Two weeks ago, Transparency International released the 2018 edition of its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The index, which aggregates 13 distinct outside corruption indices and the opinions of local experts and businesspeople, ranks 180 countries on a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is highly clean. For each of the last three years, the average score in the Americas has been 44.
The CPI only covers perceptions of specific aspects of public sector corruption. Given the prominent corruption scandals that continue to embroil much of Latin America—implicating leaders including Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto, Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and what seems like Peru’s entire political system—it’s no surprise that the 2018 CPI doesn’t reflect well on the state of public and business confidence in the governments of the region.
The good news? Under current administrations, certain countries in the Americas have made significant improvement in perceptions of public sector corruption. The bad news? The average situation in the region is so dire that these minor steps in the right direction are unlikely to get any attention.
Below, we detail how the major countries in Latin America have performed between 2018 and the start of the incumbent administration. For countries where new presidents took office in 2018, we detail the performance of the previous administration.
Score at the beginning of the Macri administration in 2015: 32
Score in 2018: 40
While the 40 Argentina receives in the 2018 CPI still falls below the regional average score of 44, Argentina under President Mauricio Macri has made the most significant improvement of any incumbent administration in the Western Hemisphere. In its regional profile, Transparency International highlights the improvement of asset declaration requirements for public officials’ family members as one of the most important anti-corruption achievements in the country in recent years.
Score at the beginning of the Morales administration in 2006: 27
Score in 2018: 29
Bolivia has incrementally improved its CPI score since Evo Morales took office in 2006, but it’s still among the worst performing countries in the Americas. It scores above only five of the 32 Western Hemisphere countries included in the 2018 CPI.
Score at the beginning of the Temer administration in 2016: 40
Score in 2018: 35
Under Michel Temer, who took office in 2016 following the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, Brazil fell five points, reaching its lowest CPI score in the last seven years. In the coming years, it will be interesting to see if controversial new President Jair Bolsonaro, who largely staked his campaign on an anti-corruption platform, is able to improve perceptions of public sector corruption in the country, or whether he will give in to his strong-man instincts. Transparency International’s Brazil chapter recently published suggestions for sweeping anti-corruption reform consisting of more than 70 measures.
Score at the beginning of the Bachelet administration in 2014: 73
Score in 2018: 67
While Chile is still among the best performing countries in the Western Hemisphere and among the top 30 globally in the CPI, it suffered a precipitous six-point drop during Michelle Bachelet’s second four-year term as president. Chile has suffered from a series of high profile corruption scandals in recent years that have damaged public confidence by implicating traditionally respected institutions such as the national police force.
Score at the beginning of the Santos administration in 2014: 35
Score in 2018: 36
Under Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s standing in the CPI stagnated. In 2018 it sits eight points below the regional average.
Score at the beginning of the Solís administration in 2014: 54
Score in 2018: 56
Easily the best performing country in Central America, Costa Rica further improved its CPI score during the administration of former President Luis Guillermo Solís. Costa Rica continues to score well above the regional average and ranks 48 globally, between South Korea and Italy.
Score at the beginning of the Medina administration in 2012: 32
Score in 2018: 30
The already-poor performing Dominican Republic has further slipped under the leadership of President Danilo Medina. It sits 14 points below the regional average and ranks 129 of the 180 countries covered by the index.
Score at the beginning of the Moreno administration in 2017: 32
Score in 2018: 34
Lenin Moreno has only been in office since 2017, but Ecuador has already made progress on combatting public sector corruption under the new president, who has charted an unexpectedly moderate course. Transparency International points out the progress in bringing corrupt former government officials to justice, including former President Rafael Correa, but notes that the judicial system is still weak and ineffective.
Score at the beginning of the Cerén administration in 2014: 39
Score in 2018: 35
Though El Salvador has improved its score by two points in the last two years, it’s still fallen by a significant four points since President Salvador Sánchez Cerén took office in 2014. Like Ecuador, Transparency International singles out the weakness of the Salvadoran judicial system as the greatest problem facing anti-corruption efforts in the country.
Score at the beginning of the Morales administration in 2016: 28
Score in 2018: 27
Guatemala’s dismal CPI score has further slipped only slightly under Jimmy Morales, but that’s unfortunately likely to change in the years to come as the increasingly authoritarian presidentthe UN International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and will quite likely fail to renew its mandate.
