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LAS AMERICAS The Permanent Kleptocracy BY GABRIELA BOCAGRANDE 0 n May 13 of this year, Richard Lugar, the Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, convened the first hearing on Combating Corruption at the Multilateral Development Banks respective institutions, Carol Brookins of the World Bank and Hector Morales of the Inter-American Development Chairman for calling the meeting on such a troubling and important topic, while citing the plethora of bureaucratic steps the Banks had taken to fight theft, fraud, and malfeasance. Brookins, the U.S. Executive Director at the World Bank and member in good standing of President Bush’s Leadership Team, appeared first. A ghastly Washington type, with kabuki makeup and dead hair, she showed up in a tight, bright purple suit to explain the many ways in which the World Bank now works directly with poor people and their communities, making sure that your hard-earned U.S. tax dollars get to them instead of draining off into the pockets of klepocratic dictators with Swiss bank accounts. She told the Committee that she felt “quite passionate” about this, but she neglected to mention even general estimates of the percentage of World Bank funding that actually goes to the poor rather than to the official kleptos, for reasons we’ll get to shortly. Before landing at the World Bank, Ms. Brookins was the CEO of World Perspectives, Inc. a Washington-based consulting firm that advises corporate agricultural clients on how to influence U.S. policy and make as much money as possible on the trade of basic foods, such as wheat, corn, and soy beans, in the international market. Not exactly a humanitarian pursuit. Even so, she seemed seized by an inexplicable impulse to tell the truth about the World Bank when she quoted James Wolfensohn, its President: “Frankly, there is not enough bold and consistent action on corruption, particularly at the higher levels of influence?’ This is undoubtedly correct, and we are not likely to get much action out of her or the rest of this crew, either. Morales, the U.S. Executive Director at the IDB, testified next. Mr. Morales, a jolly, stocky man, declared, “The IDB has made significant strides with respect to institutional anti-corruption issues. Progress is being made on creating an institutional culture that promotes transparency.” At the recent annual meeting of the IDB in Lima, however, Mr. Morales and the U.S. Executive Director’s office hosted a breakfast meeting with the Business Council on International Bush administration’s efforts to foster a “more business-oriented approach to the Bank’s activities?’ In the parlance of the MDBs, a business-oriented environment will include weakened labor standards \(in those places where capability, and no taxes. According to its website, “Membership in BCIU brings an impressive array of opportunities to briefand to be briefed bysenior U.S. Government officials, Ambassadors, and leaders throughout the world. Through these partnerships and activities, BCIU helps to enhance the business success of members while improving U.S. Government assistance to international business?’ Inquiries to ascertain the cost of joining the Council on International Understanding or securing an invitation to the Lima breakfast briefing were fruitless, which is not very transparent, don’t we agree? Here’s an idea. As part of the new anti corruption and transparency crusade Mr. Morales is kicking off at the IDB, he himself might tell us who sat down to the BCIU breakfast in Lima, how much they paid for their muffins, and what the Latin American government representatives present agreed to do in order to help enhance business success in their immiserated and debt-ridden countries. But these chummy breakfast briefing arrangements are not what Ms. Brookins and Mr. Morales understand as corruption. These are “Public-Private Partnerships,” or a new paradigm that seeks to “…improve the environment for the domestic private sector, and to build confidence and trust between all partners and the providers of finance for development.” The partnerships are not graft, bribes, and shakedowns, for heaven’s sake. If you ask Ms. Brookins or Mr. Morales, actual theft is much more clear-cut and you know it when you see it. Take for example, the case of Arnoldo Aleman, the now-incarcerated exPresident of Nicaragua. Mr. Aleman has gone to jail for corruption because, among other things, he appropriated food donated to the destitute victims of Hurricane Mitch and sold it at market prices in local stores. This was an extremely stupid thing to do. There was no feasible way to present that deal as a public-private partnership, not even for the World Bank’s seasoned PR people. Then there was Ernesto Samper, exPresident of Colombia, whose political campaigns were financed by narcos. The tapes about the funding sources surfaced at newspaper offices in Bogota. Also very bad and not subtle. The World Bank and the IDB now tell us that they have “zero-tolerance” for this sort of malfeasance. Of course they can afford to say this now because neither Aleman nor Samper happens to be president of anything any longer. 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 6/4/04