Saturday, April 27, 2013

To Prison or the Presidency?

One of them has been convicted of cigarrete smuggling, linked to the cocaine trade and jailed for two months.

Another stands accused of the murders of dozens of peasants and political dissidents.

No, I'm not talking about inmates of La Modelo prison, but of the elected presidents of two South American nations.

This week, Paraguayans elected multimillionare Horacio Manuel Cartes to the presidency.

The best president bad money can buy?
Paraguay's new Pres. Horacio Manuel Cartes.
Cartes, one of Paraguay's richest men, owns a tobacco, sports and banking empire. But, according to U.S. government suspicions revealed by Wikileaks, his bank was used for money laundering and his tobacco company flooded Brazil with pirated cigarretes. Cartes was actually convicted by a Brazilian court for cigarrete smuggling and identified as a tobacco smuggler by Brazil's congress. In the year 2000, Paraguayan authorities discovered an airplane loaded with cocaine and marijuana on Cartes's ranch. After winning the election, Cartes admitted that he'd once spent 60 days in jail on accusations of financial crimes, but explained that at that time Paraguay was ruled by a dictatorship and said he'd been cleared of the charges.

Cartes denies the contraband and money laundering accusations and says that he wasn't responsible for the plane on his land.

How did Cartes get elected despite this history, as well as crazy comments like calling gays and lesbians "monkeys." First of all, he controls the Colorado political party, perhaps the strongest political machine in Latin America. And, Cartes has lots of money, which is important anywhere, but extremely important in Paraguay, with its rampant corruption. While I lived there, a resident of one of Asunción poor riverside slums described to me how political parties paid for votes with beer and cash. Voters sometimes came home angry, my friend said, not because their candidate had been lost, but because they'd sold their vote too cheaply.

"My vote's worth more than that," they'd say.

So, Paraguay's a place where a millionare has solid political prospects, despite even a criminal background.
But another small South American country is ruled by a man accused of even worse crimes.

Blood on his hands? Suriname
Pres. Dési Bouterse.

Suriname President Dési Bouterse, who was the country's dictator from 1980 - 87, was convicted in the year 2000 by a Dutch court of smuggling nearly 500 kilograms of cocaine and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Much worse were 15 political murders and the massacre of at least 39 villagers, mostly women and children, committed during Bouterse's dictatorship. Those crimes are supposedly still under investigation or have been given amnesty.

Bouterse has also been linked by witnesses and in Wikileaks documents to Colombia's FARC guerrillas.

Paraguay and Suriname are tiny nations - but they are important cocaine trafficking routes. And Paraguay's a big marijuana grower.

And Cartes and Bouterse aren't alone. The U.S. government has charged Venezuelan high officials with supporting the cocaine trade. Colombian ex-Pres. Alvaro Uribe was linked to right-wing paramilitary death squads. And Nicaraguan Pres. Daniel Ortega stands accused by his adoptive daughter of having sexually abused her for two decades beginning when she was 11 years old.

Some could argue that the Paraguayan and Surinamese presidents are proof of the idea that if you smuggle 100 grams of cocaine or stab someone to death in a street fight, you go to prison. But if you smuggle thousands of tons of cocaine or order people killed by the dozens, you're more likely to go to the presidential palace.

Will Latin Americans and others ever stop electing leaders with criminal histories? Not likely, and one reason among many is drug prohibition itself. As long as prohibition diverts huge fortunes into the illegal economy, those who obtain those fortunes will get themeselves into positions of power, and many in positions of power will want to use that power to amass fortunes, any way they can.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Stuart Oswald said...

Cuba springs to mind.

mauricio forero l said...

Stuart compadre whats up.
Remember my friend, Fidel took power by force, not by the vote.

mauricio forero l said...

Miguel, it is just people's stupidity. It may sound to simplistic, but in the end it is just that. You can see it in the way they give the Novel price for peace to a war criminal like Henry Kissinger or Barak Obama, not a criminal the size of Kissinger, but still NOT a Novel for peace. To how they vote for president. Take the italians with Berlusconi. Not to be inform these days is very difficult, you have anybody's life in detail just by using your phone, so if you know what kind of asshole you are voting is your stupidity. But also, you have people like Nikolas Maduro, getting in power one way or another.

Stuart Oswald said...

That's why voting is a very serious process for people to take.

Winning control by the vote or by the gun is really here nor there. Presiding over tyranny is what my comment refers to.

Acting counter to a constitution when your presiding responsibility is to uphold it, is the dividing line between a constitutionalist democracy and a tyranny of the worst kind (as, if the constitution cannot be upheld than what hope is their for the rights of the human). Obama springs to mind.

mauricio forero l said...

Stuart, Stuart...not that I think you are not smart, I believe that you are, but honestly brother, you are not very aware of a lot of facts.