The sad reason the Odebrecht scandal is so big in Peru

PPK is likely out as President of Peru very soon, due to fallout from the Odebrecht scandal. That’s quite a stunning turn of events in that most observers probably had PPK pegged as the least corrupt president of Peru in a very very long time – which may still prove to be accurate regardless.

The sad, scary reason why the Odebrecht scandal is probably bigger in Peru than anywhere else, except maybe Brazil, the home of Odebrecht?

Because Peru was happy to have Odebrecht.

Odebrecht built useless roads to nowhere in pristine jungle, gas pipelines through mountains where many people still have no running water or electricity, and Lord knows what other mega-dog projects because Peru wanted them to. The Odebrecht style mega projects serve to obfuscate the fact there is no investment in local communities, no local expertise in areas like engineering or organizational behavior, nor promotion of a strong local business community that might eventually generate such talent and expertise as is needed in a modern society. The level of bureaucracy and incompetence is so bad in Peru that things simply don’t get done. Basic infrastructure, education, security, science, you name it – it doesn’t get done. So Peru was happy to have Odebrecht come in and do something, anything, corrupt or not.

While other large multi-national construction companies decided to sit out Peru for fear of corruption and local expertise is not available, Odebrecht was the only thing left and Peru was happy to have them. Were it not for Odebrecht’s conviction in the US, Odebrecht would still be in Peru and Peru would still be happy to have them here.

Update 12/16: Judging by local media PPK is now more likely to stay on as President of Peru for the foreseeable future than even 24 hours ago. Anything can still happen but although PPK appears to have lost personal support in his inner circle, the Lima establishment knows full well if PPK leaves it essentially means ushering in the next era of Fujimorismo, which is not a choice of the establishment. There are more and more calls for due process and some commentators are even calling the current political crisis an Odebrecht/Fujimori coup d’etat. So as much as the establishment and even his own inner circle has soured on PPK, they are even less excited about the alternatives.

FWIW my rant before the last elections that a Keiko Fujimori presidency is not good for Peru at this time.

Lest we forget

On the 11th day of the 11th month, if you read only one thing today: Ann Laure Decadt laid to rest.

I’ll translate the quoted part from her husband’s eulogy:

Look at me now, on Nov 11. How could anything be more symbolic than having to lay my beloved wife to rest on this Armistice Day? Ann-Laure became a victim of how modern wars are fought. I’m afraid the idea of a world without war has never been more elusive than today. Ann-Laure always stood up for the weak and the marginalized in society, she volunteered both at home and abroad. That it just had to be her who was brutally murdered by someone weak or marginalized, makes the tragedy even more painful.

Peru first to recognize independent Catalonia!

Sorry I just made that up, it would be great if it were true though. Come on PPK, grow a pair and be the first head of State to recognize independent Catalonia. Latin America will never get back the gold and silver that was hauled to Spain back in the day of the Conquistadores but turnabout’s fair play, Latin American countries ought to be the first to step up and recognize independent Catalonia.

I admit I haven’t followed the details of the Catalonia independence movement but I believe people everywhere are entitled to representative government.

It couldn’t happen here

Imagine if elements of the State conspired to terrorize their own citizens, that members of elite law enforcement units murdered 28 of their own citizens in cold blood, including children. Imagine that no arrests were made or justice served for 3 decades but one day the truth came to light when one of the perpetrators confessed to his brother on his death bed. Now imagine all this happened in your country in your lifetime. Surely you’d say it’s not possible, it couldn’t happen here.

Only it did, in my country and in my lifetime. This past weekend the brother of one of the Crazy Brabant Killers (Bende van Nijvel or simply “de Bende” in Dutch) spoke to the media in Belgium about his brother, who allegedly confessed on his deathbed to being one of the Crazy Brabant Killers. This was quickly followed by reports that Chris B (identified only by initials as is custom in Belgian media), a former member of an elite law enforcement unit, had been known to investigators in the case since at least the mid 1990s.

Back in the day there were essentially 2 types of law enforcement in Belgium: local police and a national, somewhat militarized police called “RijksWacht”. When I would ride my bicycle to school the police would often set up behind a bridge outside a wooded area to check the kids’ bikes as they were riding to school. If some of your reflectors weren’t up to snuff, you’d get a stern talking to. If your bike was up to snuff, you’d carefully circle around the police vans without too much worry. But if you knew the “RijksWacht” had set up shop instead of the local police, you’d probably take the next bridge a mile and a half away just to avoid the RijksWacht. Everybody knew they were horrible, if you had to talk to the RijksWacht it would probably involve your parents coming out and paying somebody. There is no RijksWacht anymore but even today, if you get stopped for speeding in Belgium there are times when you supposedly pay the fine in cash, on the spot.

