Latin American economies may have weathered the global recession better than most, reduced poverty, and grown the middle class, but across most of the region corruption remains as entrenched as ever.
That’s the message of Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perception Index. This year, two-thirds of the region’s 32 countries fall in the bottom half of the list, among the world’s most corrupt nations.
“What caught my attention the most was how in Latin America, the good economic news has not translated into an improved quality of life for the majority of Latin Americans,” says Alejandro Salas, Americas director with Transparency International. “Corruption is a central element that continues to affect us.”
Venezuela and Haiti ranked lowest in the region: tying for No. 165 out of 176 countries total. Chile ranked highest at No. 20, one slot below the United States (The index assigns a score to each country on a scale from 0 to 100, or from highly corrupt to very clean. Venezuela earned a score of 19, for example, versus Chile’s 72.)
Brazil a bright spot
Brazil, ranked at No. 69 with a score of 43, offers a bright spot this year for the region—and a potential example to follow, Mr. Salas says.
The country has recently given corruption a one-two punch by punishing corrupt officials and instituting numerous reforms to increase transparency and reduce graft.
A series of trials dealing with the mensalao scandal – a vote-buying scheme using public funds – has resulted in a judge sentencing more than 20 high-ranking public officials, many with jail time. This is a major success in a country where a former president could be booted for corruption only to enjoy political reincarnation as a senator a decade later.
At the same time, Brazil has advanced reforms including a freedom of information law and a law known as the Clean Bill of Record, which prohibits people who have pending legal cases from running for office. When the clean bill law went into effect, several dozen officials were barred from competing again in elections.
Mexico has instituted numerous transparency and anti-corruption reforms over the past decade, while Peru managed to put a corrupt former president, Alberto Fujimori, behind bars.
Yet both Mexico and Peru remain troubled by high levels of corruption.
What is needed is simultaneous actions of increasing transparency and punishing wrongdoing , says Salas.
“Brazil is doing both,” Salas says. “It may be early to celebrate but the country is creating hope.”