Central America has become a treacherous place for anti-corruption professionals like Luiz Antonio Marrey. Government backlash to a regionwide anti-corruption movement has cost more than a few prominent prosecutors and judges their jobs, or worse.
But as the 64-year-old Brazilian prepared to step down this summer as head of the Organization of American States’ anti-corruption mission in Honduras, it was clear that he was departing on his own terms.
“My mandate is over, and it is never about the person. It is about the institution,” Marrey told AQ.
Inspired by the UN’s CICIG commission in Guatemala, the OAS’ Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) has helped Honduran authorities prosecute 12 corruption cases against businesses and public officials, including a former first lady and members of Congress. Besides its support for investigations, the Mission is also helping devise structural reforms to strengthen judicial and prosecutorial institutions in Honduras.
Their success so far has raised concerns that the MACCIH agreement may be allowed to expire in 2020.
“There are a lot of people who would like to see us go,” Marrey told AQ. “The agreement can be renewed, but many powerful people are arguing that it has to go back for congressional approval.”
Marrey said the relationship between MACCIH officials and the Honduran government is cordial, but that he sees animosity among the political and economic elites “because it rattles the way of doing things.”
Marrey, who has spent four decades pursuing white-collar crime, is familiar with that type of pressure. As a state prosecutor in São Paulo, he helped the capital city recoup millions in illicit funds held offshore by Paulo Maluf, a well-known politician who was active from the 1960s until his arrest for corruption in 2018.
Marrey believes that an effective judiciary must be built brick by brick and said that strengthening the rule of law in Honduras, where institutions lack independence and prosecutors have little job security, will require patience.
“It took us 30 years in Brazil, since the 1988 constitution strengthened the public prosecutors’ office, to get to where we are now,” he said.