This article first appeared in La Tercera on October 17, 2019.
Although it has been a long time since the Odebrecht case exploded, its repercussions do not seem to be over. Recently, the declarations of Jorge Barata, former head of the Brazilian company in Peru, where he stated that bribes were paid from the “Caja B” to the campaigns of Alan García, Ollanta Humala, Alejandro Toledo and Keiko Fujimori, as well as bribes to two former mayors of Lima, became known. These latest revelations show the depth of the situation and more and more cases of corruption and bad practices are being uncovered in the region.
At the other extreme, citizens have taken to the streets en masse to support President Vizcarra’s decision to dissolve the Congress, as a consequence of the weakening of institutions left by corruption.
On the other hand, we always thought that the Odebrecht case had not reached Chile, we were glad that the only thing that had appeared was MEO’s plane, we thought that Chile was so little corrupt that the companies involved had not “succeeded” in their strategy in our country.
But, apparently it was not so, a few weeks ago the statements of the former CEO of the Brazilian construction company, Leo Pinheiro, who admitted that the company had donated just over 100 million pesos to the campaign of the then candidate Michelle Bachelet in 2013, reviving the connections of this construction company with our country, came to light. Moreover, a report in a well-known metropolitan newspaper gave an account of the way OAS operated, which transferred 77 million dollars to its Chilean subsidiary, 34 of which came from the Virgin Islands and Bahamas, known tax havens.
Former President Bachelet claims that she had no links with OAS and that its financing was entirely legal. However, Giorgio Martelli, the collector of her campaign, has been permanently in the eye of the storm for these cases, leaving a blanket of doubts about his practices.
OAS would have elaborated fictitious contracts, whose resources would have been used in the payment of bribes and irregular financing of politics. A measure normalized by the company in countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, British Virgin Islands and Chile, which, according to the latest information, has not been spared.
And believe me, the “donations” of a foreign company to our country, or to any other country, are not because they are committed to the development of the political system…nothing is free in this life.
These “donations” expect a “favor” in return. It should be remembered that many companies often offer large and expensive public works to governments in order to enter the market. Sometimes, the infrastructure is not of a high standard and can even have catastrophic consequences, such is the case of Argentina. During the Kirchnerism governments, a significant number of bridges were built, and by 2018, 12 viaducts had already collapsed in the province of Tucumán. Some of them repaired and others built at the beginning of 2015. Fortunately no deaths had to be regretted in the neighboring country, but it reflects how dangerous the lack of a transparent bidding process can be, which in this case could have even claimed lives.
The aforementioned cases are worrying. If the bridges in Tucumán had not collapsed, perhaps no one would pay close attention to public works bids, whose poor execution can claim innocent victims.
Will we have similar cases in Chile? Perhaps we will never know, but what is important is that we cannot think that we do not, and therefore do nothing. As a country we need to be constantly concerned, transparent and updating the awarding processes of these major works and all public procurement in general.
We must remember that we are human beings, and therefore we are all susceptible to corruption, even more so when the incentives are set on the short term, or when we end up justifying bad practices because “everyone does it” or “it has always been done that way”.
It is important that we do not stop talking about corruption, because if we pretend it does not exist, then we will not be prepared to prevent it either.
I know, corruption is a word that nobody likes, we read the news from our neighboring countries as if they were far away, horrified by the scandal of others. But we must be aware that in Chile it also exists, and the cases that we have learned about in recent years, involving the institutions that were the most credible in the country (army, police, justice, municipalities, etc.), make it clear.
We cannot allow our institutions to be weakened by this cancer called corruption. We must keep in mind that the work of putting an end to it is everyone’s job, whether it is by denouncing, educating, making processes transparent, or simply saying no. This is fundamental in order to regain trust and not regret it when it is too late. This is fundamental so that trust can be regained and not regretted when it is too late.
By: Susana Sierra