Corruption rife across Latin America; Guatemala, Nicaragua reach all-time lows: report
By Steven Grattan
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Guatemala, Nicaragua and Cuba reached all-time lows on Transparency International's corruption index released on Tuesday due to increased organized crime by public institutions, co-optation by political and economic elites and increased human rights abuses.
"Weak governments fail to stop criminal networks, social conflict, and violence, and some exacerbate threats to human rights by concentrating power in the name of tackling insecurity," said Delia Ferreira Rubio, head of Transparency International, a Berlin-based anti-corruption group.
Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption on a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). The average for the Americas stands at 43.
In Latin America, Nicaragua and Venezuela are the lowest ranked as each struggles with public institutions infiltrated by criminal networks, the report notes.
Graphics: Corruption in Latin America | https://www.reuters.com/graphics/LATAM-CORRUPTION/zjvqjwkzmpx/chart.png
The governments of Guatemala, Venezuela, Brazil, Cuba and Peru did not immediately reply to requests for comment on the report.
Guatemala has seen state institutions co-opted by political and economic elites and organized crime, the report said.
Over the past year, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei has faced a growing chorus of critics claiming he has slammed the brakes on anti-corruption efforts, as well as forced some judges and prosecutors to flee the country, the main reasons for the country's decline in the index.
Repression of the political opposition, human rights abuses and cracking down on freedom of speech is what lowered Nicaragua's ranking, while Cuba has a historic low due to the "ongoing repression" and the "absolute lack of any kind of freedom in the country," one of Transparency International's researchers told Reuters.
The report adds that the combination of corruption, authoritarianism and an economic downturn proved "especially volatile" in Brazil where ex-President Jair Bolsonaro's term was marked by dismantling anti-corruption efforts, the use of corrupt schemes to favor allies and amass support in Congress, as well as promoting disinformation.
Neighboring Uruguay scored best in the region with a ranking of 74, the same as Canada.
Transparency International pointed to years of instability in Peru with its cycle of different governments including last December's ouster of then-President Pedro Castillo, himself a target of corruption investigations.
Weak law enforcement and high-level corruption have also allowed drug cartels to expand in the Caribbean, the report said.
"The only way forward is for leaders to prioritize decisive action against corruption to uproot its hold and enable governments to fulfill their first mandate: protecting the people," Rubio said.
(Reporting by Steven Grattan; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Lisa Shumaker)