With various leaders accused of corruption, including General Secretary of the OAS, Luis Almagro, it would have been difficult to achieve any concrete commitments from this Summit.
With the exception of Bolivia and Cuba, most of the speeches centred on attacking Venezuela, whose participation was vetoed by the host government.
“This summit was stillborn.” Thus it was defined by Marcelo Caruso, a Colombian analyst, at the 8th Summit of the Americas, held in Lima on April 13 and 14 and which had as its principal theme “Democratic governability in the face of corruption”.
With 34 delegations from the continent present, the Summit took place in absence of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, vetoed by the Peruvian government, and the US President Donald Trump, who on the day the Summit began, announced from Washington the attack on Syria, following which the Summit practically disappeared from the news. Nor did Ecuadorian President, Lenín Moreno, take part, as he had to return to his country following confirmation of the death of three Ecuadorian journalists. They were killed by a group of presumed dissidents from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The meeting took place after a political crisis in Peru that ended with the resignation of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski on March 23. He was replaced by the Vice-president, Martín Vizcarra.
In his opening speech, Vizcarra called for “the adoption of concrete measures against corruption.”
“Just three weeks ago I assumed the Presidency of the Republic in a complex context that is not independent of the issue that we are addressing here. In this crisis it has become clear that in Peru, as in the whole region, corruption has enormous consequences on governability, economic growth and the quality of life of citizens,” he said.
“The states of the hemisphere have tried out reforms in favor of transparency, accountability and the promotion of more independent judicial systems during the last two decades, however, a recent wave of corruption scandals has revealed that our efforts have not been enough. We are in debt to our people”, he added.
With various leaders accused of corruption, including Mauricio Macri (Argentina), Michel Temer (Brazil), Juan Manuel Santos (Colombia), Juan Orlando Hernández (Honduras) and the General Secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS) himself, Luis Almagro, it would have been difficult to achieve any concrete commitments from this Summit.
This is an event that is “just for the photograph,” as one journalist noted, because the final document had already been negotiated and agreed upon by the foreign ministries of the countries taking part.
The presence of extra-official (opposition) delegations from Cuba and Venezuela sullied the official event, as did the display of banners in the main streets of the city, against these governments.
Although there was no official presence of Venezuela, Cuba, taking part for the second time in a Summit of the Americas (the first was in 2015), was represented by its Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez, and his Deputy Minister, Rogelio Sierra.
As part of the official programme, on April 12 there were four fora: Civil Society, Youth, ParlAmericas and the Business Summit.
Both in the Youth forum and in that of Civil Society, the organizers excluded the official delegates of Cuba, pointing out that these places had already been occupied by Cuban dissident representatives. This generated a loud complaint by the Cuban delegates that ended with their inclusion in the event.
Representatives of the Venezuelan opposition, who were also present, shouted down Peruvian leftist Deputies because of their support for the Venezuelan government and Nicolás Maduro.
“This was a Summit without any impact”, said Caruso to ALAI. “The Lima Commitment, made public before the end of the Summit, since it had already been approved, is purely symbolic, because the decisions of this kind of event are hardly binding”.
Beyond calls for openness and the implementation of public campaigns of awareness raising or the promotion of codes of conduct, the Lima Commitment does not mention specific measures to combat corruption.
An example of this is that they only mention, in relation to illicit financial flows, the need to “strengthen the international framework of juridical and institutional cooperation in order to prevent financial systems of the region from being utilized for the transfer and concealment of funds resulting from acts of corruption, including those offenses contemplated in the Convention of the United Nations against Corruption and the Inter-American Convention against Corruption.” This was due to the fact that a great number of Caribbean nations as well as several countries of the continent are tax havens.
According to the Social Justice Network, more than two billion US dollars resulting from corruption (bribes), money laundering (contraband, trafficking in drugs, arms and people, illegal logging, etc.) have been deposited in tax havens since 1970. The Panama Papers scandal, that broke out in April of 2016, provided evidence on how a Panamanian company invented offshore companies in tax havens to launder money and avoid tax.
Bolivian President Evo Morales was the only leader to demand concrete measures to combat corruption, including the elimination of tax havens.
In addition to pointing out that “the real challenge is to undo the system in which corruption and capitalism prospers,” the leader insisted that “we must discuss the structures of corruption, how it is fed, who tolerates and promotes it, what are the mechanisms, including illegally constitutionalized ones, that are the source or the haven of corrupt money.”
