At a lecture in Luce Hall on Monday, Pilar Velasco — a journalist who spent her career investigating corruption in the Spanish government — discussed the role of the media in holding governments accountable for malpractice.
The event, which drew a crowd of about 30, was hosted by the Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies. Velasco, a Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellow, focused her talk on the role of the news media in ensuring transparent democracy in Spain, her home country. But she also highlighted the importance of collaborating with sources across the globe to report stories that cross country lines. She explained that the influx of foreign money into Spain in the 2000s promoted money laundering among the nation’s most powerful citizens. In 2010, Spanish journalists, including Velasco, found that public funds had been funneled towards the personal coffers of the royal family.
In her investigation, Velasco said that she and other reporters uncovered that Inãki Urgardin, the brother-in-law of the country’s king, had established the Nóos Institute, a nonprofit foundation, to embezzle 6 million euros of public money. She added that Urgardin and his wife received these funds in the form of public contracts. Other politicians also used the government’s credit cards for their own expenses.
“A corruption involving the monarchy, the Spanish royal corruption scandal, was a typical corruption case in Spain,” she said. “The citizens of Spain got so angry because the monarchy gets so much public money.”
However, Velasco argued that the ramifications of corruption extend beyond the sociopolitical, impacting the nation’s economy. After the European Union investigated the allegations, the government began to have greater control over the Spanish banks.
Velasco noted how she used sources across borders to expose nefarious water contracts in Spain and Latin America. After following the flow of capital overseas and cooperating with both domestic and international sources, she revealed that members of the government had taken money from these contracts for themselves. The Spanish Conservative party had hidden 30 million euros in Latin America and Switzerland, she said.
Corruption can not only deter public confidence in the government but also lead to extremism, populism and imbalanced electoral competence between political parties, Velasco said.
Hyun Jo Kim ’20, who attended the event and is a former YTV editor for the News, said that the talk broadened his understanding of globalization and corruption. Kim said Velasco’s remarks reminded him of the importance of Reporters Without Borders, an advocacy organization that promotes freedom of information and freedom of the press.
“Velasco’s personal story as an investigative journalist made me think more about the negative effects of globalization of only the elite,” he said. “[Organizations like Reporters without Borders are] important links, so we should support them. I think Velasco’s ideas on judicial collaboration between the media and local communities [are] also important.”
Angela Boskovitch, a freelance culture journalist researching international heritage and arts trafficking who also came to the talk, said Velasco’s lecture helped her better understand the role of investigative journalism in the context of global crime.
“We don’t have good tools yet to deal with global crimes,” she said. “There’s been some work on the terrorism issue, and in Europe they look for terrorists, but there are other issues as well. Heritage trafficking, the trafficking of art, is [more frequent] than the trafficking of drugs. We have so many complicated global issues that need strong institutions and strong media oversight.”
Boskovitch added that it was inspiring to hear of Velasco’s perseverance in her journalism despite financial support and in the face of threats and lawsuits.
Still, she said the impact of journalism also relies on the public to hold the government accountable.
The Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies will hold another lunchtime colloquia speakers event with CLAIS visiting fellow and public health expert Claudia Nunes on Oct. 9. The topic will be “Integrating Indigenous Cultural Challenges with Good Governance Practices: Brazil Experience in Health Field.”
Jake Tae | firstname.lastname@example.org