What little English language news you can find on the “Crazy Brabant Killers” tends to describe them as a “gang” but in Belgium it’s believed to be much more sinister than that. Ever since the “de Bende” terrorized the country in the mid 1980s there had been conspiracy theories, that elements of the State were involved, that the RijksWacht was involved. Belgian Justice maintained for a long time they believed “de Bende” were ordinary gangsters but the amount of bloodshed was far greater than anything typical of gang robbieries. There were other indications this was no ordinary crime: de Bende only took relatively small amounts of cash at each of their robberies and they were equipped with military style gear and training, not exactly something ordinary gangsters easily could come by in Belgium in the 1980s.

As far back as the late 1980s or early 1990s I remember Dutch media questioning why the Belgian justice system had been so effective against the extreme left terrorists of the CCC but had come up with nothing in the case of the “Bende van Nijvel”.

It remains unclear exactly whom was involved in “Bende van Nijvel” and what they were trying to accomplish but it’s now generally believed that members of the elite RijksWacht unit “Diane” (now named DSU within the Belgian Federal Police) in cahoots with some of the more shady elements of Belgian politics were responsible for the attacks, with some type of intention of destabilizing the country or elements thereof. Chris B. and his fellow trigger men were probably not the sole perpetrators. Justice so far has been utterly incompetent at best and it appears likely at least some elements of the Belgian justice system were complicit.

As a final note, I’d like to know who in foreign intelligence circles has seen the dossier of the “Bende van Nijvel”. With NATO based in Belgium and the case having obvious indications of involvement by rogue elements within the State, I cannot believe nobody outside Belgian law enforcement ever saw the dossier or put 2 and 2 together. Lawyers for the victims have long complained they were never allowed to see the full dossier, some of which supposedly accidentally burned.

This will dominate the news in Belgium for the next few months as details finally start to emerge. I suppose some of the puppet masters or people who knew are no longer with us. I was brought up not to speak ill of the dead but frankly, I hope they burn in hell.

A nation will be sad tonight (UPDATED)

The only question is will it be Peru or Argentina? Unless there’s a draw in the Argentina – Peru World Cup 2018 match tonight, in which case both teams hold on to feeble hopes for a berth in the 2018 World Cup, the winner is likely in and the loser is likely out. Argentina hasn’t been out of a World Cup tournament in basically living memory and Peru hasn’t been in one in basically the same time frame, so tonight 2 nations will be on edge.

Calling that affair a “World Cup” is a bit odd when you consider that the United Kingdom alone could in theory send as many teams to the big event as all of South America combined(*) Sure that’s only a theoretical possibility but in practice it’s likely that the UK will send 50 or 75% as many teams to the so-called World Cup as South America will. TV money have anything to do with that?

Now for the real question, where will Otto sleep tonight? An Argentina fan in Peru, things could get dicey tonight in the Otto Rock home. If you need a place to stay Otto, let me know, Mamacita Linda has an extra apartment with a big TV!

(*) Excluding the small Guyana type countries that nobody believes really exist.

UPDATE: Argentina-Peru 0-0. Everything will be decided next Tuesday.

I’m a hero at the grocery store now

I’ve always believed everybody should have friends at the grocery store. There’s value in being friendly and social with people you don’t know well for no reason other than it’s the right thing to do, especially when those people may be from very different backgrounds than you. On the other hand I also want to make sure the girls at our local grocery store know my kids because the store is on a dangerous highway and I’ve always been worried it only takes a blink of an eye for one of those little terrors to escape or get in trouble. So I flirt with the girls at the store and buy them chocolates in hopes that they’ll pay attention should one of my kids ever decide to run out to the street.

The other day I was waiting to place my order for some meat and one of the girls at the counter looked up from what she was doing to say hi to me. “Hola casero!” The word “casero” is like a regular customer.

No sooner did the girl say hi to me when another customer just tore into the poor girl. “I was here before him, can’t you attend your customers. How dare you disrespect me like that. Don’t you girls go to some schools to learn how to treat your customers?” On and on. The poor grocery store girl responded politely that she was only saying hi and wasn’t going to serve me before anybody else but that didn’t stop the other customer from berating her every which way. The grocery store girl stayed composed and polite during the entire ordeal but the other customer really went overboard insulting the girl, several of her coworkers and eventually took her anger out on some store managers.

