Globe, Latin America

Transparency and corruption in Latin America

The countries in this region are growing economically, but not all of them are doing it openly and democratically. The same thing is happening at a world level and the great powers are showing two faces, although many are hiding it.


Ramón Alabau

Latin America is a continent of paradoxes. Being a territory full of diversity and rich in natural resources, poverty affects 167 million people, according to figures highlighted by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL).

Inequality between rich and poor is at its most noticeable in the last 30 years and, the corruption is increasing, despite the economic growth that this region is experiencing. Also, the quality of democracy in some South American countries is being questioned by certain international organisations.

This is what, for example, International Transparency are saying, whose latest figures reveal that the social, economic and political changes that Latin America is experiencing are not accompanied by major transparency from its public institutions.

However, Chile and Uruguay are characterised by a lack of corruption. In fact they occupy, at a world level, positions 20 and 21, respectively, in the list of countries with the least corruption. Yet according to International Transparency, the same is not true of Haiti and Venezuela, considered the two most corrupt territories in Latin America, occupying positions 167 and 168, respectively. The list drafted by the international organisation is of 176 countries. In order, Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia finish the list.

There are many studies and investigations that have been conducted to discuss the phenomenon of corruption present in the majority of South American States.

According to International Transparency, whose headquarters are in Germany, two out of every three Latin-American countries show a high level of corruption in the public sector.

“Economic inequality, the level of growth, the democratic stronghold and ethnic fragmentation”, are, according to the University of South Alabama, the factors that would back the ‘non-transparent’ actions of the government.

The conclusions also highlight that the level of corruption is strongest in areas with low human, economic and educational growth.

The political limitations of each government, the intervention of the state in the economy, justice and freedom of press and, the permissiveness of the society, are other factors to be accounted for to justify unfair behaviours.

The recently published report states that the Latin-American population notices corruption in political parties, in the police and also, in the judicial system.

Recently, and with the presidential elections in Venezuela in mind, the Democratic Union candidate, Henrique Capriles, stated that if the Bolivarian Government and its candidate (Hugo Chávez) “were to confront corruption, they would be left without any ministers”.

Venezuela, the other side of the coin

Hugo Chávez
Hugo Chávez

It is true, there is a definite campaign to discredit the Hugo Chávez government in Venezuela, and the data from International Transparency does the government no good either. In fact, Venezuela is classified as one of the most corrupt regions in South America. The gathered findings show that the population considers that its political authorities exercise their role with little transparency.

According to Alejandro Salas, regional director for International Transparency in the Americas, you must look for answers in the structure of the democratic institutions in the country, that he considers “are very fragile”.

In fact, the organisation Venezuela Transparency recorded from the last elections, on the 16th of December, up to 46 reports connected with violations to the voting regulations. Among the most notable incidents highlighted were intimidation at the point of exercising the right to vote and technical problems with the voting machines.

However, transparency and diplomacy in the Hugo Chávez government have been questioned in recent years by other powers. The USA has linked people close to the president of the Bolivarian State to members of FARC and even drugs barons.

Chile, growing transparency


Teodoro Ribera, former Minister of Justice, handed in his “unavoidable” resignation after being implicated in corruption last December. The politician was connected with a corruption case, alleging thathe was tied to the university accreditation process, where educational institutions are awarded grants from the State in relation to their grading.

Despite this case, and others before it, the president Sebastián Piñera heads one of the most transparent countries in Latin America. This is due to an “autonomous” judicial system and a “very clean” police force, according to the definition by the regional director  of International Transparency in the Americas.

Argentina, twin but different

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

It shares the characteristics of its neighbouring country, Chile, but in contrast its levels of corruption are greater. Wikileaks revealed various messages which could be seen as the USA reported that Argentine politicians were offering public offices to magistrates in order to benefit from justice.

Also, Manuel Garrido,  Argentine anti-corruption prosecutor, resigned from his post in 2009 after stating that he could not adequately perform his job because of the country’s legislative restrictions. The magistrate was at that point investigating the “suspect” increase in capital resources of the president and her entourage.

According to the newspaper La Nación the capital resources of Cristina Fernández have grown from 7 to 82 million Argentine pesos in less than a decade.

Mexico, the double battle


The perception of corruption continues to be high and in recent years has increased. Mexico has gone from 65th place on the transparency list in 1995 to 105th place today.

For International Transparency corruption is not only an ethical and moral issue, “it is perceived as human behaviour that hinders human development and therefore needs to be restrained”.

In the Central American country bribes predominate in a society where 200 million acts of corruption were identified in the use of public services in 2010, according to figures obtained from the National Index for Corruption and good Government in Mexico.

It is estimated that each family spends 15% of its wages on bribes, a figure that increases to 30% in the poorest households.

The most corrupt


The prevailing reality in the majority of countries where there is a high level of distrust from their communities is a lack of “efficient public institutions and leaders who account for their actions”.

Corruption has reached unwanted extremes in Somalia. The country from the “Horn of Africa” is known worldwide for the poverty of its inhabitants, people who suffer malnutrition, a large part of the society suffers from extreme hunger and has no access to drinking water, but despite that, there are many who profit from the misfortunes. This is pointed squarely at the district commissioners, a form of militia designed by the government to maintain public order, of diverting food that has arrived as humanitarian aid.

In the case of Afghanistan, as in other countries, years of war and open conflicts have consolidated corruption in existing institutions. This instability has provoked the ransacking of public resources, the lack of legal rights and the increase in insecurity.

Stop Corruption


The head of International Transparency, Huguette Labelle, sees it as essential that “governments incorporate actions against corruption in all public decisions. Among the priorities are more effective legislations concerning lobbies and political financing. In addition, greater transparency on trade and public spending, and greater balancing of accounts on the part of a country’s public institutions.”

The declarations, recognised in the report, show that it is necessary that governments “adopt a firmer position against the abuse of power”, and makes a criticism that in the 21st Century “societies are continuing to pay the high price of corruption”.

The research highlights that the increase and wear in the perception of corruption in the European Union is due in great part to the economic and financial crisis that is being felt in the Eurozone. The organisation responsible for the study has warned the countries in the European Union that “they must tackle the risks of corruption in the public sector in order to overcome its problems”.

Finland, an example to follow


The Nordic country has always been an example, not only in the way it tackles social issues, and issues connected to the family and education, but also for its political transparency. A series of laws and legislations prevent the country from acting in an unfair manner, but should there be the possibility of a breach in its system, there are norms based on the moral principles of a democratic society.

Consequently any purchase made by the government must be acquired at the market price.

The corruption cases that have come out in Spain performed by many of the municipal mayors have been solved in Finland by replacing the mayors with so-called ‘City Managers’. These are a group of civil servants at the head of each town council who are in charge of specific offices and areas connected to its structure, and they can be dismissed if they do not carry out their work according to the established guidelines.


(Translated by Claire Donneky – Email:


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