FIFA Scandal Calls For More Transparency Not More Government

Por Alejandro Chafuen: Publicado en:

The front pages of leading newspapers around the world are full with news about the alleged corruption in FIFA, the world soccer federation. There are less headlines in the United States, where the Justice Department brought a 47 count indictment against key authorities and a handful of businessmen. International attention is assured: Soccer is the most popular sport and FIFA is so large that it has more members than the United Nations. After achieving independence, several countries, especially in central and eastern Europe, asked to be affiliated with FIFA even before asking to become members of the U.N.

Among the FIFA officials charged for racketeering and wire fraud were two of the organization’s vice presidents, Eugenio Figueredo and Jeffrey Webb, as well as José Maria Marin, former president of the Brazilian Football Association, and Rafael Esquivel head of the Venezuelan soccer association. Most of the charges refer to activities of the South American FIFA subsidiary, CONMEBOL, and its North American counterpart, CONCACAF.

As a good Argentinean, Gustavo Lazzari, an economist and policy advocate with theLibertad y Progreso think tank, follows soccer as much as the battles to preserve the few economic freedoms that remain in Argentina. Argentina was the runner up in the last World Cup, but was ranked 169 out of 178 in economic freedom. As Argentines are so exposed to corruption and soccer, and he lectures frequently for free-market think tanks on the topic, I asked him about his views. He said, “FIFA is the closest thing to a multilateral agency, like the World Bank, but with the additional power to regulate a formidable business. The economic and political appeal, especially when the global contests are organized in countries with weak rule of law, creates immense temptations for corruption.”

All of the FIFA authorities who were detained were from the Americas, and mostly from countries with weak rule of law. But the fact that the accusations surface after the process that selected Russia and Qatar, with frequent but unproven bribery accusations, assures worldwide attention. President Putin questioned U.S. involvement.

Corrupt dealings which damage non-U.S. citizens can still be brought to justice here. In a piece, “How Did He Get So Rich”, I wrote about an Argentinean businessman who ended up in jail mostly because his partner was based in the United States and they used American financial institutions for their dubious operations. In this case, CONCACAF is based in the United States, so there is an additional justification to act. This is not enough to satisfy Putin who, as a piece in Forbes reported, blamed America for another attack on Russian interests.

What will happen next? Lazzari argues that this scandal might refresh the debate about what is more relevant: a world cup of soccer teams or a world cup of national teams. Libertarian globalists, tend to prefer the former, libertarian “nationalists” prefer the latter. I think there is room for both. Lazzari points out that national teams, like Barcelona and Real Madrid (Spian), Chelsea (U.K.), Juventus (Italy), and many others, have fans and followers across the globe. “Barcelona soccer shirts with Messi’s name, and Real Madrid’s shirt with Ronaldo’s name, sell all over the world, much more than national team’s jerseys.” Messi and Ronaldo play outside their native countries and are some the best strikers that the world has ever seen.

Those who love freedom even more than soccer hope government will not get more involved. Magno Karl, of the think tank Ordem Livre in Brazil, has been highly critical of state interference and subsidies for sporting events. He argues that “the involvement of governments in the game should remain restricted to tightening vigilance over private entities that engage in criminal activities and prosecution of those accused of crimes. It is unlikely that more involvement in the organization of sporting events would produce more accountability. Instead, it would probably produce more $900 million empty stadiums in developing countries, such as the National Stadium of Brasilia, in Brazil.”

U.S. civil society and its government are familiar with private sector for profit and nonprofit sport leagues. Incomes and profits on those events are regulated by the same laws that regulate non sportive efforts. Violations, therefore, warrant prosecution, even if they might offend Putin.

Luis Loria, a think tank leader from Costa Rica, commented that the revelations and detention of his compatriot Eduardo Li, calls for increased transparency. Loria said, “The capture of Li, in Switzerland, has caused a media earthquake in the small ‘Central American Switzerland’ as some label Costa Rica. Until a few month ago, Li was considered as a role model and named the 2014 person of the year by the prestigious newspaper La Nación.” Loria is the founder of IDEAS Network which is creating an internet platform “The Crystal House” to increase transparency in government affairs. Eugenio Figueredo, from Uruguay, one of the FIFA Vice Presidents also detained, had been accused and suspected before. Uruguay, like Costa Rica, is also regarded as a regional “Switzerland.” FIFA’s president and headquarters are Swiss, so the comparison is not totally unfounded.

The battle against cronyism and corruption continues, this time in world soccer. No sector seems immune. Who knows what comes next, but please, counter it with transparency, not more regulations.

Alejandro A. Chafuén es Dr. En Economía por el International College de California. Licenciado en Economía, (UCA), es miembro del comité de consejeros para The Center for Vision & Values, fideicomisario del Grove City College, y presidente de la Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Se ha desempeñado como fideicomisario del Fraser Institute desde 1991. Fue profesor de ESEADE.

