citizen, and on many occasions and compared to many other citizens, much less."

In Nicaragua all of this leads to a complex task. Every person can have his or her own ethic, undoubtedly, but in a world where the media have growing weight in forming values, not everything can be left to the task of introspection.

Through public labor, civil society's organizations can significantly contribute to strengthening ethical values and combatting corruption. We are all part of that society and the administration of the national patrimony should be of interest to all. To accuse, discuss, propose. The field is extensive.

In Third World countries the reasons for concern are not only ethical but, especially, are about survival. Corruption has been the norm of political life and honesty the exception. A good part of the severe poverty in poor countries does not originate in exploitation by rich countries, but in the country's own inability to generate honest administrations. Rich countries have taken advantage of the corruptibility of officials, making bribery and embezzlement the modus operandi in their relations with countries like Nicaragua.

When I was studying Foreign Trade in 1978 in the Spanish Trade Ministry, one of the presentations addressed bribery of Latin American officials. I have never forgotten that class: the speaker, with several decades of experience on our continent, explained that businesses simply have to set aside a quantity of money for bribes??the speaker never used that word??for corrupt officials, without which neither doors nor contracts would open. He also explained that businesses that did not join this game would be at a disadvantage with respect to others. This was and continues to be a good way to measure the foreign image of Latin American public officials. This appears in different economics and international trade texts. A fame, moreover, earned through practice.

The Road to Bankruptcy

The proposal of a code of conduct against international corruption promoted by the OECD would establish within industrialized countries that bribery of foreign officials be punishable as a crime. The United States was the promotor of the initiative. It is the only developed country whose laws prohibit this practice??whether or not those laws are respected. The US motive is not ethical, but commercial, because the prohibition puts its businesses at a disadvantage when they compete with other businesses, and bribery is a block to free trade. To remedy the inequalities, it promotes homogenizing the legislation, extending the prohibition to the whole OECD.

Thanks to corruption, foreign businessmen sign million dollar contracts that grant unfair concessions to exploit natural resources, or allow the placement of low quality merchandise or the sale of almost expired medicine or medicines prohibited in the country of origin, or the purchase of public businesses at bargain prices. Today's Nicaraguan government offers a broad catalogue of corrupt actions that fill the national press.

There are multiple forms of corruption. Corruption has been one of the main causes of the foreign debt of Third World countries, particularly in Latin America. The diversion of loans to foreign banks, the flight of its own capital thanks to levers of power, the approval of investments that are useless for the country but rich with commissions??like cellular telephones in Nicaragua while the country dies of hunger??or the adjudication of public contracts to incompetent businesses are some of the causes that explain how countries with abundant resources, like Venezuela, find themselves in virtual bankruptcy and maintain a great part of their population in extreme poverty.

Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera is right to ask that the corrupt be equated with drug traffickers. Vis a vis this, and without trying to justify this heinous crime, it should be pointed out that the damage caused by corruption in Latin America has been greater and more serious than that caused by drug trafficking. Historical corruption and the poverty fed by it fertilize the path for accelerated development of drug trafficking. In some countries the confusion between drug traffickers and politicians has made it impossible to differentiate between the two.

Inefficiency, Waste, Corruption

Some examples will give an idea of the magnitude of corrupt practices in the economy of poor countries just in the area of foreign debt. The Philippine government contracted the building of a nuclear plant in the 1980s in Bataan, at a cost of US$2.2 billion. The plant never went on line because it had been built in an earthquake zone, but that did not prevent the Philippines from paying $350,000 daily in interest on the loan to build the plant. Between 1976 and 1985 capital flight in Mexico reached the exorbitant sum of $53 billion, equivalent to 70% of net obtained loans. Capital flight in Venezuela in those same years was $30 billion, more than all the loans received. What economy or economic system can support such bloodletting? The result, after years, is visible. Countries in bankruptcy??Mexico at zero.

The impact of corruption does not end there, but extends to the most unusual areas. One of these??the arms trade??reaches extreme levels. Squeezing budgets to buy both unnecessary and obsolete arms has been one of the most profitable businesses. According to the World Priorities Institute, a North American organization: "In the 1980s poor countries spent 23% more to get foreign arms than the amount they received from rich countries in development aid." In Central America in recent years, despite the disappearance of conflicts that affected the region, military spending has continued to increase, particularly in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

If poor non?petroleum exporting countries had not spent money on arms between 1972 and 1982, its foreign debt would be 20?25% less. If arms spending had been kept at the levels of the 1960s, the less developed nations combined would have saved enough money to finance the payment of close to two?thirds of its extraordinary debt. This was not Nicaragua's case. The country's militarization was the consequence of the US policy of aggression, not of militarism as in the rest of the continent. Poor utilization and waste of foreign credits led an organization as uncharitable as the World Bank in 1984 to strictly control the granting of credits for infrastructure construction, which would allow savings of $55 billion. According to World Bank experts, countries that aspire to a greater level of development should confront inefficiency, waste and corruption.

