What was one of the presidential candidates doing traveling around Chile for free in the private plane of a major Brazilian construction company during his first campaign?
Marco Enriquez Ominami is a Chilean politician and leader of the Progressive Party. He is nationally recognized as a two-time candidate for the Presidency. In the 2009 election, he ran as an independent after renouncing his membership in the Socialist Party and earned a respectable 20% in the first round of voting. He ran again in 2013 but this time received 11% of the vote. His politics are highly critical of the two party system in Chile and he has proposed radical changes to the country’s economic model. His father is Miguel Enriquez, who was the leader of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR), a communist revolutionary in the Cuban style who was in the left opposition to the Allende government and later led the armed resistance to the military government following the coup against Allende in 1973. He died the following year in a shootout with government agents. His son, known by the acronym and nickname of MEO, has all the bona fides, both personal and familial, of a true man of the left.
So then what was he doing during his last presidential campaign traveling around Chile for free in the private plane of a major Brazilian construction company?
The answer to this question involves one of the biggest international bribery scandals of the previous decades. Implicated in the scandal are major politicians across the Americas: presidents, major party candidates, government ministers, and representatives. The number of countries involved has swollen to include Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Panama, Portugal, the United States and, of course, Chile.
On April 21st, a district court in Brooklyn accepted the plea deal of Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction, engineering and chemicals conglomerate. As part of its punishment under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the company paid a fine of $2.5 billion USD split between the governments of the USA, Switzerland and Brazil, which received more than $2 billion in the deal. Aside from the large fine, Odebrecht also admitted to serious wrong doing. It acknowledged that its executives established an international corruption network that was used to win major public works contracts. The total amount of bribes paid out amounted to approximately $788 million USD. If that scale of bribery is shocking, it must be compared to the size of the contracts that Odebrecht was winning. This is a company that in 2014 had revenue of over $30 billion USD.
Within Brazil, Odebrecht paid out bribes to politicians and bureaucrats in order to win contracts from Petrobras, the state-owned oil company. They also formed a cartel with other companies in order to allow for the rotation of contracts among them. The bribes that Odebrecht paid were delivered to Brazilian political parties. More than $40 million USD was distributed to political parties and a portion of that amount went directly to bureaucrats. This same pattern of behavior was repeated in the countries listed above. Foreign political parties and politicians received payments in order to assist Odebrecht with its business activity. In each case, the size of the project was multiple times bigger than the bribe. For Odebrecht, it was just a necessary investment in order to keep things moving.
Chile, however, is not specifically mentioned in the plea agreement and as such Odebrecht officially admits no wrongdoing in the country. But the company does have business in Chile and in March of this year national investigatory police raided Odebrecht’s local office. The raid is part of a Chilean investigation into OAS, another Brazilian industrial conglomerate, that formed part of the above mentioned cartel with Odebrecht. This group of companies involved in bribery is known as the Lava Jato case in Brazil and is a major political scandal that is upending Brazilian politics since it appears that essentially the entire political class of the country, across the political spectrum, was involved.
The bombshell revelation that led Chilean authorities to investigate OAS activities in Chile was first reported by the Brazilian magazine Veja. They put forward the accusation that the ex-President of Brazil Lula da Silva acted with OAS to direct money to the campaign not only of Marco Enriquez Ominami – which would explain his use of the company’s private plane – but also of Michele Bachelet, who won the election and is Chile’s standing president. During the campaign season, Lula apparently took an OAS paid flight to Chile, gave a speech that was also paid for by OAS and met with Bachelet. The following month OAS won a contract in Chile. Executives at OAS have apparently confessed to Brazilian authorities that they managed donations to the campaigns of Bachelet and MEO that were coordinated by members of Lula’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT). Both politicians have denied all wrong-doing.
While OAS and Odebrecht had their bottom line in mind when making these bribes, the question remains what the PT were doing coordinating these donations. Apparently they were involved in helping to direct the bribes to the right political people in each country. Interestingly enough, most of the bribes went to left-of-center parties that had affinity with the PT. A certain theory is floating around that in fact this was part of Lula’s plan to increase Brazilian regional influence and convert it into the dominant power and voice of Latin America. Brazilian companies would build infrastructure across the continent and left-wing politicians would feel that they owed their electoral success in measure to the support of the PT through bribes and campaign donations disbursed by these corporations.
For a long time Lula had managed to keep himself clean and but he is now facing a corruption trial. Still, if elections were held today he would be the popular choice for president. Nevertheless, his political party is in crisis and his successor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached and replaced with a right-wing President Temer, who is also now implicated in his own bribery scandal with a Brazilian meat producer. Brazil’s plans for regional domination are similarly stymied as the country falls deep into an economic and political crisis of staggering proportions.