The Miami Herald
Mar. 10, 2002

U.S. planning to keep corrupt Latin American officials out

                      The Bush administration says it is about to unveil a new weapon to help fight corruption in Latin America: a list of
                      corrupt government officials from the region who will be denied entry visas to the United States.

                      The anti-corruption drive is being led by Otto J. Reich, the Bush appointee who will be sworn in Monday as the
                      State Department's top official in charge of Latin American affairs, and has already been set in motion. U.S.
                      embassies across the region are being asked to come up with lists of candidates to be denied visas to enter U.S.

                      I got a small preview of the plan in a telephone interview with Reich last week, in which he mentioned the fight
                      against corruption -- alongside efforts to prop up weakened democracies -- as one of his top priorities in his new
                      job. Reich brought up the corruption issue as he was talking about Argentina's financial collapse.

                      ''What happened in Argentina is the result of two things: One, they didn't really implement the proper economic
                      policy. Two, to the extent that they did, they were undermined by enormous economic mismanagement and
                      corruption,'' he said.

                      So what are you going to do to prevent these things from happening in the future? I asked.

                      ''The State Department, following the instructions of the president, is undertaking a campaign to identify clearly
                      documentable cases of corruption or money laundering in high places,'' Reich said.

                      ``We are going to revoke visas of people who we have evidence of being involved in corruption or money
                      laundering, just as we deny entry to war criminals or narcotics traffickers.''

                      How many people are we talking about?

                      ''The sky is the limit . . . We have more than one (already identified), and we are working on several more,'' he
                      said. ``I am asking every U.S. embassy to look for examples . . . We don't want these people to live or visit the
                      United States or to buy a condominium in Miami Beach.

                      ''People will understand that we are serious about going after government corruption,'' he added. ``There is a
                      very selfish reason for this: We end up paying for the bill when these people steal the money, because we have to
                      provide aid, or accept the citizens as refugees or as migrants.''

                      NICARAGUAN KEPT OUT

                      The Bush administration's anti-corruption drive began without much fanfare Jan. 25, when Byron Jerez, the close
                      financial aide of former Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Alemán, was turned back at the Managua airport as he was
                      about to board a Miami-bound flight, U.S. officials say.

                      Press reports have linked Jerez to various corruption scandals, but he has never been charged in connection with

                      Is Bush's anti-corruption drive a good idea? I think so, although to be more effective it should also address the
                      U.S. private sector complicity in many of Latin America's corruption cases. In every corruption case, there is a
                      hand that gives, and a hand that receives. The Bush administration may be only focusing on the first part of the

                      The government should also take steps to enforce U.S. laws that prohibit American companies from paying bribes
                      and or accepting bank deposits from dubious individuals. The U.S. record on this is pretty murky.

                      Consider: U.S. banks that accepted more than $130 million in deposits from Raúl Salinas de Gortari, the brother
                      of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas, never asked him to thoroughly account for the source of his money,
                      as U.S. regulations require, a U.S. Senate investigation found. Mexican investigators believe the money came
                      directly from the presidential palace.

                      PERUVIAN CASE

                      A similar thing happened in recent months with some $260 million in deposits from former Peruvian intelligence
                      chief Vladimiro Montesinos. Several U.S. and European banks took the money happily, despite U.S. laws
                      prohibiting them from accepting corrupt money.

                      And many U.S. corporations, such as IBM, have been cited in Latin American court cases as having allegedly paid
                      huge bribes in exchange for government contracts. U.S. anti-corruption laws prohibit U.S. firms from paying
                      bribes, but the rules are often not enforced, critics say.

                      Shouldn't the United States do more to enforce U.S. anti-corruption? I asked Reich. ''We are enforcing our laws,
                      and we are going to enforce them much more,'' he answered.

                      Let's hope so. Revoking U.S. visas of corrupt Latin American officials is a welcome move. But, unless Washington
                      does something about corrupt executives of U.S. firms handing out bribes or receiving dirty deposits, it will be
                      seen abroad as an example of U.S. hypocrisy.