The Criminalization of Corruption in Latin America: Causes and Consequences of Lava Jato


Tuesday, October 13, 2020, 12:00pm to 1:20pm

This event is part of a virtual series. To register, click here.

Speakers: Ezequiel González Ocantos, Associate Professor in the Qualitative Study of Comparative Political Institutions, University of Oxford; Paula Muñoz, Profesora del Departamento Académico de Ciencias Sociales y Políticas, Universidad del Pacifico en Perú
Discussant: Alisha Holland, Associate Professor of Government, Harvard University
Moderated by: Frances Hagopian, Jorge Paulo Lemann Senior Lecturer on Government, Harvard University

Operation Lava Jato started in Brazil as a money-laundering case. It quickly turned into a full-blown judicial anti-corruption crusade with far-reaching political implications across Latin America. The same companies at the heart of the Brazilian scandal offered kickbacks to public officials in at least 8 other countries. Critics see the prosecutorial zeal behind some of the national chapters of Lava Jato as yet another instance of “lawfare.” For others, however, it anticipates a new era of accountability and political regeneration. In this talk, we discuss our current book project, which asks two sets of questions. First, what explains why the investigation gained momentum and delivered results in some countries but not others? Our answer looks at the legacy of capacity-enhancing reforms in Latin America’s prosecution services as well as more immediate determinants of prosecutorial zeal. Second, we rely on focus groups and original surveys to understand the impact of Lava Jato on public opinion. What kind of emotions and attitudes towards corruption and politics do voters experience when exposed to these shocks? Does Lava Jato reinforce or curb political cynicism? Are all Lava Jato’s created equal, or does the way in which different investigations unfold shape emotional and attitudinal responses?

Presented in collaboration with Weatherhead Center for International Affairs