Bogotá — Countries of the Americas have “ground to a halt” in the fight against corruption, undermining democracy and human rights, with Colombia in particular showing no signs of improvement and Argentina having taken backward steps, according to a report released Tuesday by Transparency International.
The 2021 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) states that this year, “the Americas region includes 22 countries that show no statistically significant changes in their corruption levels”.
“In the last 10 years, only Guyana (CPI score: 39) and Paraguay (30) have made noteworthy improvements. Over the same period, three of the region’s strongest democracies – the United States (67), Chile (67) and Canada (74), which lead the ranking this year – show a decline, while only Uruguay (73) remains stable. Venezuela, Haiti and Nicaragua – non-democratic states experiencing humanitarian crises – score the lowest with 14, 20 and 22 points, respectively,” according to the report.
Over the past 10 years, only Guyana and Paraguay have registered notable improvements, it adds.
Transparency International warns that, throughout 2021, “the region witnessed serious attacks on freedoms of speech, the press and association, which are fundamental civil and political rights needed to build healthy democracies free from corruption”.
“In countries like Brazil (38), Venezuela (14), El Salvador (34) and Guatemala (25), governments used intimidation, defamation, fake news and direct attacks against civil society organizations, journalists and activists – including those fighting corruption – as a way to discredit and silence critics. In Colombia (39), serious excesses in the use of police force were recorded during the mass demonstrations against tax reform that paralyzed the country, as well as violations of the rights to mobilization, participation and protest,” according to the report.
According to a report by Colombia’s Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), the Colombian government paid around $900 million during the pandemic to Colombian marketing and PR agency Alotrópico to improve the image of the Defense Ministry during anti-government protests and to discredit critics.
“Internet patrols (#PatrullasEnInternet) have invested more than 21,000 hours, 3,700 videos have been analyzed, and dozens of officials have been dedicated to identifying what for them is fake news. These actions are magnified in the midst of lies and opacity, without any institutional control,” FLIP posted on Twitter.
Non-governmental organizations have denounced that during the anti-government protests in Colombia last year, 84 people were killed, and 28 of those deaths have been attributed to security forces.
Uruguay the Least Corrupt
With a score of 73, Uruguay was the highest placed country in Latin America, and in second place behind Canada overall, which shows that “strong and stable democratic institutions, an independent judiciary and the protection of basic rights are vital in preventing corruption from permeating the State. Uruguay’s strong institutions have also allowed the country to navigate the pandemic effectively, transparently and with the support of its population, unlike most countries in the region”, according to the Transparency International report.
Chile ranked in third place, after Uruguay, with 67 points, and “has a unique opportunity to bolster its institutions and end its period of stagnation if it incorporates anti-corruption measures and strengthens the right of access to information in its proposed new Constitution”.
Costa Rica follows, with 58 points, followed by Cuba (46) and Colombia (39), which maintained the same position as in 2020, and has made scant progress since 2019, when it scored 36 points.
Lower on the scorecard are Argentina and Brazil (both with 38), Ecuador, Panama and Peru (all with 36 points), El Salvador (34) and Mexico (31), while Bolivia, Dominican Republic and Paraguay all scored 30.
At the bottom of the classification are Venezuela (14) and Nicaragua (20), considered two of the most corrupt countries in the region.
Transparency International states that, in countries like Brazil (38), Venezuela (14), El Salvador (34) and Guatemala (25), governments used intimidation, defamation, fake news and direct attacks against civil society organizations, journalists and activists – including those fighting corruption – as a way to discredit and silence critics”.
Argentina (38), meanwhile, “is the country in the region that has declined the most. Interference in the judiciary by political authorities’ is jeopardizing the country’s independence and creating an impression of impunity”, the report states, adding that “2021 was also characterized by abuses of power during the pandemic: the discretionary vaccination scheme (VIP vaccination) for public officials and their cronies, non-transparent procurement and contracting, and unethical behavior by government officials”.
Central America, ‘At An All-Time Low’
With respect to Central America, the report states that “both democracy and the fight against corruption are at an all-time low” in the region.
“Nicaragua (20) “has fallen nine points in the last 10 years, establishing itself as the third dictatorship in the region through an illegitimate electoral process, systematic human rights abuses and an absolute concentration of power in the hands of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. Today, Nicaragua lacks the transparency and checks on executive power that it requires to control corruption.
Likewise, Guatemala (25) has declined eight points in the last 10 years,” the report states.
The report singles out El Salvador (34) as “a country to watch”.
“In 2022, El Salvador could establish itself as a dictatorship if authorities there continue to undermine democracy, harass critics and restrict civil and political rights. The country has increasingly restricted access to information and shown a severe lack of transparency in the spending of public funds. Senior government officials are alleged to have engaged in multi-million dollar corruption schemes in their management of the Covid-19 crisis, and as part of local elections,” the report warns.
In the report, Transparency International also sets out the actions that need to be taken to defeat corruption.
“The governments of the region must take decisive action to strengthen the transparency, integrity and independence of their justice systems by providing financial and technical resources and offering protection to prosecutors assigned to investigate cases of corruption and human rights abuses. They should also protect whistleblowers and include the perspectives of women and vulnerable groups in their anti-corruption strategies,” according to Transparency International’s recommendations.
“In light of the grave situation in the region, the international community must support civil society, activists, independent journalists and whistleblowers. Similarly, donor countries and multilateral and regional lending agencies must strengthen their assessment of corruption and respect for human rights when granting loans. They should also demand transparency in internationally funded projects and the establishment of independent monitoring mechanisms.”