Latin American and Caribbean countries have made enormous progress in tackling corruption, most notably through the wave of legal actions against the perpetrators of the greatest corruption scandal sweeping the region: the Lava Jato investigation. The investigation’s reach—and of course the media notoriety that followed—is unprecedented in the history of the Americas.
Yet, as evidenced by Transparency International’s recently published 2019 Global Corruption Barometer, citizens in Latin America and the Caribbean remain unsatisfied with their government’s performance against corruption.
The report, that tracks data on citizens’ views on corruption and their direct experiences of bribery in Latin America and the Caribbean, shows that unfortunately, more than half of all citizens think corruption is getting worse in their country and that their government is doing a bad job at tackling it. The report also sheds light, for the first time ever, on sexual extortion, or “sextortion,” as one of the most significant forms of gendered corruption.
Nonetheless, citizens remains optimistic and convinced that it is them who are best suited to make a difference in the fight against corruption, even though in a majority of countries citizens, media and other non-government actors are not backed by appropriate mechanisms that ensure their safety in reporting corruption crimes.
Below are six key findings that Transparency International’s data on citizens’ perception on corruption identified across 18 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean for 2019.
- Corruption is on the rise. As the report notes, 53 percent of all surveyed citizens across 18 countries think that corruption increased in the previous 12 months. However, 16 percent of those surveyed believed corruption declined in the past 12 months, compared to the survey conducted in 2017, where 10 percent of the surveyed citizens thought the level of corruption had declined.
As in the 2017 report, perceived corruption remains highest in Venezuela, with 87 percent of people thinking that corruption increased in the previous 12 months. Perceived corruption is lowest in Barbados, with 37 percent of their citizens noting a rise in perceived corruption.
- Governments are not doing enough. Over half of all surveyed citizens (57 percent) think their government is performing badly, with 39 percent thinking their government is doing a good job at fighting corruption.
Again, citizens’ dissatisfaction with their governments is highest in Venezuela, with 91 percent (against 76 percent in 2017) of Venezuelan citizens thinking their government is failing to fight corruption.
By contrast, 67 percent of citizens in Guyana think their government is doing well, followed by Mexico, with 61 percent of citizens saying they are satisfied with the government’s performance fighting corruption, evidence that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s campaign promise of placing the fight against corruption front and center still enjoys some momentum.
- Presidents, prime ministers and parliamentarians are seen as most corrupt. More than half of citizens think the president or prime minister’s office and parliamentarians are the most corrupt public institutions. By contrast, citizens perceive journalists and non-government organizations as the least corrupt, with 21 and 27 percent respectively thinking that most or all people in these groups are involved in corruption.
Venezuelan citizens report the highest level of dissatisfaction with the Nicolás Maduro government. Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed said his office is mostly or entirely corrupt. Following Maduro is Guatemala’s Jimmy Morales (71 percent) and Honduras’ Juan Orlando Hernández (65 percent).
In the case of Venezuela, the data reported by Transparency International shows that while 87 percent of Venezuelans think that most or all people in the office of the president are corrupt, only 38 percent think that most or all parliamentarians are corrupt against 56 percent reported in 2017, meaning that the National Assembly, with a majority of its members opposing the Maduro regime, is perceived as less corrupt than the executive branch.
- Bribery and voter-buying practices continue. More than one in five citizens–or approximately 56 million people–who accessed public services, such as health care and education, paid a bribe in the previous year.
Again, Venezuela heads the list with the highest overall bribery rate (50 percent in 2019 vs 38 percent in 2017), followed by Mexico (34 percent vs 51 percent in 2017) and Peru (30 percent vs 39 percent in 2017). Costa Rica maintains the lowest overall bribery rate at seven percent of its surveyed citizens reporting they paid a bribe in exchange for basic services in the past 12 months.
During the past two years, Latin America has undergone a busy electoral season, starting with Chile’s federal elections in November 2017 and most recently Argentina’s primaries and Guatemala’s runoff elections–both held this past August. Unfortunately, this also means that electoral bribery is prevalent.
The reported data shows that “one in four citizens is offered bribes in exchange for votes at national, regional or local elections, and in several countries, citizens are threatened with retaliation if they do not vote in a particular way.”
Mexico reported the highest vote-buying rates, with one in two citizens offered bribes in exchange for votes (50 percent), while Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago presented the lowest rates, with six percent of its surveyed citizens reporting being offered a bribe in exchange for voting for a particular candidate.
- Sextortion is a major issue. Transparency International’s report is the first of its kind to report how women—as primary caretakers for their families—are disproportionately subject to gendered corruption, making them more vulnerable to certain types of bribery.
As the report notes, across various countries women are coerced into providing sexual favors to receive public services, including health care and education. The results show that one in five citizens experiences sexual extortion—or sextortion—when accessing a government service, or knows someone who has. Sextortion rates are highest in Barbados, with 30 percent of surveyed citizens reporting they’ve experienced or know someone who has experienced this type of gendered corruption. Sextortion is lowest in Chile and Panama with a rate of 14 percent of surveyed citizens reporting being subject to, or know someone that has been sexually coerced.
- Optimism prevails. Although there’s still a long way to erase deep-rooted institutional corruption in the region, the population remains optimistic, and what’s best, are continuing to push citizen-led initiatives to take action.
Seventy-seven percent of surveyed citizens believe that ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption. The citizens of the Bahamas are the most optimistic and Chileans are the least optimistic, with 85 and 68 percent respectively agreeing that it is ordinary citizens who can make a difference in the fight against corruption despite fear of retaliation or authority inaction.