When Latin American heads of state sat down in Panama City starting Friday for the 7th Summit of the Americas, one empty chair will stand out. Officially, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet will stay home to oversee the reconstruction of stretches of northern Chile devastated by torrential rains and flash floods.
Chile the region's model country, a paladin of probity as well as sound economic management, has fallen into disrepute, what to say about the rest of the pack?
Earlier this week, a stealth protestor dropped a handful of rodents on the floor of a congressional committee room in Brasilia where lawmakers were grilling a ruling party apparatchik accused of raiding the state oil company for political campaign funds. The symbolism was not lost on the Brazilians, who have seen Petrobras, their biggest brand, consumed by varmints in suits.
For the past month, a multimillion dollar corruption scandal has engulfed business tycoons, some of Bachelet's political allies and her own son, who is under investigation for taking a questionable $10 million loan. The case has dominated the news cycle and gutted Bachelet's stellar approval ratings.
Don't bet on corruption coming up much in Panama City. One reason for the likely silence on corruption is esprit de corps: With the rot spread ecumenically across the hemisphere, leaders aren't eager to call out their neighbors, for fear of drawing scrutiny. Another is that kickbacks and payola, as bad they may be, take a back seat to the economic slump that is grinding down growth and presidential approval ratings. Venezuela's Maduro is polling 22 percent, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, 13 percent.
Thanks to a new generation of diligent prosecutors, financial sleuths, and especially a quarrelsome press, that has changed. "Our societies may be no more corrupt than they were 20 or 30 years ago. The difference is that people know more thanks to freedom of information laws and independent media.
Unfortunately, corruption will be a story for another summit
Bloomberg | By Mac Margolis