For decades ruling with impunity was the rule in Latin America, with rulers decidedly doing what was in their best interests, rather than the best interests of their country. But recently it appears that governments are cracking down on past indiscretions, which may serve as a warning for those ruling in Latin America today: ignore laws and trample upon liberties at your own risk.
For instance, Carlos Menem won election as President of Argentina during the 1990s with a rather simplistic slogan: “Siganme.” (Follow me.) Sure enough, the closer he was followed, the more his administration was dogged by rumors of corruption and dishonesty. On October 1, 2009, the former two-term President was charged for obstructing the investigation of the 1994 bombing that targeted Jewish charities in Buenos Aires. Menem has also dealt with several other corruption and arms smuggling probes relating to his time in La Casa Roja.
Costa Rica, which has escaped relatively unscathed from Latin America’s 50-year struggle against economic and political instability, has nevertheless had to deal with a corruption problem of its own. On October 5, 2009, former President Rafael Calderon, was sentenced to five years in prison after his conviction on charges of corruption. The charges, which stem from his 1990-1994 term as president, alleged that Calderon embezzled government funds.
On the same day as Calderon’s sentence, four former officials within General Augusto Pinochet’s army were sentenced for their role in illegal arms shipments to Croatia during the 1990s crisis in the Balkans.
The best counter example may be the situation in Honduras. We may never really know what happened behind the scenes in Tegucigalpa, or who is more to blame, ousted ex-President Manuel Zalaya, or interim President Roberto Micheletti. Even then, what we do know is that Honduran army’s action — whether you call it a coup or a legal regime change — continues to spark protests from within the country, as well as pressure from without.
Does this signal a new era of accountability in Latin America?