New corruption index data shows that Venezuela and Haiti are again the most corrupt countries in the Americas. Worsening scores in Guatemala and Brazil raise questions about when anti-corruption efforts in those countries might bear fruit in the rankings.
Transparency International released its worldwide Corruption Perceptions Index 2015 (CPI) on January 27, showing data that suggests Latin America as a whole may be becoming less corrupt. 17 countries in Latin America improved in the rankings over their 2014 index performance, with just four declining and two holding steady.
Notably, Brazil dropped seven spots in the rankings and Guatemala dropped eight. Both of these countries suffered from high-profile corruption cases in 2015, with Transparency International specifically calling out the Linea scandal in Guatemala and the Petrobras scandal in Brazil in their analysis of corruption in the Americas that accompanied the release of the index.
Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama, and Paraguay all made double digit gains in this year's rankings over last year's, with Panama and Paraguay jumping more than 20 positions each.
While most of Latin America showed improvement in the CPI rankings over last year, the picture is far from uniformly positive. Two of the world's 10 most corrupt countries (Venezuela and Haiti) are in Latin America, and 14 of the region's countries are ranked in the bottom half of the CPI.
Transparency International releases the CPI annually after aggregating expert opinions from sources working in both the public and private sectors. The data used to generate scores for this most recent index was collected between 2014 and 2015.
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Haiti and Venezuela's continued poor performances on the index come as no surprise. Haiti still finds itself struggling to establish solid democratic governance and transparency norms six years into a rocky recovery effort after a 2010 earthquake devastated much of the country. In 2015, Venezuela saw hotly contested elections which likely distracted authorities from paying due attention to concerns of rampant corruption, particularly in the country's security forces. The opposition party that control's Venezuela's congress has vowed to tackle corruption, but it remains to be seen whether those efforts will take the form of impartial investigations or partisan attacks.
Brazil and Guatemala each saw major corruption scandals break in their respective countries in 2015, and it seems that they are paying a price for those scandals in this year's rankings. While the public exposure of high-level corruption scandals is clearly hurting the countries in the immediate short term, akin to ripping off a bandaid, the waves of popular protests and anti-corruption clean-up measures they have spurred likely place both countries on track to see significant gains against corruption in the mid-term future.