Freedom for Leopoldo: The U.S. and Political Prisoners in the Americas

Por Alejandro A. Chafuén. Publicado el 12/11/14 en:


The case of Venezuelan political leader Leopoldo López, in jail without a sentence since February 18, 2014, seems so clear, that the inability to secure his release, is a testimony of the sad state of democracy in several countries in the Americas. The neglect and the silent complicity of many is troublesome. It is time to make a big push for the release of Leopoldo López and other political prisoners in Venezuela.

International organizations from left, right and center have called for López’s immediate release. Even in the United Nations, an unlikely actor given that it recently accepted Venezuela as a member of its Security Council, chimed in: its “Working Group on Arbitrary Detention” determined that López’s detention was arbitrary and he should be let go. Amnesty International also called for Venezuela to comply with the U.N. recommendation.
How are the Venezuelan courts reacting? Carlos Vecchio, National Political Coordinator of Voluntad Popular (“Popular Will”) the social and political movement led by López, tells me: “as a way of delaying her response to the UN resolution, judge Susana Barreiros has indefinitely suspended proceedings in the Court under her direction. Leopoldo will not go to any other court hearing until the judge decides about the UN resolution which demands his immediate release. The international community must support the UN resolution and raise its voice in order to stop the violation of Leopoldo’s human rights.”

I had a chance to speak with several members of Leopoldo López’s family. His sister Adriana, described the many abuses his brother is suffering beyond the arbitrary legal measures. The latest was to shower him and other prisoners with human excrements in order to weaken their spirit. She tells me “As a family we all stand behind Leopoldo’s decisions and commitment to the betterment of Venezuela. These have been difficult times for all of us, but we hope that his sacrifice will help change the course of our country.”
Leopoldo is the most noted victim of arbitrary injustice, but he is not alone. Another political leader and champion of the civil society, Maria Corina Machado, was prevented last month to travel to the United States to receive the 2014 Charles T. Manatt Democracy award from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. This week she was scheduled to be one of the stars during the events to celebrate freedom and the 25th anniversary of the “Fall” of the Berlin Wall organized by the Atlas Network. The judge again curtailed her right to travel. Pedro Burelli, a US based Venezuelan businessman, accused in the same case as Machado states: “the Venezuelan Judicial System is part of the oppressive scaffolding of the dictatorship.”

The above are the most famous, and as they all received part of their education in the United States, their cases are better known. Vecchio and Machado attended Yale, López graduated from Harvard, and Rodrigo Diamanti Vidaurre, had received a scholarship to Harvard and is still waiting. Rodrigo leads an NGO focusing on freedom of expression “Un Mundo sin Mordaza” (Un-muzzled World). Other noted prisoners include Daniel Ceballos and Enzo Scarano, but many more innocents, in jail or with arbitrary indictments, have few vouching for them. The pattern is easy to see: if you work for freedom, the Venezuelan government will find a way to curtail your liberties.

What if you work against freedom? Then the Venezuelan government acts as a facilitator. O’Globo, a leading Brazilian newspaper, reported about the investigations on Hezbollah operations in Brazil. Since 2007, with the help of the Cuban government, Hezbollah members, and other unsavory characters, can get identity cards which allow them to roam freely from Mexico to Argentina. A new book, Iran’s Strategic Penetration of Latin America, edited by Joseph Humire, of the Center for a Secure Free Society, shows the seriousness of the problem. Continued impunity in Venezuela and US porous borders, can bring the problem closer to home.

Fortunately Latin American and world leaders are beginning to react. At the recent XVth Iberoamerican summit, former presidents Felipe González (Spain), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), Ricardo Lagos (Chile), Julio María Sanguinetti (Uruguay) and Belisario Betancourt (Colombia), were the most prominent signers of a declaration calling for the release of the prisoners. Just a few days ago, the Federation of Latin American Associations, Cities and Municipalities, gathering in Santa Marta, Colombia, also called for the liberation.

The López family including his wife Lilian Tintori and sister Adriana plead the free world to maintain the pressure, putting sanctions on those who have been engaged and have been partnering with violators of human rights in Venezuela; they want us to go beyond the U.S. “conservative” world and ask President Obama, who called for Leopoldo López’s liberation during the Clinton Global Initiative, to follow up his words with actions; and to ask U.S. legislators to increase the awareness among their constituents of Venezuelan violations and abuses.


Alejandro A. Chafuén es Dr. En Economía por el International College de California. Licenciado en Economía, (UCA), es miembro del comité de consejeros para The Center for Vision & Values, fideicomisario del Grove City College, y presidente de la Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Se ha desempeñado como fideicomisario del Fraser Institute desde 1991. Fue profesor de ESEADE.