In the U.S. or Elsewhere, Leave No Corruption Unchallenged

Corruption is endemic and metastasizes readily; the metastasis is often exponential rather than linear. Although corruption is by no means confined to the much disparaged "third world banana republics," we do have it here in Panamá, and my wife and I are experiencing some of the consequences personally.

Here are two recent articles from Panamanian newspapers. As is the case with most newspaper reports, some of the facts are distorted. However, the gist of the articles is correct: since July 17, we have not been able to use the only road to our farm because the owner of land through which the road passes, a Colombian businessman, believes that he has the power to violate Panamanian law with impunity.

The law is clear: he is wrong. It is a public road, and we hope that with good luck, continued good legal representation, and pressure applied by the press to officials who have often in the past validated his sense of immunity, we may eventually be able to resume our formerly tranquil lives here.

Thus far, in addition to articles in two national newspapers, there have been several local radio talk shows and a feature on a national television news program. Due principally to press coverage, on July 28 the mayor and municipal council issued an order permitting us to remove the locked iron gate newly blocking the road. We removed it immediately, in the presence of the local sheriff who had been sent by the mayor to witness and memorialize the event.

The next day, July 29, the owner of the land through which the road passes sent earth-moving equipment to dig a ditch to block access. It is approximately seven feet wide and six feet deep and it extends completely across the road. As a consequence, we understand that additional press coverage and governmental action are underway.

In one of Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy books, there is a reference to an "SEP field," behind which things disappear -- people tend to ignore things hidden behind a "Somebody Else's Problem" field. The local and national press have been doing a good job of removing the SEP field, and our local neighbors -- mostly Panamanian -- are very much on our side. The area is quite sparsely populated, but more than one hundred people have signed a petition seeking further governmental action on our behalf. Voter turnout for elections is substantially higher here than in the United States, and every vote counts.

But what about the United States? Can this sort of thing happen there?

Cataloging recent incidents of corruption in the United States seems pointless. Many recent examples could easily be provided. When officials take money, votes, or other favors in exchange for their misbehavior, they and their enablers violate the rule of law. When we ask someone to fix a minor traffic ticket, even based on something as simple as friendship, we foster corruption just as when a lobbyist sponsors a fundraiser for a politician in anticipation of future reciprocal favors.