Central American corruption is endemic, as it is in the rest of the world. The announcement this week that one of the major policies the U.S. Vice President, Kamala Harris, will pursue, as part of her assigned task in curbing immigration from Central America, will be a campaign against corruption in those countries.
In my humble opinion, this is a huge mistake, and a total waste of time, effort and money. Corruption is endemic in all countries, including the U.S., and it’s a fundamental part of life in Central America. Fighting it, head on, is an exercise in futility.
The U.S. has always had a “holier than thou” mentality in many of its dealings with the rest of the world. The fact that it mostly ignores the levels of corruption at home is totally hypocritical, and hamstrings its efforts abroad.
I was once asked by a taxi driver in Bogota, why politicians in the U.K. are not corrupt. His question was based on his comparison with Colombian politicians. My reply was that all politicians are corrupt. The only difference is the degree of corruption, and the relative difference in the percentages they steal. A perception of whether they might get caught, also plays a part in the percentages they steal. However, the longer they are in office, the greater the influence of megalomania, and the greater becomes the belief that they are immune from prosecution. They tend to reach the point where they believe it is their right to be paid off. In the U.S., political campaign contributions maybe a slightly more subtle method of bribery than a suitcase full of cash, but the principle is the same.
Attempting to control levels of corruption is admirable. Attempting to eliminate it, is utterly futile, and a major distraction from what can actually be achieved.
In the case of Kamala Harris and Central America, I think the U.S. should be making a serious effort to improve the economies and, in particular, the education systems of those countries. The long-term effect on migration of such policies will be significant and long-lasting. Announcements of fighting corruption may go down well with the domestic U.S. media, but it is a waste of time and money, and will achieve nothing, except temporary sound-bite accolades. It is also a total waste of Kamala’s talents, and she should know better with her background. Central American corruption is impossible to eliminate, just as it is impossible to eliminate in the United States.
Two quick personal experiences of the endemic nature of human corruption. The first was my work in Sierra Leone. There, the accepted culture was that the higher position you held, the greater the “Dash” to which you were entitled. It was perfectly normal, and accepted, at all levels. It was part of the national furniture. Many foreigners threw up their hands in hypocritical anguish, but Sierra Leonians just wondered what the hell all the fuss was about.
The second occurred during my first trip to Mexico. Four students in an old Chevy Impala, with a trunk (boot) full of luggage. The customs officer at the Tijuana border crossing, opened the trunk, looked at me, and said, “You really don’t want me to empty this all over the road, do you?” I said, “No….,how much?” He said twenty dollars. I paid, and we crossed over the border with no more fuss, and were sent on our way with lots of smiles and good wishes for our trip. My companions, fellow graduate students from the University of Illinois, but originally from Wales, were horrified, and berated me for many days afterwards. Total naïveté, on their part, of the way the vast majority of the world operates.
Kamala, your job on immigration is hard enough. Don’t make it personally sacrificial by following a “holier than thou”, futile pipe dream. The the U.S. media may congratulate your efforts but that’s minor compared to your integrity and legacy. As a real possibility for a higher future position in the U.S. Government, it behooves you to do what you know can be achieved, long-term. Sound-bite mentality has killed many a politician’s career. Let me repeat, Central American corruption is just as impossible to eliminate as it is in the U.S.