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Violence, the dark side of corruption

Internal conflict divides society and each side has a tendency to condemn the crimes of its opponent and justify their own. In this scenario, the moral language loses its capability to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong.

Thucydides, the Athenian historian made this observation regarding the civil war of Corcyra (Greek island in the Ionian Sea) and recorded how this war transformed morale assessments:

  • What was previously considered prudent turned into cowardliness
  • Moderation turned into lack of manliness
  • And precipitation, in virility.

The blood links turned weaker than those of the party and part of the service of ambition and not public benefit. The respect for promises was undermined for the capability to make your word respected or unmade by force. Unfortunately, in Colombia what Thucydides said is now very familiar.

To a very high degree, the manner in which societies jump into violence determines the greater or lesser reestablishment of moral evaluations which maintain corruption limited. Where the victors have been more honest, these assessments operate again in a more effective manner, inclusively if the victory was bloody. The dictatorships of Francisco Franco in Spain (1936-1975) and Augusto Pinochet in Chile (1973-1990) had low corruption levels and today both countries have very high levels of honesty than other countries with similar development. However, in general, dictatorships tend to be very corrupt and their legacy tarnishes democratic consolidation processes.

In cases where the end of the violence is agreed between the parties, the punishment for the involved in crimes committed during the conflict may contribute to strengthening the government based on the rule of law and control corruption. On the contrary, when the transitional agreement leaves great impunity cases, it is difficult for the action of individuals to return to legal actions. The reason is related to the fact that respecting legality is not maintained simply due to the action of judges.

Society needs to have a consensus regarding minimum moral standards which translate into strong social control regarding the manner how public funds are used and produce and distribute wealth. If society agrees and consents to ending the confrontation, the social control will be strengthened. On the other hand, divisions and sectarianism on moral standards will favor corruption.

In the Colombian case, the limitation that the Constitutional Court of Justice applied to the transitional justice, called the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP, for its Spanish acronym), could turn dangerous, as ordinary justice has proven very inefficient to punish those who committed crimes during the conflict.

Appealing to an excessive guaranteed severity for businessmen not to appear to this JEP was not good at all for contributing to peace. The other thing was the scarce willingness to fund the fulfillment of the agreements, in a similar way they funded the war. If impunity is not corrected in the ordinary justice system, the sensation that crime does pay will be a clear signal to many.

It is a yearning for society to support the efforts of the JEP and for the responsible parties, from both sides, that committed crimes during the conflict, to tell the truth, and accept the corresponding responsibilities, and also support the actions of the Commission for Truth. The people who were directly involved during the conflict are the first that need to be accountable for their actions, but society would commit a social mistake if it turns them into violence and corruption legacy scapegoats.

It is most probable that the different political parties would take political advantage of the action of justice to their opponents. For these political forces, their short-term perspective is more relevant than any shared vision for the future.


Consejo Editorial