There is nothing quite like a week-long trip to Cuba to more keenly appreciate the prospect, and the perils, of foreign investment in developing countries.
For the Latin American experts with whom I traveled, foreign investment is not a catalyst to growth but an instrument of imperialism and oppression. The United States is not an exemplar of best practices but a belligerent and self-serving bully. Sadly, there is no shortage of evidence in Cuba to support this view.
American companies present in pre-revolutionary Cuba were all-too-cozy with a military dictator, likely engaging in bribery and worse. The accouterments of that dictator’s grandiose corruption remain on public display, reminding Cubans of relationship with the U.S. they do not wish to replicate.
Unlike the Castros, images of Che Guevara — the martyred hero, the symbol of not-quite-fulfilled revolutionary hope — are everywhere. One building bore his image and the phrase, “Hasta la revolucion siempre,” which roughly translates as, “always work toward the revolution.” Even progressive economists who speak of incremental market reforms still claim to hold tight to “revolutionary ideals.” But if those ideals are no longer state ownership of the means of production and guaranteed income equality, what are they?
The revolution was not against capitalism, but against imperialism. Cubans want transactions of mutual benefit; commerce without exploitation; foreign investment that strengthens and stimulates rather than extracting and depleting. They want foreign companies who will ask the Cuban government to become more transparent, not less. And they need these corporations’ home governments to enforce law beyond their borders, no longer allowing their companies to operate in a lawless sphere, as they once did.
So can a new era begin? The FCPA is designed, in a very real sense, to counter the corporate excesses of our past. Its aim is to deter the very bribery that surely was the order of the day in pre-revolutionary Cuba, and elsewhere. The FCPA is thus an antidote to imperialism. Are we, the readers of the FCPA Blog, committed to this ideal? Have we internalized it? Have our companies? Are we committed to doing better than our predecessors? Do we believe that economic integration can promote collective prosperity? Or does the Brexit vote signal that it’s all a bunch of, well, poppycock?
We bear the burden of proof. We must demonstrate to our friends in Cuba, and Iran, and any other country whose history teaches deep suspicion of Western companies, that this is a new era. Laws, and norms, are different than they once were. We are required to behave better, and we are committed to doing so.
And so to my capitalist friends, I plea for revolutionary compliance, for international commerce that strengthens and dignifies economies and governments and people. And to my Latin Americanist colleagues, I say, the image in your mind of the ravaging, lawless corporation may today be something of a caricature. Or at least, there are tens and hundreds of thousands of professionals around the world, including but not limited to the readers of this blog, working to make it so.
Andy Spalding is a Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog and Associate Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. He’ll be a speaker at the FCPA Blog NYC Conference 2016.