The "bourgeoisie" in Latin America??which has little or nothing to do with developed countries??has been a devout believer in capitalism and its most fervent defender. But Michael Albert expresses in his book Capitalism against Capitalism, "Certainly, simply establishing capitalism in a country is not enough to put it on the road to economic development. It also requires a minimum of rules and, therefore, an efficient and uncorrupt state."

A Minimum of Rules

The "minimum of rules" is imperative for the system to function. The question lies in tolerance levels. Capitalism is more primitive in underdeveloped??or, to use a more elegant term, less sophisticated??countries. The more underdevelopment, the greater the corruption and more primitive the capitalism. This does not mean that, in general terms, capitalism works better in some poor countries than in others. Many times the difference is in the volume of theft. More can be robbed in a rich country like Brazil than in Nicaragua. But, without minimal rules, what governs is the law of the jungle and the damage provoked by corruption becomes even greater??there are levels and levels of corruption. The control mechanisms function in advanced democratic societies, maintaining this "minimum of rules" that prevents the system from falling apart.

Spain, the greatest corruption scandal of recent years refers to the case of Luis Roldán, former general director of the Civil Guard, who took advantage of his post to illegally appropriate some $40 million. It is a significant amount and it would be difficult to find a person who would refuse it, if someone casually offered it. It is enough to live a leisurely life until inevitable death and is sufficient, if well?administered, to leave the children in comfort. Without trying to minimize the seriousness of Luis Roldán's conduct, the amount is just a drop in the bucket of Spain's budget, which annually spends $20 billion just to legally import luxury cars. The misappropriated money does not cause the closing of schools or reduce the availability of medicine. The social alarm was not because of the impact on the economy of the amount stolen; it appears that Spanish society is simply unwilling to tolerate this type of conduct. Corruption cases in developed countries, where controls on power normally function, do not particularly have an impact on development and wealth. It is different in Nicaragua, an underdeveloped country, devoured by foreign debt, with a permanent and desperate lack of foreign currency and a population submerged in abandonment.

It's a Question of Survival

Let's imagine a typical situation: the country receives a $40 million credit, after moving heaven and earth to get it. The needs are so great that the amount is a drop of water in the desert. Well administered, the money could resolve different problems.

But the money is used in part to import luxury goods that satisfy the governing minority. Another amount is destined to loans to large property owners, who use them to finance their businesses and thus don't have to invest their profits from earlier years, which have already been deposited in foreign banks. Another part is spent by the government on a parabolic antenna project, so that the children of the one?third moneyed class can watch US television channels. What remains is used to import beer, although medicine shortages provoke an outbreak of measles or cholera. The loan was obtained in the country's name and, although it hasn't been used in that country's development, it must be paid back with the sweat and tears of the two?thirds of the population that has received absolutely no benefit.

Money poorly administered and diverted from the public treasury causes direct and evident damage in the population, which every day sinks into worse living conditions while the privileged minority improves its conditions in inverse proportions. The foreign debt has grown, but it has not increased the country's ability to generate wealth. Corruption is the primary factor that keeps the country in underdevelopment, and is a determining factor in the poverty of two?thirds of the population.

Corruption reached radical extremes in Italy, but not in detriment to the country's development. In fact, in the 40 years since the Second World War, the Italian economy grew and consolidated until forming part of the select group of the seven most industrialized countries in the world. The Latin American nations are the opposite. The voracity of the governing classes has made them incapable of differentiating between private and national interests. Corruption was implanted as valid currency and professing the capitalist faith was reduced to the unscrupulous accumulation of capital. There was no respect for minimum rules so that the accumulation would not take the country towards catastrophe. That same voracity took different paths for the Europeans. In Western Europe the leading classes incorporated large segments of the population in the benefits of development, generating consensus around the political, economic and social model. Latin America maintained an economic apartheid and resorted to indiscriminate violence and foreign intervention to maintain a system of privileges based on corruption. The results are clearly visible.

