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Corruption’s most horrific human cost

We know the various ways to measure the human costs of corruption: depletion of the public fisc, unequal access to government services, shoddy contracts awarded to sub-standard providers, the de facto business tax that makes economies less efficient, and so on. But we have now received painful reminder of the highest and most shocking of corruption’s costs: human life, even the life of a nation’s two-time president.

Alan Garcia, who was president of Peru in the 1980s and again in the 2000s, died on April 17, 2019 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. As Reuters reports, police had just informed President Garcia of his imminent arrest for his role in the Odebrecht bribery scandal. President Garcia told the police he needed to call his attorney, and retreated to an upstairs room. Within minutes the gunshot sounded.

We may never know which kind of shame motivated this suicide:  the shame of corruption, or the shame of arrest. But in a world where enforcement is increasingly rigorous and multijurisdictional — where Brazil, a country once renown for systemic bribery is today among the world’s leading anti-corruption enforcers — these two kinds of shame may now be inextricable.  

The stigma of corruption is as old as the FCPA, and in fact, much older. Remember that a principal catalyst to enacting the FCPA was revelations of bribery by a U.S. defense contractor in the Netherlands, Italy, Japan, and elsewhere. The uncovered facts produced public scandals that led to the resignation of leading government officials and to the worldwide embarrassment of the United States. And this was in the early 1970s, now almost a half-century ago. Corruption may have been endemic in various parts of the world then, just as it is now. But the revealed facts are still scandalous.

It’s a sad fact of human existence that these terrible stories remind us of truths that we otherwise so easily forget. Each of us wants to believe that out labors are, on balance, for good. When all is said and done, and we look back upon our lives, all of us — every single reader of this blog post — will want to believe that we had a positive impact, big or small, on the world. Ample social science supports this fact, as do the teachings of innumerable intellectual and religious traditions. President Garcia’s final thoughts were almost certainly otherwise. Despite the storied career of this larger-than-life Latin American politician, his mortal journey ended in the darkest way imaginable. And the apparent cause was corruption.

As a memorial to this much-loved leader, I propose the following. Let’s all do something that isn’t easy, that we don’t want to do, that may even come at substantial cost to ourselves, but that we know is right. Let’s each of us do that now.


Andy Spalding chairs the Olympic Compliance Task Force. He is Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law (Virginia, USA), a Frequent Visiting Instructor at the International Anti-Corruption Academy in Austria, and Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog.

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  1. Andy Spalding does not understand Peruvian politics. Alan Garcia was not a “much loved leader” and before his suicide polls showed he had a rejection rate of 80% of the population due to his disastrous government in the 1980s where inflation exceeded 7,000% and terrorism was rampant and his second term in the mid 2000s due to the usual corruption allegations. Garcia pathetically attempted to gain asylum in the Uruguayan embassy in Lima just a few months before his death and was rightly denied it. His suicide was not due to shame but due to his arrogance that he was above the judgment of any court or of any man. Only his family and a few supporters are shedding any tears for his passing.

  2. Corruption acts cost to the brazilian people, the lack of medical assitence, good scholls, public safety, jobs, and so on..
    But, its illusion to believe that we get the corruption end, the corrupts continue to act in Brazil and, as we have a false democracy, to change this here in Brazil, will be very difficult.
    We Will spend at least two generations to have a new brazilian men, free or immune from acts of corruption.
    Unfortunately, this is our reality here in Brazil.

  3. Mr. Spalding,
    The miserable lives that tens of thousand of people had to lead because of corrupt politicians like Alan Garcia is much worse than his suicide. I think you are sorely misinformed about him and the emotions he brings out in the average Peruvian.
    With all due respect, in the context of Alan Garcia, your last paragraph is pathetic.

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