Latin Americans Say Corruption Worsening, But They Can Fight It

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A new analysis paints a dark portrait of corruption in Latin America and the Caribbean. A majority of citizens say the problem is getting worse and governments are failing to address it. However, the study also shows that citizens throughout the region remain confident in their ability to make a difference in the fight against graft.

Transparency International released a report on October 9 as part of the watchdog group’s “global corruption barometer” that focused specifically on experiences of corruption in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Researchers surveyed more than 22,000 citizens in 20 countries across the region, and found that nearly two-thirds of respondents said they felt corruption had gotten worse in the past year.

Unsurprisingly, Venezuela saw the highest proportion of citizens saying corruption had deepend, at 87 percent. The criminalization of state institutions in the crisis-wracked country has become increasingly apparent lately, with numerous top officials accused of involvement in illicit activities and the revelation of widespread criminal behavior among security forces.

Other countries that have seen major corruption scandals recently — such as Chile, Peru, Brazil and the Dominican Republic — also saw a large number of respondents saying the problem is getting worse.

At the same time, the existence of major corruption scandals did not directly correlate with citizens saying corruption had worsened. Guatemala and Argentina, for instance, both saw some of the lowest percentages of their citizens signaling that graft was on the rise.

This is likely due to efforts by authorities to tackle the issue in those countries. Indeed, more than half of Guatemalan respondents said their government was doing well in fighting corruption, as did nearly half of Argentines.

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(Chart showing approval of government anti-corruption efforts)

Police and politicians were typically viewed as the most corrupt actors in the region, with 47 percent of all respondents saying these institutions were corrupt. 

 

Venezuelans were most likely to call the police corrupt, at 73 percent, followed by citizens in Trinidad and Tobago, Bolivia, Mexico and Paraguay. Paraguayans were most likely to say their politicians are highly corrupt, followed by Peru and Chile. Uruguay had the lowest percentage of citizens responding affirmatively in both cases.

The survey also showed that few citizens trust authorities enough to report corruption. Although nearly a third of public service users said they had paid a bribe related to a public service, fewer than one in 10 respondents said that they had reported corruption to the authorities. Almost a third of those who did report it said they experienced retaliation for doing so.

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The report’s authors note that their findings come against the backdrop of “worrying trends” in Latin America and the Caribbean, “including the erosion of human rights and the weakening of governance structures” as well as “a rise in violent crime and insecurity” in many countries.

“Such abuses are exacerbated and sometimes only made possible by corruption, which undermines justice institutions, weakens the rule of law, distorts political processes and enables politicians to act with impunity,” the authors state.

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However, as noted above, experiences of corruption range significantly from country to country — a dynamic the authors say reflects “the varied nature of the corruption challenges and political situation across the region.”

Moreover, a sizeable majority of citizens in every country except Chile expressed the belief that ordinary people could make a difference in the fight against corruption.

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(Chart showing belief that average citizens can make a difference in fighting corruption)

The report states that engaging citizens “in the anti-corruption movement and sustaining their enthusiasm must be the priority for governments and civil society organisations working to wipe out the scourge of corruption.”

Public pressure will be crucial to ensuring the continuation of anti-graft efforts that have begun to gain momentum across Latin America and the Caribbean. But as the report notes, governments must also clean up and strengthen law enforcement and judicial institutions in order to root out the deeply embedded systems of corruption that plague so many countries in the region.

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