The political narrative that justifies any option as a way to end corruption is as old as politics and as old as narrative. In Latin America, it’s a classic genre. It’s only possible to repeat it generation after generation as if it were a novelty thanks to the short memory of the people.
But this narrative, which only serves to consolidate or restore the power of a certain social class, focuses exclusively on minor corruption, such as when a politician, a senator or a president receives ten thousand or half a million dollars to bestow favors upon a large company. Rarely does a poor man offer half a million dollars to a politician to give him a retirement income of five hundred dollars a month.
He who pays a politician a million dollars to increase his company’s profits is corrupt, and the poor devil who votes for a candidate who buys him the tiles for the roof of his house in skid row is corrupt also.
But those who do not distinguish between the corruption of ambition and the corruption of those who desperately seek to survive are themselves even more corrupt. As the Mexican nun Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz said at the end of the seventeenth century, before she was crushed for her insubordination by the powers-that-be of that era:
Who is more to blame,
though either should do wrong?
She who sins for pay
or he who pays to sin?
Rarely do accusations of corruption refer to legal corruption. It does not matter if, thanks to a democracy proud of respecting the rules of the game, ten million voters contribute a hundred million dollars to a politician’s campaign and two millionaires contribute only ten million, a tip, to the same candidate. When that politician wins the election, he will have dinner with one of the two groups, and it is not necessary to be a genius to guess which one.
It does not matter if later on those gentlemen get the congress of their respective countries to pass laws that benefit their businesses (tax cuts, deregulation of wages and investments, etc.) because they will not need to violate any law, the law that they themselves wrote, unlike a damned thief who does not rob ten million honest and innocent citizens but rather just two or three poor workers who will only feel anger, rage and humiliation because of the plundering they witness and not because of the robbery they fail to perceive.
In spite of everything, we can still observe even greater corruption, greater than illegal corruption and greater than legal corruption. It is that corruption which lives in the collective unconsciousness of the people and comes from no other source but the persistent corruption of social power that, like a persistent dripping, eats away at rock over the years, over the centuries.
It is the corruption that lives in the same people who suffer from it, in that tired man with chapped hands or another worn down one with university degrees, in that suffering woman with dark circles under her eyes or in that other lady with a stuck-up nose. It is that same corruption that goes to bed and gets up with each of them, every day, to reproduce in the rest of their family and their friends, like the flu, like Ebola.
It is not simply the corruption of a few individuals who accept easy money for the mysterious shortcuts of the law.
No, it is not just the corruption of those in power, but instead that invisible corruption that lives as a virus feeding off the frustration of those who seek to put an end to corruption with old methods that have themselves proven to be corrupt.
Because corruption is not only when someone gives or receives illicit money, but also when someone hates the poor because they receive alms from the state.
Because corruption is not only when a politician gives a basket of food to a poor man in exchange for his vote, but also when those who do not go hungry accuse those poor people of being corrupt and lazy, as if lazy people did not exist in the privileged classes.
Because corruption is not only when a poor loafer gets a politician or the state to give him alms to devote himself to his miserable vices (cheap wine instead of Jameson Irish whiskey), but also when those in power are convinced and convince others that their privileges were won by them alone and by means of the purest, most finely distilled, most just law, while the poor (those who clean their bathrooms and buy their little mirrors) live off the intolerable sacrifice of the rich, something that only a general or a businessman with an iron fist can put an end to.
Because corruption is when a poor devil supports a candidate who promises to punish other poor devils, who are the only devils that the poor resentful devil knows, because he has crossed paths with them in the street, in bars and at work.
Because corruption is when a mulatto like Domingo Sarmiento or Antonio Hamilton Martins Mourão is ashamed of the blacks in his family and feels infinite hatred for other blacks.
Because corruption is when a self-declared chosen one of God, someone who confuses the fanatical interpretation of his pastor with the multiple texts of a Bible, someone who goes every Sunday to the church to pray to the God of Love, and when he goes outside he throws some coins to the poor. And the next day he marches against the same rights of different people, like gays, lesbians and transgendered people, and does it in the name of morality and of the son of God, Jesus. Yes, the same Jesus who had a thousand opportunities to condemn those same different and immoral people, and never did so, but rather did the exact opposite.
Because corruption is supporting candidates who promise violence as a way to eliminate violence.
Because corruption is believing and fanatically repeating that the military dictatorships that have ravaged Latin America since the nineteenth century and practiced all possible variations on corruption may themselves ever be able to put an end to corruption.
Because corruption is to hate and at the same time accuse everyone else of harboring hatred.
Because corruption is a part of culture and even in the hearts of society’s most honest individuals.
Because the worst corruption is not the kind that makes off with a million dollars but rather the kind that stops our ears to the shrieking cries of history and won’t let us hear them until it is too late.
JM, October 2018.