Score at the beginning of the Moïse administration in 2017: 22
Score in 2018: 20
Long one of the most corrupt countries in Latin America, Haiti’s performance in the CPI has worsened further under embattled President Jovenel Moïse. Just last week, thousands of Haitians took to the streets to demand Moïse’s resignation for his failure to investigate corruption in the previous administration over Petrocaribe, Venezuela’s subsidized oil delivery program for Caribbean nations. With a global ranking of 161 out of 180 countries in the index, Haiti is the second worst performing country in the Americas, beating out only Venezuela.
Score at the beginning of the Hernández administration in 2014: 29
Score in 2018: 29
Despite a controversial re-election, Honduras’ CPI ranking has stayed steady since Juan Orlando Hernández first took office in 2014 despite the OAS-sponsored anti-corruption effort, the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). Honduras still falls 15 points below the regional average and ranks a dismal 132 of the 180 countries covered in the index globally.
Score at the beginning of the Holness administration in 2016: 39
Score in 2018: 44
Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness came to power riding a wave of anti-corruption sentiment, and the Caribbean country has significantly improved its score during his term. Nevertheless, Transparency International calls out the country for the Petrojam scandal, which implicated public officials in the state-owned oil company in the disappearance of $40 million in income between 2013 and 2018, as evidence that “nepotism, mismanagement of public funds and other forms of corruption are still well-rooted in the Caribbean.”
Score at the beginning of the Peña Nieto administration in 2012: 34
Score in 2018: 28
It’s disappointing, but the fact that Mexico now ranks on par with its worst performing Central American neighbors in terms of public sector corruption should be no surprise. By the end of Enrique Peña Nieto’s six-year term in 2018, Mexico fell to 16 points below the regional average. The deterioration in press freedom and attacks against journalists investigating corruption is a critical factor in Mexicans’ growing perception of corruption in their country. If there is a bright spot, it’s that Mexicans increasingly support anti-corruption reforms, including the creation of a new national anti-corruption system and an independent attorney general’s office.
Score at the beginning of the Ortega administration in 2007: 26
Score in 2018: 25
The third-worst performing country in the Americas, Nicaragua has dropped one point in the CPI since Daniel Ortega came to power in 2007, but four points in the last seven years after initially making modest gains at the beginning of Ortega’s second stint as president. As he’s solidified his grip on power, Ortega has curbed the effectiveness and independence of the country’s political institutions andto citizens who have exercised their freedom of speech and assembly to protest his regime in recent years.
Score at the beginning of the Varela administration in 2014: 37
Score in 2018: 37
Though on par with Costa Rica in terms of economic growth and development, Panama more closely resembles its other Central American peers in terms of performance in the CPI. Under the incumbent administration of Juan Carlos Varela, Panama has failed to improve its performance in the index. According to the Transparency International report, the biggest corruption related concern at the moment is the, which has been brought into focus in the context of the .
Score at the beginning of the Cartes administration in 2013: 24
Score in 2018: 29
Paraguay significantly improved its CPI performance during Horacio Cartes’ five-year term, but with a score that places it on par with fellow laggard Bolivia and slightly ahead of parts of Central America and Mexico, it is still among the worst performing countries in the Americas.
Score at the beginning of the Kuczynski administration in 2016: 35
Score in 2018: 35
Though it’s recently been consumed by the far-reaching Odebrecht scandal—along with much of the rest of Latin America—Peru has been the poster boy for presidential corruption in Latin America since the Fujimori regime. Peru continues to lag behind the regional average and ranks 105 out of 180 countries included in the index.
Score at the beginning of the Vázquez administration in 2015: 74
Score in 2018: 70
Still the best performing country in Latin America, Uruguay has nevertheless lost four points in the CPI since Tabaré Vasquéz was elected to his second turn as president in 2015. Despite the slip, Uruguay remains a rare bright spot in the region. It scores only one point lower than the United States and ranks 23 globally, just ahead of developed countries such as Portugal, Taiwan and Israel.
Score at the beginning of the Maduro administration in 2013: 20
Score in 2018: 18
Venezuela didn’t have far to fall when Nicolas Maduro first took office, but it has still slipped two points between 2013 and 2018. The crisis-ridden country sits dead last in the Americas and ranks 168 of the 180 countries covered in the CPI.