by Luis Vega

Corruption is an integral part of every part of every governing body in the world whether it is high on the political ladder with the president being involved in some form or another or it may trickle down to the local assemblymen or most commonly the police force. Taking bribes, stealing money to fund your own personal ventures, or turning the other way when you see something going on right in front of your face is all forms of corruption that if they occur enough it could stagnate the economic progress of the country, or even the growth of fair government or democracy.

A Cabal of Corruption
Latin American governments are often noted for the amount of corruption that exists between them. Even the most politically and economically advanced countries deal with corruption of some sort. In Mexico the police force is notorious for the amount of corruption that it participates in from kidnappings, taking bribes, to drug dealing. It is comparable across the board. All countries deal with it, some more than others but at any rate it is prevalent.

The stagnation of economies is due to leaders taking advantage of their post to benefit themselves even though when they were elected they promised to work in the best interest of the people. The temptation of taking advantage of the situation that they are put in is way more than they can handle. On top of the power that officials and politicians possess they have access to government money. Why do these forms of abuse take place? In the United States they will say it is democracy or lack there of. But the truth of the matter is that it happens even in the most of democratic nations in Latin America.

Democracy amongst Americans is simple to conceptualize but when enforcing it upon other countries it seems like they drop it and it leave it. And even when democracy is not the form of government in another country as long as they get backing from the United States government and follow United States protocol the American government will give support. Support from the United States and following protocol will oft give the impression that corruption will cease or at least be limited. This is not the case at all. As an outsider looking in it is pretty easy to tell that the United States will only meddle in only to a certain extent. The truth of the matter is, if it does not curtail the plans of the United States government that’s when the blind eye gets turned.

Common Corruption
It is common for corruption to occur amongst top officials in a country but what is not spoken of is the corruption with local officials. Local communities are hurt by local politicians because of the bribery and thievery they involve themselves with. On a recent trip to Panama right in the midst of election season just before Martin Torrijos was elected president it was evident how important local politics were. It was apparent that democratic elections were taken very seriously in Panama. There were advertisements all over the place from Panama City to the Costa Rican border. Along with the help of the United States Panama has been able to maintain economic stability that other Latin American nations have not even come close to.

Outside of Panama City where 2.5 million of its 5 million inhabitants dwell local politics are imperative people to maintain a decent way of life. When asked a local of district 14 about the upcoming elections “The national elections are great and our people have a sense of nationalism but outside of Panama City no one matters and local politicians steal the money they are supposed to use for our communities. Democracy doesn’t mean much at all when there is so much money involved. It is so easy to steal from the government which in turns they are stealing from us.” I asked where his expertise of politics comes from he replied as if I insulted him and simply said “just because I’m from the country doesn’t mean that I couldn’t afford an education.”

Paving the Infrastructure
Local politics are often determined by how much enforcement officials could get away with, which trickled down from governors to police officers to small business owners. Some of the smallest towns and districts operate on a budget as small as 5,000 to 10,000 a month.

These figures are supposed to break down and represent books for school, paving roads, fix potholes, and anything to better the community. The truth of the matter is most of these improvements never occur, and it is prevelant especially of what I witnessed in District 14. Most of the 5,000 to 10,000 dollar budget gets pocketed with fake receipts and false promises. Schools look like shacks, roads are impossible to ride on, and schools are using the same books they’ve been using since before Manuel Noriega. Either the president and top officials are clueless or they just turn a blind eye for support from local politicians.

Corruption is the main reason for political instability which in turn hurts the economy and even though the United States is very supportive of democracy and its main goal is to spread it throughout the world it does not follow through in teaching the principles and formalities that come with it.

It is easy to say that the United States has assisted many nations the movement towards democracy but what is often not heard of is how very poorly these countries are conducting the democratic values. Who is stop officials from taking and offering bribes? With this happening there is nothing that can be done in terms of checks and balances. Who is to stop who without the United States being the controller? Democracy has been able to work in the United States but it hasn’t been so successful in other countries of the world. In Latin America without controls set in place it is very unlikely for democracy to work. Economies are sinking lower and lower and politicians are becoming richer and richer, and corruption is making democracy unachievable. Hopefully democracy is the answer, but it is probable that it may not be.