Latin America’s Big Moment

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LIMA, Peru — As U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and regional heads-of-state hobnob at the Summit of the Americas here later this week, the meeting’s official theme of “democratic governance fighting corruption” could prove uncomfortable for some.

The issue of graft – including at the highest levels of government – has become white-hot in Latin America, thanks to the mushrooming Odebrecht mega-scandal, which is now increasingly ensnaring prominent members of the region’s economic and political elites.

Driven by prosecutors in its homeland of Brazil, it has emerged that Odebrecht, Latin America’s largest construction company, paid a total of roughly $800 million in bribes over the years to win huge public contracts from Mexico to Argentina.

Indeed, the scandal even led to the downfall last month of Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski just three weeks before he was due to host the summit, which is held every three years and is the premier diplomatic opportunity for the U.S. to exercise regional influence. Ironically, it was the Kuczynski administration that last year proposed the Lima meeting tackle corruption.

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