Odebrecht Organization is a Brazilian company specializing in construction, engineering and the sophisticated bribery of government officials all over Latin America to secure public works contracts. This past December, the company pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to having paid $788 million in bribes. Since then, corruption cases ranging from Colombia to the Dominican Republic have surfaced and have reached African countries like Angola.
Both Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Dominican President Danilo Medina have taken money from Odebrecht to fund their re-elections. In turn, Odebrecht has monopolized construction in both countries. Most of the construction initiatives that were going to be done in Colombia are much-needed infrastructure projects. They would provide jobs for the thousands of demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces members who need them. Now, these projects are at a halt, tainted with dirty money and will most likely never get finished.
The Odebrecht bribes are one of the biggest foreign scandals in decades and an unfortunate testament to how Latin America’s growth is made easy thanks to political corruption because there really wasn’t any other choice.
This is the first time, however, that the people of these countries are not putting up with blatant corruption, and because of this, most if not all of the countries in the corruption scandal are owning up to their mistakes.
When it comes to making deals with government officials, it does not matter what company will do the best job — it matters how much the single politician can get out of the transaction. Most people in Latin America know their governments steal from them and others, but their inactivity in the democratic process makes it easy for their officials to stifle democracy as a whole.
Odebrecht’s bribes were facilitated by public-private partnerships (PPPs), which are contracts used for big, complex projects. The parameters of most of these contracts make big projects very expensive for countries that barely have enough money to build roads and buildings themselves, making corruption easy and the only way to pay the high prices.
Governments in Chile, Colombia and Peru have moved to change these rules to make construction cheaper, therefore diminishing the need for bribes and pushing the need for efficiency.
We are finally reaching an era where the people are taking hold of their democracies, something Latin America hasn’t done since its revolutionary wars.