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In Spite of Hopefull Beacons, Corruption Still Mires CALA Region

A handful of countries within the Latin America/Caribbean region (known as CALA) have managed to make important progress in their fight against corruption over the past couple years. Nevertheless, the region remains mired by a lack of transparency and weakend public institutions.

The latest edition of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) provided a familiar snapshot to CALA observers. Regional progress remains uneven, with some countries having outstounding performances as others remain stuck in the muds of corruption or sink even further into the mire.

Uruguay kept its lead in the rankings not only in Latin America, but in the Americas in general. The small South American country obtained a score of 74 in the CPI, achiving a global ranking of 14th alongside Canada. Both were followed by the US, which scored a 69 and ranked 24th.

Chile followed closely with a score of 67 and a rank of 27th. Although a top performer in the continent, Chile has lost steam in its battle against corruption, according to the CPI. The country obtained scores above 70 in 2012, 2013 and 2014. It suffered sharp declines in the two following years and has remained stuck in the mid-60s ever since.

Costa Rica, which used to find itself at the top of CALA rankings, seems to be falling by the wayside. The Central American country ranked 48th overall, with a score of 54, four points below what it scored the year prior. Transparency international pointed to overpricing and a lack of competition in the infrastructure sector as the main obstacles for Costa Rica’s fight against corruption.

In spite of their recent shortcomings, Transparency International underlined that “both Chile and Costa Rica have solid democratic institutions and opportunities to reverse these trends.” Costa Rica’s “National Integrity Strategy”, added the organization, can become a model for other countries in the region.

Mexico found itself in the mid to lower end of the index, ranking 126th with a score of 31. LATAM’s second largest economy managed to improve its standing in the CPI after Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) won the presidency in 2018. Nevertheless, the score remains stagnant ever since.

AMLO began his tenure launching what an all-out campaign against corruption, which he identified as the main force rotting Mexico’s economy and institutions. In spite of that, no major official has been convicted. To boot, AMLO keeps trying to undermine the independence of autonomous institutions in the country, such as the National Institute for Transparency and the National Electoral Institute, Mexico’s main electoral arbiter.

El Salvador, Jamaica and Honduras each launched agressive security campaigns to crack down on criminal activity. Such effors were criticized by Transparency International, which warned about “serious threats to human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Citing “a wave of protests in Panama,” the report said people are rebelling against impunity in some countries.

Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala ranked at the bottom of the index, with the watchdog slamming them for weak public institutions.

Weak and unaccountable public institutions are the main cause of corruption in CALA. A lack of transparency and competition between companies bidding for infrastructure projects is also a major factor.

The report describes realities known well by inhabitants of the region: police forces and public officials collaborating with criminal gangs; bribes being accepted to ignore illegal activities; in some Central American countries, there are reports of officials demanding sexual favors in exchange for issuing passports.

Progress in Guyana

The oil-rich country of Guyana (ranked 85th with a score of 40) has seen its score rise by 11 points over the past seven years. But the watchdog called on the South American country to introduce greater levels of transparency, especially in the mining industry, which in recent years generated millions of dollars in export earnings.

Progress is being made in the Caribbean, but most countries still have a long way to go.

The Dominican Republic (ranked 123rd, with a score of 32) gained four points in the CPI over the past two years. This was achieved through the strengthening of its justice and oversight bodies, which have grown closer to independence. It also enhanced transparency in public procurement and enacted an asset forfeiture law.

However, slow judicial processes have kept corrupt officials away from convictions. Dominicans fear that courts are not meeting the moment.

The watchdog identified a stronger demand for transparency in the Caribbean. The populations of Jamaica (ranked 69th with a score of 44) and Trinidad & Tobago (ranked 77th with a score of 42) are growing more distrustful of security forces due to prevailing corruption among officers.

Countries to Keep an Eye On

Transparency International singled out Colombia (ranked 91st with a score of 39) and Brazil (ranked 94th with a score of 38) as countries to keep an eye on.

In Brazil, former president Jair Bolsonaro and current president Lula da Silva have faced corruption charges, this as the local population grows more sensitive to bribery allegations. Lula’s Workers Party has also been entangled in corruption scandals.

There’s still hope that the situation will improve, though. Brazil managed to improve its CPI performance during Lula’s first tenure, as well as during the administration of his party colleague, Dilma Rousseff.

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In Colombia’s case, Transparency International provided a mixed outlook. Gustavo Petro’s election as President brought with it expectations for change in the country, but a single politician won’t be enough to foster change. Colombia’s government should push for the creation of transparency in procurement processes and make regulators more independent.

Narayan Ammachchi

News Editor for Nearshore Americas, Narayan Ammachchi is a career journalist with a decade of experience in politics and international business. He works out of his base in the Indian Silicon City of Bangalore.

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