Corruption: Mortgaging Power

With no confidence in the system that they themselves created??perhaps because they know it well??the Latin American bourgeoisie has used and still uses its countries of origin to gather wealth, which is then "buried in Miami." The macroeconomic data are not enough to hide reality. Mexico's recent bankruptcy is the best proof of the failure of a system where the governing classes totally separate their prosperity from the country's general prosperity. In conflicts between the two the country is sacrificed, as Nicaragua has been sacrificed. For underdeveloped countries, fighting against corruption is not an optional activity, but rather the only alternative, a question of survival.

One must have clean hands to fight corruption. Not a saint who comes down from the altar, but simply a person who believes that the basis of a country's wealth is honest and hard work by its citizens rather than the sacking of public treasuries. There is nothing illicit about living a comfortable life. If we take away from our work the incentive of gaining the satisfaction we consider important, we will no longer have the desire to work. But we have to do it within a minimum of ethics and laws. The question is how luxury is obtained. If it is through work, then welcome. If through corruption, never, because that means sacrificing the country.

Corruption mortgages power for both the present and the future. Those who have their hands tied by past vices also have their future tied. In the Socialist Youth Conference held in Madrid in 1990, it was affirmed that "Corruption mortgages power." He who corrupts from power mortgages that power, because the victim knows the corruptor. Perverse mechanisms are then put into practice: I will let you steal so that I can. If you don't accuse me, I won't accuse you; among oxen there are no horns.

Sandinismo as Well?

That is the unwritten practice of the Latin American political class, and is the norm of conduct among a certain political class in Nicaragua. Does Sandinismo also play this game? Are all submerged in the same miasma in the name of Sandino, the uncorruptable? Is there no hope for Nicaragua? Ethics is not a question of churches. It is a social necessity.

The admission and cover?up of corrupt practices is an action against the country and the revolution. The insurrection took place to put an end to an anti?national and corrupt regime and put in its place a nationalist and honest one, not to substitute it for a system that imitates its treason and corruption. If these banners are abandoned, Nicaragua will have been the victim of the greatest deception in its history. A deception that will have cost it two wars and a hundred thousand dead, massive material damage and the tragic result of orphans and disabled people, broken and displaced families. Too high a price to return to the same vices.

If corruption is permitted, almost all the sacrifice will have been in vain. It will only have served to modify the composition of the oligarchy, increased by the newly wealthy who emerged during the Sandinista period, who obtained their wealth in similar ways as the rest of the oligarchy; through Nicaragua's impoverishment and the exploitation of the humble and abandoned. It would be a second immolation of Sandino, more cruel and devastating.

"Corruption is not inevitable," stated the president of the Italian Senate, Giovanni Spadolini, in January 1993. Societies that have decided to combat it have managed to reduce it to minimum levels. It requires the political will of all parties involved but, above all, society's attitude is critical. The disposition of a good part of Nicaragua's parties does not allow one to imagine them all joining in a campaign to eradicate corruption. The task should correspond to the country's progressive forces. To the honest men and women who are not resigned to being governed by white?collar criminals, or to seeing their country eternally subjected to plundering and their people to poverty. Now that one talks about utopias, I propose this; eradicate corruption in Nicaragua, elevate the social ethic, be more ethical ourselves.

An Urgent Task for Everyone

Success, however, will depend on the sum of two elements. One, which we could call material, would be a body of laws that would make corrupt practices crimes. The second, which would be spiritual, assumes that society considers honesty to be a political value in itself, and that laws, by themselves, are insufficient. "With more laws there are more thieves," said Lao Tse. A program against corruption should thus combine legal action with social action and civic education, and the actions of the Special Prosecutor against Corruption with the dissemination of honesty as a value in and of itself, as an imperative measure to dream of a future for Nicaragua. If we take that step we will have advanced decades.

Obviously, for a campaign against corruption to prosper it must enjoy credibility in addition to political will. "It is not enough to be a believer, you have to be believable." It is not enough to talk about ethical values to other people if we are incapable of practicing them in our own circumstances. We can't tell the neighbor to put his house in order until we do the same to our own. It is worth noting that the best ideas, defended by inadequate people, become undervalued.

Nicaragua has few challenges so great. However, it is a challenge that must be faced. The fight against corruption is a state issue, an issue of public health. Eradicating it is, should be, more than just a point on a political program. It is a national imperative, if Nicaragua is truly to have a dignified and just future.

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