Human Rights Violators Come in All Collars, Even White

By Strong, Simon | Americas Quarterly, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Human Rights Violators Come in All Collars, Even White


Strong, Simon, Americas Quarterly


Beheadings in Mexico. Massacres in Colombia. Such extreme manifestations of violence grab headlines and galvanize human rights activists. They often erupt when incumbent political or economic power is threatened, but are only one consequence of the fundamental failure of states to protect and defend public security -and to uphold the rule of law.

The conditions for such eruptions are created by a country's political and economic leadership in an environment of eroding respect for the rule of law. Rules and norms are applied arbitrarily and unequally, causing the state to fail in its social contract. This fosters the criminal behavior of politicians and private individuals who steal public money, or engage in other forms of financial malfeasance.

Such behavior is often blandly described as white-collar crime. But violence and white-collar crime germinate in the same petri dish.

In the United States, white-collar crimes often meet with real and rapid retribution. Bernie Madoff, who admitted to organizing the largest Ponzi scheme in history, was convicted four months after he was charged, and will likely spend the rest of his life in jail. Carlos de Céspedes, a former director of the Cuban American National Foundation and an icon of the Miami community, was recently sentenced to nine years in prison for a hospital kickback fraud. The case against Céspedes was brought just 18 months after an audit triggered an FBI investigation. The judge defended her severe sentence, saying that she did not want Miami to crumble, "as the Roman Empire did for lack of civic virtue."

These are salutary examples of how the rule of law is justly enforced. The short sentences and lenient casa por carcel (house arrest) treatment granted all too often to financial felons on the basis of political and economic preference in some Latin American countries is almost cartoonish by comparison.

Class counts. Colombia's pyramid schemer, the rags-to-riches David Murcia Guzman, sits in jail awaiting trial. In contrast, Bogotá jetsetter Andres Piedrahita, managing partner of Fairfield Greenwich Group, Madoff's biggest feeder fund, has escaped both prosecutorial attention and social disgrace in Colombia -even though he is under investigation by Spanish anticorruption prosecutors and faces at least three class-action suits in the United States. Recently, Colombia's Semana magazine portrayed Piedrahita, whose investors lost an estimated $7 billion, as a "major victim" who was considering suing the U.S. authorities for negligence.

State failure to uphold the rule of law is vividly seen in Colombia, where a newfound peace of sorts follows a decade-long battle between paramilitaries and guerrillas for control of the drug trade. …

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Human Rights Violators Come in All Collars, Even White
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