He added that “Until we undertake concrete actions to eliminate the so-called tax havens, while there are no efficacious and transparent international controls of transnational companies, that in many cases promote and encourage corruption and the violation of human rights, while there be no genuine transformation of the financial system that promotes speculation and feeds the immoral accumulation of wealth in the hands of a small group of individuals, everything that is said in this Summit will be insufficient”.
“While we do not suppress the secret banking that is taken advantage of by delinquents for money laundering, and until we democratize and convert institutions such as the IMF into servants of the common good rather than instruments of subjection”, he noted, “nothing that is said in this summit will be sufficient”.
However, it will be difficult to move ahead in the struggle against corruption while the OAS, and particularly its general secretary Luis Almagro–former Foreign Minister of Uruguay during the government of President José Mujica (2010-2015), who became the General Secretary of the OAS in May 2015–, face serious accusations of embezzlement.
During the Peoples’ Summit–a meeting of Latin American and Caribbean social movements that took place parallel to the official Summit–, Peruvian lawyer Julio Arbizu and Chilean Criminal Judge, Daniel Urrutia, denounced the diversion of funds from the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH-OAS), installed in November 2015 in order to accompany the fight against corruption that arose as a result of protests against the embezzlement at the Honduran Social Security Institute (IHSS).
Around 200 million US dollars from the IHSS, destined for the purchase of medicines and inputs and payments of pensions for old age and invalidity, were diverted to private accounts, and a part of this money went into the hands of the governing National Party in order to finance the 2013 electoral campaign of President Juan Orlando Hernández. Hernández was re-elected in December of last year for a second mandate, despite the fact that the Constitution forbids re-election, and that it was the motive for overthrowing ex-president Manuel Zelaya in 2009, even though Zelaya had only proposed a referendum on this question.
Almagro chose Juan Jiménez Mayor, former Ambassador of Peru to the OAS and who had been Minister of Justice and Prime Minister during the government of Ollanta Humala (2011-2016), to head the MACCIH. Arbizu, a former anticorruption attorney, and Urrutia were called upon to participate in this endeavour.
The MACCIH had to face two adversaries from the outset: one was the OAS itself and the other the Honduran State apparatus that was plagued by corruption.
“In the OAS nothing is done without the approval of the General Secretary, who is in collusion with the President of Honduras. Almagro failed to hand over funds for the mission to function adequately”, said Arbizu. “The MACCIH had a budget of 15 million US dollars paid with contributions from member countries. This money never arrived at the mission”.
Last February, Jiménez Mayor resigned from MACCIH after Almagro sent a letter to Hernández pointing out the need to strengthen the mission in spite of its having had resources and full freedom of action. In his letter of resignation, Jiménez Mayor noted that Almagro refused to receive him in Washington in order to discuss the progress of the MACCIH.
In addition to pointing out progress in the struggle against corruption during his management, Jiménez Mayor denounced a lack of resources and of administrative autonomy, as well as the existence of personnel who worked in Washington, paid with MACCIH funds, without anyone knowing what their functions were.
“The mission was born with a death certificate. There is no seriousness in the measures against corruption”, added Arbizu, who together with Urrutia indicated having received threats after their leaving MACCIH.
On April 13, Almagro announced Brazilian Luiz Antonio Guimarães Marrey, former attorney general of São Paulo, has been named as the new spokesperson of MACCIH to replace Jiménez Mayor.
Both Arbizu and Urrutia manifested to ALAI their fear of possible changes in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
“The IACHR and the Court have maintained their independence, but it is hanging by a thread”, they said. “The Almagro administration is totally damaging for the institution”.
Almagro is an important part of the conservative offensive of the continent against Venezuela that was evident with the veto of Maduro’s presence in the official Summit, with the participation of Cuban and Venezuelan opposition leaders in official spaces, and in the speeches of those presidents aligned with the United States, who criticized the Maduro government without its having any possibility of responding.
The Peoples’ Summit, in which trade unions, indigenous and social organizations and leftist parties of Latin America took part, ended with a declaration that denounced “the counteroffensive of imperial power that attempts to wipe out democratic advances and social inclusion that progressive governments have promoted in this last one and a half decades” and proposes to “advance in social coordination to confront the neoliberal model in the continent”.
(Translated for ALAI by Jordan and Joan Remple Bishop)
– Cecilia Remón, Peruvian journalist.