Last Call: Close, But No Cigar

Queenan, Joe

LAST CALL by Joe Queenan Close, But No Cigar IN ONE OF THE MOST HOTLY CONTESTED RIVALRIES IN RECENT history, Cameroon has narrowly edged out Paraguay as the most corrupt nation in the world....

...But Nigeria finished a distant fourth this year, in large part because there's literally nothing left to steal...
...Winning that award for systemic corruption would have meant a lot to the people of Paraguay...
...The Paraguayan people have to set aside these rumors about a conspiracy and concentrate on the work at hand: becoming even more corrupt than they already are...
...According to a Berlin-based advocacy group called Transparency International, Cameroon is now viewed by the public, local business figures, and assorted experts around the world as slightly more corrupt than Paraguay, rating an astonishing 1.4 on the International Corruption Scale as opposed to the 1.5 notched by its South American competitor...
...Historically, Paraguay has been known to the outside world as a failed Uruguay," says Jose De La Cruz, author of Paraguay on a Nickel a Week...
...Some Paraguayans have gone so far as to suggest that the voting was rigged, that Cameroon officials may have paid off fact-finders at Transparency International to fudge the numbers...
...Obviously, that's not going to be easy...
...Then Cameroon came out of nowhere and nipped them at the finish line...
...It would have put us on the map...
...in short, they did everything a country has to do to get voted the most corrupt nation in the world...
...Unfortunately, Cameroon did a slightly better job...
...I mean, who wants to be Rhode Island when you can be Louisiana...
...But experts on corruption have quietly suggested in off-the-record conversations that Paraguay may in fact have been blindsided by Cameroon...
...There's nothing to be ashamed of here...
...Paraguay never wins anything," moans Esteban Porforio, president of Paraguayans for an Even Worse Paraguay, an Asuncion-based lobbying group...
...When it comes to corruption, Cameroon is the '27 Yankees, the '30 A's, and the Green Bay Packers all wrapped up in one," notes political kingmaker Victor Jimenez...
...Other civic leaders echo this sentiment...
...THE NARROW DEFEAT IS A BITTER BLOW TO THE POWERS-THATbe in Paraguay, who had launched an unprecedented national drive to nail down the honor of being voted Most Corrupt Nation in the World...
...But when you're only the second-most corrupt nation in the world, you're just a bit of a joke...
...Irony-minded tourists will come to visit and intellectuals like V.S...
...Porforio agrees...
...They bribed, they threatened, they issued veiled threats, they looted, they embezzled, they ransacked, they exploited, they pilfered, they shook down, they brought in muscle, they played a tune on the cash register...
...We have no movie stars, no rock stars, no world-class athletes, no monuments, no history, no economy...
...Paraguayans quite naturally felt that their most serious competition was going to come from Nigeria, a nation of too million con artists," notes one expert on the subject...
...Through a series of unprecedented bribes and thefts, Paraguay built up a huge lead over Nigeria, Honduras, and Indonesia, and by the early summer, it looked like they had this thing in the bag...
...Nobody even knows where this country is...
...When you're the most corrupt nation in the world, you can claim to have a certain cachet," says Porforio...
...MUCH LIKE WINNING A SILVER MEDAL INSTEAD OF A GOLD in the Olympics, Paraguay's second-place finish has little cash value...
...But once they started to die out, the country just slipped back into the abyss...
...As the saying goes: Honesty is the best policy...
...Admitting that we lost fair and square is the first step toward winning the title...
...The problem with Paraguay is that we have three honest meter maids, one incorruptible justice of the peace and two shipping clerks who have never taken a bribe," he says...
...No surprise there...
...CULTURAL HISTORIANS WORRY THAT THE DEFEAT COULD SEND the country into a tailspin, with hangdog Paraguayans feeling even worse about themselves than they already do...
...It's not like we lost out to Austria or Norway or something...
...To HELP THE PUBLIC RECOVER FROM THE TRAUMA OF ITS narrow defeat, prominent cultural figures and politicians have taken to the Paraguayan airwaves, reminding their countrymen that the country at least lost out to a skilled, talented, experienced competitor...
...Even the schoolchildren are on the take...
...But if poor little Cameroon can win an honor like this, there's no reason Paraguay can't...
...If Hollywood had only gone along with the original plan of calling The Boys From Brazil "The Guys From Paraguay," we could have gotten some points on the scoreboard...
...94 December 1998 The American Spectator...
...Denmark, scoring a perfect io, was voted least corrupt...
...it's like trying to make Haiti an even worse place to visit...
...The politicians, the military and the business community of Paraguay worked hard to win this award," explains Argos Valenzuela, a public relations specialist who has spent the past 18 months trying to make the world aware of Paraguay's endemic corruption...
...But Valenzuela disagrees...
...Now, we're just screwed...
...The last time we made any waves was when all those Nazis came down here after the war...
...Naipaul or Paul Theroux might even pop by to write a book about you...
...But everybody in Cameroon is a crook...

Vol. 31 • December 1998 • No. 12


 
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