Demonstration against corruption in Guatemala on May 30, 2015. Photo by Eric Walter / Wikimedia Commons

Demonstration against corruption in Guatemala on May 30, 2015. Photo by Eric Walter / Wikimedia Commons

Two weeks ago I traveled to South America. The first destination was Quito, Ecuador. A cool climate greeted me, everyone was wearing thick sweaters. As for me, 15 degrees Celsius in a t-shirt is enough; perhaps I’ve lived in Canada too long.

Upon leaving the terminal I took a taxi to my hotel in the historic city center located 45 minutes from the airport. Kleber the driver was very friendly. We exchanged names, he asked my nationality and surprised by this, since not many Salvadorans travel to Ecuador, he tossed another question: And how is the political situation in your country?

The political situation in El Salvador, as well as most Latin American countries, is very difficult to summarize. However, the complexity of the state of affairs has common grounds that allow us to quickly establish similarities with which we Latinos identify, forming a bond of instant empathy.

A great example of these common axes, the most complex perhaps, and of which its effect extends over all governmental structures is corruption. And it is enough to mention the word ─corruption─ so that any Latin American can immediately identify with the havoc that we have all directly been affected by.

It is frustrating to acknowledge that what keeps our countries in constant oppression of incompetent and opportunist politicians is corruption.

Corruption moves from the highest political, social and economic lines to the lowest, participating in every government institution and forming part of the daily life for millions of Latinos. Corrupt politicians have most of Latin America on the tightrope; it is always a good time to remind those representatives that democracy and its institutions are fragile and precious.

Therefore, when I mentioned to Kleber examples of the severe corruption that nests in El Salvador, he did not take long to launch parallel stories that outlined cases of corruption in Ecuador. And those parallel stories can easily be said and sadly found from Mexico to Argentina.

After Quito I traveled to Cuenca and Guayaquil and on to Colombia, where I visited Bogotá, Tunja, Medellín, Cartagena, Santa Marta, and other coastal towns. Kleber’s story was repeated in every taxi I took, and in every conversation with a local who talked politics.

It is frustrating to acknowledge that what keeps our countries in constant oppression of incompetent and opportunist politicians is corruption. We all know it, but are we willing to change course? Why do we continue to elect governments and leaders of the same political parties in which corruption has been imminent? Are we so easy to convince that the next time will be different? Do we have such a bad memory? Why do not we fill ourselves with anger and say: ENOUGH? Where are the new civil and political generations? Where are the young people, with fresh ideas, totally detached from the partisan monopolies? Do we feel hopeless that we cannot make real changes? Or, is there change happening that we need to watch?

Guatemala has successfully managed to proclaim itself a Country against corruption. In April 2015, the #JusticiaYA social movement was formed, and through media campaigns, peaceful, and highly organized marches, that put pressure on public officials, lead to the resignation of the president Otto Perez Molina and members of his cabinet. Movements like #JusticiaYA generate confidence; the young society is becoming political active in Latin America and politicians are afraid of it. Similar movements have spread through Latina America without the same results. We can only hope that they grow stronger to combat the tyranny exerted by state corruption.

In 1995 Transparency International created the CPI (Corruption Perception Index), a ranking of countries and their corruption levels. It ranks almost 200 countries on a scale of zero to 100, with zero indicating high levels of corruption and 100 indicating low levels. Developed countries typically rank higher than developing nations due to stronger regulations. Canada, the country in which I have live for 12 years, ranks 8/180 with a score of 82/100.

In the past years there have been many political scandals of corruption in Canada, related to mismanagement of government funds. However, these are small cases compare to those in Latin-American, but confirm Mr. David Frum, a centrist conservative who worked as a speechwriter for George W. Bush, famous phrase: “A rule-of-law state can withstand a certain amount of official corruption. What it cannot withstand is a culture of impunity.”

It’s important to quantify corruption to have a better understanding of the differences between corruption in a developed country and a country in development.

It’s important to quantify corruption to have a better understanding of the differences between corruption in a developed country and a country in development. For example, a case of corruption in Canada, no matter how small it is, will instantly make the headline news. Politician will face an ethic committee, in the parliament the opposition party will fiercely commended the action, and there will be a judicial case, if required. In other words politicians are held accountable for their actions.

At the end any mismanagement of funds will not bring catastrophic result as in a developing country, where due to the steeped and abysmal corruption at every level, where money can basically vanish without a “trace,” because everybody is covering for everybody in the political elite; they have paid or bought. Because, intrinsically the civil society protects the culture of impunity, because most of the people will do the same if they were in a position to take advantage of government money, allowing the cycle of corruption to grow.

In developing countries, this occurs with catastrophic results come to mind: hospital with no medicines, and terminal ill patient sharing beds, high-schools with only one teacher in building in ruins, fire departments that cannot afford gasoline for their trucks, and police officers involved in criminal organization to make an extra buck.

I was following that syllogism and remembering Mr. Frum phrase when Kleber stopped in front of my hotel, Casa Gardenia. I paid my fare and as he came out his car and grabbed my luggage, we shook hands goodbye. After settling in my room I went to inspect the hotel. Casa Gardenia is an old colonial three floor house, with modern architecture of steel and glass that grows out from a hill; the main feature of the design is the second-floor glass terraces that open onto the city, with the Andes Mountains behind. After admiring the view I went up to the roof top terrace.

It was close to midnight; with me was a bottle of Chilean red wine that I took from the mini-bar. I lit a cigarette and drank from the bottle. There was a cool breeze and all the little lights from the city tremble below. I thought on my handshake with Kleber, I could feel the warm and the roughness of his palm. I could feel the whole continent drowning, but fighting, fighting hard to exist, to be the better context many of us know it can be.