On January 23, Transparency International released its 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), measuring the perceived levels of public sector corruption across 180 countries and territories. With a global average of 43 (on a scale of 0 to 100, where zero is highly corrupt and 100 is highly transparent), and two-thirds of countries scoring below 50, governments appear to be regressing in their efforts to fight corruption and falling short in implementing transparent and accountable systems to gain citizens’ trust in public institutions.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, the picture is equally gloomy. None of the 32 countries assessed occupy the top 10 posts—in fact, Canada dropped from 9th place in 2018 to number 12 in 2019. The CPI score for the Americas averages 43 for the fifth consecutive year, where Canada holds the highest score of 77 and, not surprisingly, Venezuela scores 16. Venezuela also has one of the five worst scores in the entire list, along with Yemen (15), Syria (13), South Sudan (12) and Somalia (9).
The top five
Canada, Uruguay, the U.S., Chile and the Bahamas had the best scores in the Americas, all evaluated above the 43 global average. Canada, the U.S. and the Bahamas, however, dropped their scores against the 2018 CPI. As Transparency International notes, amid a divisive political environment, Americans’ trust in the government is at an historic low (17 percent). Now, with the impeachment process against President Donald Trump taking place in the Senate, U.S. democratic institutions will be tested for their transparency and impartiality, possibly shifting citizens’ trust even more.
In Chile—ranking fourth in the Latin America and Caribbean list—President Sebastian Piñera’s popularity is also at a historic six percent low after the wave of protests that rocked the country since October 2019, with thousands of Chileans demanding social justice and equality. As a result of the protests, a referendum dated April 26, 2020 is expected to pass a new Constitution. With an increasingly vocal population, all eyes will be set on the process, testing the country that was once hailed as the Latin American economic “miracle” and viewed as a model for democratic transition.
The bottom five
Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala had the worst scores in the Americas. All countries received a lower score against their 2018 CPI score, demonstrating little to no progress when it comes to transparency and accountability. Unsurprisingly, Honduras joined the bottom rank, and replaced Mexico when comparing it to last year’s scores. As Global Americans’ author Lucas Perello notes, the full disappearance of Honduras’ most successful anti-corruption mission—the Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH)—embodies the broader unraveling of checks-and-balances under National Party governments, particularly following the rise of Juan Orlando Hernández to the presidency. Even with its limited mandate, the MACCIH proved essential in the fight against corruption, but after the country failed to renew its mandate this past January 2019, Honduras’ already weak democratic institutions hang by a thread.
Although El Salvador was the only Northern Triangle country that managed to stay away from the bottom five, the Central American country performed badly against its 2018 CPI score, falling eight spots. Determined to place the fight against corruption as a top priority, and backed by the Organization of American States (OAS), in late 2019 President Nayib Bukele launched the International Commission Against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES). But while the news to create an anti-graft mission in a country saddled by massive corruption is more than welcome, the lack of legitimacy and dependence on the executive weakens the CICIES’ mandate and threatens its future. Nonetheless, Bukele remains the most popular president in the Americas, alongside Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Mostly attributed to other countries’ performance, Argentina scaled a surprising 19 positions up against its 2018 CPI rank, the most significant improvement since 2012 and, for the first time, scoring above the global average. However, the country’s rise might be short lived following the change in administration. On December 10, President Alberto Fernández took office alongside his controversial Vice-president, former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Fernández de Kirchner was president for two consecutive terms from 2007 to 2015. She faces eight separate cases of corruption for alleged crimes committed during her and her late husband, former President Nestor Kirchner, presidencies.