In countries like Venezuela, corruption is more than a problem, is a system.
Today, the United Nations celebrates International Anti-Corruption Day, which seeks to highlight the “rights and responsibilities of everyone” in tackling corruption, including government officials, civil society, and the public.
As such, it seems fitting to write about the topic – not only based on my experience in Venezuela, but also from the perspective of other SFL alumni in countries like Serbia and Lebanon.
You see, in countries like ours, corruption is everywhere. It is with us from the day we are born until the day we die, affecting everything from the smallest moments of everyday life to the most significant political issues. In our countries, corruption is more than just a problem; corruption is an entire system.
This is something that I have become used to explaining since I moved to the United States and then western Europe – something that I learned from the late Boris Nemtsov, who I strongly admire.
In 2014, the Russian opposition leader had a conversation with the late Anthony Bourdain in which he said that “corruption is everywhere, including the United States, even in the Scandinavian countries. But in these countries, it is a problem. In Russia, it is a system to control the country.”
Nemtsov’s words have stuck with me since I watched that interview seven years ago; I was 17 years old. This took on an even greater meaning when I read that Nemtsov was killed just a year later, shot from behind while crossing the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge near the Kremlin.
His assassination illustrated the consequences of corruption. When corruption is turned into a system, those who oppose it run risks that are unthinkable to people living in more democratic nations.
Yet, it is because of brave individuals like Nemtsov that we can hope for a freer future.
Below, I will include comments from Students For Liberty alumni about the state of corruption in their respective countries.
As I said in my comments on the crisis in Ukraine earlier this week, it is our duty to stand against oppression in every corner of the world. In fact, I firmly believe that none of us can be truly free unless everyone is.
Romy Haber, Lebanon
“People who live in the least corrupt countries like New Zealand and Denmark perceive corruption as a form of dishonesty and think of bribery or patronage. But when people from the most corrupt countries think of corruption, they think of a dangerous and murderous cycle they are locked in; a cycle that deprives them of their dignity.
When I think of corruption, the first images that come to my mind are the bloody and destroyed streets of Beirut after the 2020 explosion, when 2750 tons of unsafely stored ammonium nitrate exploded, causing more than 220 deaths, 7000 injuries, and US$ 15 billion in property damage, and leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless.
When I think of corruption, I also think of the electricity sector in Lebanon that has drained public finances but still keeps the majority of Lebanese in the dark with widespread electricity blackouts lasting up to 22 hours.
When I think of corruption, I think of political parties building their headquarters in historic and archeological valleys.
Corruption can be perceived as an envelope being passed under the table, but its consequences can include the largest non-nuclear blast in modern history, a population left in the dark, and the destruction of archaeological, environmental, and historical sites.”
Vuk Dinic, Serbia
“In Serbia, corruption is a huge issue. Russia controls Serbia’s oil sector, China controls our mining sector.
While Alexander Lukashenko may be known as the last dictator in Europe, Aleksandar Vucic may be the next.”
Esteban Hernandez, Venezuela
“Corruption is an intrinsic evil of the state. Until we understand that the most effective way to combat it is by taking power away from it, Latin America will continue to be condemned to continue being an excessively corrupt region. Politicians rarely place the country before their interests.
Venezuela, the country with the most interventionist regime in the region, is also the most corrupt of all. The relationship between the size of the state and corruption is clear and direct.”
Oswaldo Silva, Venezuela
“A good part of the problems in our region is rooted in the appalling management of public affairs and opacity in the administration of the resources of each nation. Therefore, it should be a priority for Latin American citizens to generate the necessary pressure so that the political and economic systems of our countries do not create incentives for acts of corruption and abuse of power.”
Oluwafemi Ogunjobi, Nigeria
“If the continent isn’t serious and intentional about tackling corruption, it will just be a yearly boisterous anti-corruption campaign culture and that will get us nowhere. The African Union estimates that the continent loses $140 billion to corruption annually; the Economic Development in Africa Report 2020 by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said Africa loses about US$88.6 billion, 3.7 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP), annually in illicit financial flows.
The continent needs an efficient, transparent, accountable and reduced size of governments to thrive. This will encourage innovation, investments and eliminate wastes.
The good thing is, there is some hope with the Africa Continent Free Trade Area as a lever for the continent’s prosperity, but the success of the ACFTA is largely dependent on the continent’s ability to tackle corruption and allowing markets to thrive.”
Alejandra Franganillo, Cuba
“In Cuba, what started out as a ‘noble revolution for the poor’ turned out to be but a modern day feudalistic system, where the people became enslaved to the State while high military and political officials possessed unimaginable fortunes and luxuries. Fidel Castro, the great socialist leader who advocated for social justice and equality, managed to possess at his death $900M. Cuba is an example of how the State is the most corruptive force and why should we continue to advocate anti-corruption methods for a freer and more transparent society.”
By Jorge Jraissati
Jorge Jraissati is a Venezuelan economist and freedom advocate. He is the Director of Alumni Programs of Students For Liberty, an NGO advancing the ideas of a free society in over 100 countries. Beyond SFL, Jorge is a research consultant for IESE Business School, an economist from the Wilkes Honors College, and the President of Venezuelan Alliance, a policy group specialized in the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis. Jorge is a weekly columnist at Freedom Today Network.