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.
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.