Here in Peru there is a lot of economic and ethnic classism and the customer who was scolding the poor grocery store girl obviously felt that she was “above” the poor grocery store girl. I could tell once the irate customer took her case to the store manager that the poor grocery store girls were really worried.

I hate to be all noblesse oblige but here in Peru people who work in grocery stores work long hours for low pay, the reality is I probably make more money than all the employees at my local grocery store combined and sadly that means my word is more valuable than theirs to their bosses. So I walked right into the angry conversation the other customer was having with store managers and told her exactly what I thought. She was fussing and complaining to the managers about “knowing my rights” and all sorts of wonderfullness like that but I interrupted and told her she’s got no business talking to anybody the way she talked to those poor girls. I told the store managers the store girls did nothing wrong, unless politely saying hi to your customers is considered a sin. Told the angry lady I had no time for her bad temper and walked away.

Since that day all the girls in the store now stop and say hi to me like I’m their hero. I didn’t want to be a big hero but I hated how this angry lady thought she could abuse some poor girls just because who she was, where she’s from, how much money her family makes, or what her last name is.

Everybody’s a winner in the so called North Korea “crisis”

No, not you and me but everybody who’s anybody, the powers that be from Washington to Beijing. First let me tell you what I know about China, I’ve never been there but I know something about China history not many know.

In the summer of 1976 Richard Nixon made a special request to his Secret Service detail, to arrange a secret meeting. He’d told the Secret Service “I just want to meet this man, see his face, shake his hand.” The man Nixon wanted to meet was the CIA counter intelligence agent whom Nixon viewed as being largely responsible for the thaw in US-China relations, culminating in Nixon’s famous China visit in 1972.

Nixon wanted to end the war in Southeast Asia and he wanted to use China as leverage over the Soviet Union but the US had nothing in China. After Mao Tse-tung took over China, the FBI – as they say in the intelligence community – had tried to “get in” with the Chinese for 20+ years to no avail. One man changed all of that. Through a lot of shadowy diplomacy, contacts in Romania, Japan, an outfit called 7-Air Santini, the New York mob, the head of the Trans-Siberian railroad, FTZ24 in Pittston PA, a CIA counter intelligence agent named Bert succeeded in “getting in” with the Chinese in a period of 2.5 years, leading up to the Nixon visit to China.

As it were, right about when the Secret Service set up the meeting Nixon had requested, Viktor Belenko flew his Mig-25 to Japan and sent the US intelligence community in overdrive. The meeting didn’t happen and to my knowledge Nixon never met the CIA agent he felt had been responsible for the thaw in US – China relations.

I knew Bert well, he was my best friend when he died. Even though 1972 was a long time ago you can be sure not much has changed in shadowy diplomacy and back channels.

So who’s all winning in this North Korea “crisis” you ask?

NPR asks “How much can China actually do to help influence the situation in North Korea?”

Seriously? If you believe that I can make you a great deal on a mountain overlooking Machu Picchu. What’s probably more accurate is that the Chinese recognized despite all of President Trump’s personal shortcomings that his anti-globalization platform does resonate with many in the US and beyond and this could hurt Chinese leadership where it matters, in their pocketbook. So explicitly or implicitly the Chinese encourage the jerk in North Korea to ratchet up his belligerence a notch and now there’s leverage.

Everybody wins.

Eventually there will be back-channel concessions to the Chinese and their global ambitions in return for the jerk in North Korea ratcheting down his belligerence. The Chinese score a win at home, no hit to their pocketbooks. Washington turns it into a win at home, “we got North Korea to bow down”. It doesn’t matter if it’s still the Donald or somebody else by the time this all calms down, the powers that be are fairly nameless.

The winning doesn’t end in Washington and Beijing.

How about Japan and the Philippines? It’s fair to say both of those countries have a good deal of internal issues at the moment and there’s nothing better for shaky regimes to shore up domestic support than a big bad bogeyman threat next door.

But don’t think the winning ends with political regimes, no.

Cha-ching! The military industrial complex is liking this “crisis” already. Did you read that Australia should upgrade their missile defenses in light of this threat? I’m sure that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

But it’s all very dangerous. At the height of the so called Cold War there was very real fear of a war that would end all wars. As a young adult Bert had gotten badly hurt in the US Navy, he knew war was not pretty. And despite all his failures Nixon understood that war was not the desired outcome either.

If the jerk in North Korea realizes one day in a bad drink that he’s been played like a cheap violin by everybody who’s anybody he might just do something stupid. Let’s hope there are enough people in today’s intelligence community who understand that war is not the outcome we want.