Rafael Correa is seriously concerned over accusations of corruption against former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. And not just Lula. He’s also worried about allegations against Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her late husband. And against Hugo Chavez, his family and his successor, Nicolas Maduro. In Correa’s eyes, everyone is honest. The charges against these leaders, against the supposedly socialist trend in Latin America, are not based in fact. Rather, they are political attacks by opposition groups attempting to foment what he calls a ‘conservative restoration.’
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In the President’s view, these ideologically allied Governments have not committed corruption: they are victims of a new Operation Condor, mounted by the international backlash “against the progressive governments (…) Since military dictatorships are not needed, submissive judges are needed, you need a corrupt press that even dares to publish private conversations, which is absolutely illegal. ” For Correa, the plight of his friend Lula da Silva, who is under judicial investigation, is serious. He cannot conceive of a judge who, he says, “has no democratic legitimacy, can overthrow a government.”
What Correa thinks internationally applies in the domestic field. His Government, in power for nine years, has not been audited. Control bodies, including the Audit Commission of the Assembly, are run by supporters or friends. There are reports of mismanagement issued by the State Comptroller, but that institution does not have the legal capacity to prosecute those responsible. The perplexity this raises is further compounded by the knowledge that the few corruption cases that have reached the courts were put there following denouncements by the Government itself.
The anti-corruption sentiment that characterizes the political crisis in Brazil has given President Correa ideas: in his Saturday monologue on radio and TV, which lately often lasts four hours or more, he devoted himself to appearing as a modest president, who earns little, who exhibits the gifts he receives in the Governmental Palace, a simple being who needs very little to live.
The President is so convinced that his Government has clean hands and loving hearts that he does not even tolerate a letter from a civic commission asking him to investigate an alleged case of public procurement overpricing.
It’s a telling case. On January 28, the National Anti-Corruption Commission requested an investigation into an alleged case of embezzlement and attempted fraud by the National Transit Agency. The letter does not accuse anyone, but outlines evidence to support the request: a handpicked supplier for an order of semi-finished vehicle license plates. The Comptroller disallowed the purchase, pointing out that the products were overpriced by $2350. According to the Commission, the Public Procurement Service (Sercop) had received complaints, but did not act.
In his letter of reply, made public on March 10, the President did not refer to the alleged corruption case and instead attacked the Commission, deeming it illegitimate and illegal for being civic. He mocked its members, the majority of whom are over 70 years old. He requested the body to announce its funding sources. He accused it of violating the laws and sentencing citizens. He instructed the Commission to go to the legal authorities which, in Ecuador, investigate nothing. In sum, the President sees the complaint as a political act betraying a desire by the Commission’s members to appear in the media. Correa’s letter concludes with a direct threat to take the Commissioners to court. And in case there is any doubt about the importance the President attaches to the matter, the letter was signed by a secretary.
It’s not the first time the National Anti-Corruption Commission has been threatened. The Electricity Minister, Esteban Albornoz, has gone as far as legal action: on October 13 last year, he sued the Commission for $4 million following its complaint over the construction costs of the Manduriacu hydroelectric plant, which rose from the originally contracted price of $124,881.250 to $227,389.966. Two other ruling party leaders, Gustavo Baroja and Vice President Jorge Glas, have also threatened to take the Commissioners to court.
This situation is not new and there is a wealth of examples: the President sued two journalists for writing a book which denounced his brother’s illegal contracts with the State. Correa then created a committee to investigate the contracts, which he claimed to know nothing about. The Commissioners came to the opposite conclusion and the President sued them.
Correa, so worried in case anyone doubts the honesty of his friends, including Maduro and Lula, will not allow anyone to question his own honesty, or that of his Government.