By Carlos Alberto Montaner

Image credit: Libertad.org

 

It seemed that Peru had been saved and was marching steadily towards development. It was what the World Bank forecasts predicted. Neighbourhood with Chile was its secret. Peruvians had seen how the market, economic freedom, the mass of savings produced by the system of individual retirement accounts, and the seriousness in the handling of finances and currency, in a few decades had put Chile at the head of Latin America and on the threshold of the First World. All that had to be done was to persist in closely following the Chilean model.

It was not possible. It didn’t happen. What happened? Perhaps, in general, the political class failed. Several of the presidents are behind bars, under house arrest, are awaiting extradition or have committed suicide in order to avoid ignominy. Peruvians have a very bad opinion of their leaders. While in Lima there was the spectacle of the dissolution of Congress, in Curitiba, Brazil, Mr. Jorge Barata, Odebrecht’s strongman in Peru, revealed the names of several dozen corrupt Peruvian politicians, to the right and left of the ideological spectrum, who had received money in exchange for favors from the Brazilian construction company.

Are the societies of Chile and Peru very different when it comes to the honesty of the public sector? Perhaps. According to Transparency International, in a score where 100 means nothing of corruption is perceived, and 0, where the opposite happens and the country is rotten to the ground, Chile is at 70 points, while Peru only reaches half: 35. It is the same with respect to Uruguay (70) and Argentina (40), or with Costa Rica (56) and Nicaragua (25), bordering countries that even have a common or very close history.

Chile, Uruguay and Costa Rica, by the way, are the only Latin American countries that go beyond 50, the neuralgic point where corruption is considered intolerable. Venezuela, which is the worst, ranks at 18, followed closely by Haiti, with just 20, and Ortega’s Nicaragua, which killed almost 400 people in less than a year, only reaches 25.

It is not surprising that Chile, Uruguay and Costa Rica are the most predictable and peaceful societies in Latin America, while Venezuela, Haiti and Nicaragua, the three countries perceived as the most corrupt, move at the other end of the scheme. There is an obvious relationship between honesty and stability, as there is one between larceny and institutional chaos.

This coherence has to do with republican institutions. The republic is an artificial construction based on the premise that all human beings have equal rights and are equal before the law. Based on this belief, institutions are set up so that no privileges of any kind exist. Of course, there are “rent-seekers,” and even the existence of lobbying dedicated to these (in my opinion ignoble) needs is allowed, but the worst sin is to increase the price of goods and services for the benefit of politicians and officials who receive bribes.

Why is it the worst sin? At least due to three reasons. Firstly, because it teaches that wealth is not achieved with hard work and innovation, but in having the right friendships. Why study and burn your eyelashes if a powerful friend is enough? Secondly, because it quickly rots the moral foundations of society. It is very easy to move from budget theft to complicity with drug traffickers and mafias of all types of crime. And thirdly, it generates a great cynicism and an attitude of rejection of all the institutions of the Republic. The “let them all go” heard in Argentina is a return to the search for a dictator to save us from our own incapacity.

In April 1992, Peruvians applauded Alberto Fujimori’s self-coup. Eighty-two percent supported it. Eventually, the strong man became corrupt with the help of Vladimiro Montesinos, and today both are in jail. I don’t know how they don’t understand: only compliance with the law and respect for the institutions of the Republic save us. Beyond that is the abyss.

 

This article was published by Libertad.org on October 10th, 2019. Reproduced on Political Hispanic with authorization from said source.
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