After the infamous Odebrecht scandals sparked protests and investigations throughout the region, hope and promise for the strengthening of institutions and change in the corruption of daily life abounded in much of Latin America. Yet after many years, the outcome has been mostly the same: politicians receiving minimal sentences after millions of dollars given or taken in bribes amidst a backdrop of embezzlement and money laundering that has now become ubiquitous.
Compared to other regions, Latin America boasts comparatively low sentence lengths. In many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, the sentence is death, while in the United States a person will serve 15 years or more for the same crime. Not only is the maximum length practically useless as a deterrent to commit crimes, but it also fails to properly fulfill its role in punishing those who give or take bribes even if they are sentenced, mainly due to loopholes.
According to an article posted in Actualícese, although Colombia has a maximum sentence length of twelve years for bribery on paper, the real sentence for bribery ends up being a year and a half instead of the twelve as a result of several criminal reductive measures. Colombia is not the only country to do this either, with Brazil being a famous example of allowing for a sentence reduction if criminals submit book reports, alongside numerous other caveats.
The punitive measures afforded to Marcelo Odebrecht, one of the masterminds of Latin America’s biggest corruption scandal are emblematic of the region’s dealings with corruption. In short, Odebrecht managed a slap on the wrist in the form of a small and comfortable sentence after an investigation discovered over 5.3 billion dollars of bribes in Brazil alone. A deal was struck to reveal dozens of other names, turning a 19-year total sentence for several crimes into a 2-year house arrest in a comfortable mansion—even reserving the ability to return to work at his company.
To lower the absurd quantities of money that are stolen and used for bribes, countries in the region must begin by fixing their penal codes as well as strengthening their enforcement institutions, in order to prevent the greed of a few hundred people to significantly affect the progress and well-being of nations.