Monday, 6 April 2015

Corrupt Colombia

There’s an old, but still seemingly very relevant, joke that does the rounds in Colombia. It goes something like this:
Bogotá DC, Colombia: It might look well from the air, but there are plenty of problems within; one of the biggest of those being corruption.
'Eh, where's that bridge?' (Photo: Pieter Hupkes.)
A prominent Colombian politician is invited to a major Canadian (insert any ‘First World’ country there) city by its mayor. On arrival, the visiting official is transported in style to the mayor’s residence – an impressive, three-storey mansion hidden away on the outskirts of the city. The esteemed guest is treated to a grand meal served with the finest of cutlery in splendid surroundings.

Somewhat amazed at all the luxury on display, the Colombian politician asks his host where he got all the money to finance such opulence. The Canadian invites his visitor to the balcony: “You see that bridge over there” the mayor says, pointing to a spectacular construction spanning a nearby river, “well 10 per cent of the cost of that is in my pocket.” The Colombian nods appreciatively.

A year later, the favour is returned, with the Canadian mayor invited to the Colombian politician’s home place. Not expecting much, the North American is pleasantly surprised to be picked up from the airport in a top-of-the-range, German stretch limo and transported to a quite stunning, castle-like residence. In the wining and dining department, no expense is spared.

Puzzled as to how this ‘developing world’ politician could afford all that was on show, the mayor quizzes the Colombian about it. The host escorts his guest to the top-floor viewing deck and tells him to look out at the bridge down in the city below. The visitor looks hard for a time, then turns and in bemusement says, “But I can’t see anything.” “Well, you see,” the Colombian informs his new friend, “100 per cent of the cost of that ‘bridge’ is in my pocket.”

So there you have it. A case of, you might say, ‘all politicians are corrupt, but some are more corrupt than others.’ That’s generally how most Colombians view those pulling the strings in this country. And, considering all that has happened and continues to happen here, such as the apparently ubiquitous phantom public projects highlighted in the 'joke', you couldn’t blame them.

Now I must state that previously I’d been impressed with how Colombian courts dealt with those found guilty of corruption. For example, last year you had a former agriculture minister, Andrés Felipe Arias, sentenced to 17 years imprisonment and fined some 12 million euro for embezzlement. (Ireland, take note; although do note said minister is still 'enjoying' his freedom on the run in the USA.)
'Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.' Throw in money and those greedy for it, and you've got a very toxic mix.
Briefcase politics: Still going strong in Colombia ... (Photo: dw.de.)
However, in light of recent scandals, it appears that even some of the watchdogs, that is to say the courts and their top judges, are not free of the ‘briefcase influence’. Thus, the justice system has now been called into question.

In a country with a number of under-the-counter, illegitimate businesses on the go, many of those linked to powerful, illegal drug lords, that corruption seems to be endemic perhaps isn’t too surprising. Money is rather vociferous in these parts, regardless of where it comes from.

Yes, there are, at least at face value, genuine forces working to try and combat this culture. The task at hand, though, is monumental.*

Plus, considering it's difficult to know who exactly is straight, it begs the question, 'Who can you trust?' 'Not many' is the most prudent answer.
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*For a previous piece giving an example of Colombian double standards, see Soft touch Colombia.

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