6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

The Fight Against Corruption in Colombia

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Corruption scandals have burst into the public consciousness as never before in Latin America over the past several years, coming to light as a result of strengthened judicial systems, media investigations, and the efforts of civil society. The far-reaching bribery scandal of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht has spread to 12 countries of the region, tainting, among others, Colombia's 2014 presidential campaign.

In recent days, a leading Colombian judicial official in charge of corruption investigations was arrested for allegedly taking bribes. Public opinion polls in Colombia show that concern about corruption far outstrips interest in the peace process, with over a fifth of Colombians seeing corruption as the most important problem that the new president who takes office in 2018 must solve.

On July 7, the Wilson Center's Latin American program convened a discussion on the fight against corruption in Colombia with two leading officials at the forefront of these efforts.

Key Quotes:

Inspector General Fernando Carrillo Florez (original Spanish)

"Es imposible concebir un escenario de paz si no somos capaces de luchar y de ganar esta lucha contra la corrupción."

"It’s impossible to imagine how we can set the stage for peace if we are not able to fight and win the battle against corruption."

"Seguimos creyendo que la lucha contra la corrupción es un problema de héroes, de superhéroes, de caudillos, de peleas unipersonales, en donde no hay instituciones sino hay personas que se meten a dar esa lucha. Y eso es completamente equivocado. Una democracía consolidada debe ser una lucha diaria de los ciudadanos."

"We continue believing that the fight against corruption is a problem for heroes, for superheroes, for warlords, for individuals, where there aren't institutions, but people, who do the fighting. This is completely mistaken. It is citizens who must fight daily to strengthen democracy."

“[Con el Contralor y con el Fiscal,] por lo menos se necesitan cinco mosqueteros, en donde esté por un lado la justicia... por el otro lado debe estar la empresa privada… y finalmente, una alianza con la ciudadanía de empoderamiento de los ciudadanos contra la corrupción… Es a través de la denuncia de los ciudadanos como hemos descubierto los grandes escándalos de corrupción a nivel regional.” 

“[Together with the Comptroller and the Solicitor General,] at least five musketeers are needed: on one side stands justice; on the other, private corporations… and finally, an alliance should be made with the population to empower citizens against corruption… It is through the complaints by citizens that we have discovered the greatest corruption scandals at the regional level.” 

“Es casi como que toda la lucha de los 90 que a nosotros nos tocó contra los carteles de la droga, hoy es contra los carteles de la corrupción y para eso necesitamos indiscutiblemente que fluya la información, y en eso hemos estado precisamente conversando con los oficiales federales y altas autoridades del Departamento de Estado y del Departamento de Justicia.”

“Just as, in the 1990s, we spent all of our time fighting against drug cartels, today we fight against cartels of corruption. To do so, we undeniably need the free flow of information, and that is exactly what we have been doing: speaking with federal officials and the top authorities at the Department of State and the Department of Justice.”

"Yo creo que la aspiración de todos es que se puede hacer política en esta región sin ensuciarse las manos."

"I believe that the aspiration of everyone is that we could do politics in this region without getting our hands dirty."

Comptroller General Edgardo Maya Villazon

"Estos trabajos de la lucha contra la corrupción que es lo que se plantea y es lo que interesa, más que describirla. No nos pasemos describiendo la enfermedad, busquemos la medicina para combatir esa enfermedad, porque vamos para 200 años en ese propósito de descripción y de debates y de foros sobre la corrupción. Sí, está bien el diagnostico. Están bien los factores. Pero está bien también ¿Cómo luchamos contra eso? ¿Cómo nos unimos todos?"

"The work to fight against corruption is what we're here to discuss and is what matters, rather than describing [corruption]. Let’s not spend our time describing the disease, let’s look for medicine to fight that disease. Because we are going on 200 years of trying to describe corruption and hold debates and forums about it. Yes, the diagnosis is good. The factors are right. But it’s fine to ask as well, 'How do we fight against corruption?' 'How do we all come together?'"

"Vale la pena la paz que hemos logrado en Colombia, porque en un hospital militar central llegaban 3,200 heridos al año, llegaron a tener este año han llegado tres. Vale la pena la paz. Pero, hay un tema que todavía vale la pena mucho más, que es lo que está circulando en Colombia, y la frase notable que están haciendo hoy, que el silencio de los fusiles de las FARC deja oír por fin el estruendo de la corrupción en Colombia, y solo por eso vale la pena haber hecho la paz."

"The peace that we have achieved in Colombia is worth it because, in a central military hospital that attended to 3,200 wounded a year, this year [only] three came. Peace is worth it. But there is an issue that is still worth much more and that is what is circulating in Colombia, the remarkable phrase that they are crafting today: The silence of the FARC’s rifles have finally allowed us to hear the roar of corruption in Colombia. For that alone, it is worth it to have made peace."

"Este es un tema integral: poder judicial, poder ejecutivo, poder legislativo. Nosotros los órganos de control… somos totalmente autónomos e independientes. No tenemos jefe, porque allá el que tiene jefe tiene dueño, que es un tema muy común del sur del Rio Grande hasta la Patagonia… Escojan país de Centroamérica, escojan país de Suramérica, que es igual el tema."

"This is a crucial issue: judicial power, executive power, legislative power. We, the supervisory bodies… are totally independent and autonomous. We do not have a boss, because down there whoever has a boss has an owner — which is a very common issue from the south of the Rio Grande to Patagonia... Choose any country from Central America or South America — they have the same issue."

"El partido más fuerte que hay, desde el sur del Rio Grande hasta la Patagonia, no son los 2,000 o 1,500 que han creado. No, el partido de los contratistas, porque ellos van a invertir dineros para recuperar esos dineros."

"The strongest party there is, from the south of the Rio Grande to Patagonia, is not the 1,500 or 2,000 that have been created. No, it is the party of the contractors, because they will invest money to recover these monies."

"Ni todos somos corruptos, ni todo es corrupción en Colombia."

"We are not all corrupt, nor is everything about corruption in Colombia."

Speakers

Introduction

Moderator

Speakers