Following a peace agreement that ended more than 50 years of civil conflict against the drug cartels and FARC (the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces, for its initials in Spanish), the focus now in Colombia is on exposing and prosecuting corruption.
The country’s huge problem with graft has been recently highlighted by the Odebrecht scandal.
Late last year, the Brazilian construction company and its subsidiary Braskem entered into a $3.5 billion global settlement of corruption charges with authorities in Brazil, the United States, and Switzerland.
In Colombia, Odebrecht also had links to politicians, including the candidates for president in the 2014 election.
In July this year, the attorney general said Odebrecht gave Colombian officials $27 million in bribes to win a road-building contract.
Already seven people have been jailed in the case, including a former senator and an ex-vice minister of transport.
The attorney general also asked the Supreme Court of Justice to investigate five other members of congress.
Even the president has been subpoenaed to answer questions about his campaign’s use of dirty money.
The Odebrecht scandal has finally shined a light on the problem of corruption in Colombia. But the waves of investigations and high-profile arrests also bring some risk that Colombians will become fatigued by so much disturbing news.
So the challenge for Colombia’s 50 million citizens is to continue with discipline in the investigations and punishment of the corrupt, and at the same time take important steps to reform our corrupt institutions and to change society itself.
The signs that all this will happen are very positive.
Already more than four million people have signed a petition to promote a referendum that modifies structural elements of the congress. It also demands the transparent hiring of public officials and a more open and accessible government.
The outcome isn’t inevitable. Reforms could stall or even fail. There are always powerful forces that oppose reform.
But never in the history of Colombia have so many people pushed publicly for real reform. It’s clear that a new era has indeed arrived.
For the first time, millions of people here are committed to eradicate the evil of corruption and end the hopelessness of being trapped and victimized by graft.
Juan Manuel Bedoya-Palacio is the Legal Director and Chief Compliance Officer at Implantes y Sistemas Ortopédicos n Colombia. He’s a lawyer from the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (Medellín, Colombia) with a postgraduate course in administrative law, and he’s a current LLM candidate. He has lectured and conducted research on public and administrative law, anti-corruption and compliance issues. He can be reached via LinkedIn here and by email here.