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The Labyrinth of Graft

Corruption is not exactly a new phenomenon in Latin America. Indeed, corruption scandals have been a fixture on the region’s landscape since time immemorial. So there is nothing in principle new or surprising about the ongoing, almost endless drama that has engulfed Brazil’s President Luis Ignacio “Lula” da Silva, his political organization – the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, or Workers’ Party) – and much of the country’s political elite. But this scandal, unlike many others before it, is taking place in a consolidated democratic environment, and on the left.

Of course, there has never been any reason to expect the left to be more honest than anyone else.  To be sure, socialist, communist, or Castroite movements and leaders in Latin America have traditionally denounced graft, influence-peddling, and government grand larceny by the hemisphere’s traditional right-wing dictatorships or even centrist constitutional regimes. It is also undeniable that the left, rarely having held power, has enjoyed fewer opportunities to lay its hands on national treasuries for one purpose or another.

It is always easier to be honest when in opposition, although it also has always been far more dangerous, sometimes fatally so, to be out of power or favor in Latin America. But, as Latin America’s left claims more governments – today in Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Uruguay, and partly Argentina, and perhaps Mexico, Bolivia, and Nicaragua in the near future – there is no reason why it should be immune from the region’s eternal ills.

Clearly, the Brazilian left, like its Venezuelan, Argentine, Uruguayan, Mexican, and Bolivian counterparts, has not been inoculated against corruption. If Chile’s left seems to be somewhat impervious to the trend, this has much more to do with the country’s history and culture than with its socialist parties.