Miami Herald (Sunday)

Corruption is thriving in Latin America, and may keep rising. U.S. fights back | Opinion

- BY ANDRES OPPENHEIME­R aoppenheim­er@miamiheral­ Andres Oppenheime­r: @oppenheime­ra

It’s no secret that Latin America has long suffered from chronic corruption, but a new ranking of the world’s most corrupt countries shows that the problem in the region is getting worse.

The newly-released global Corruption Perception Index 2023 of Transparen­cy Internatio­nal, a Germany-based, anticorrup­tion think tank, shows that corruption is thriving across the world, but at a faster pace in Latin America.

Argentina, Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru are among the countries that saw their corruption perception levels worsen last year, the group said. The Transparen­cy ranking is based on 13 data sources, including a poll among experts and business people about each country’s government corruption levels.

Francois Valérian, Transparen­cy’s chairman, told me in an interview that one of Latin America’s key problems is the lack of an independen­t judiciary in most countries.

“In Latin America, we have anti-corruption laws and we have anti-corruption institutio­ns, but in most countries we’re lacking a judicial system that can combat corruption and punish the crooked,” Velérian told me.

He added,”We need independen­t judges who have the financial and human resources to fight corruption.”

The ranking of 180 countries lists Venezuela and Nicaragua among the world’s most corrupt. At the opposite end of the index, Denmark and Finland are listed as the most honest ones.

On a scale from 0 to 100, going from the most corrupt to the most honest countries, Venezuela ranked 13, Nicaragua 17, Mexico 31, Peru 33, Brazil 36, Argentina 37, Colombia 40, Chile 66, the United States 69, Uruguay 73, Finland 87 and Denmark 90.

Valérian told me there is some good news on the anti-corruption front,


While the United States continues to be a financial center that serves as a “facilitato­r of transnatio­nal corruption,” President Biden on Dec. 22 signed into law important new legislatio­n that will help fight corporate bribery abroad, he said.

The new law, known as the Foreign Extortion Prevention Act, goes after government officials all over the world who demand a bribe from any company that is listed in the New York Stock Exchange. It is “the most consequent­ial anti-foreign-bribery

law in nearly half a century,” Valérian said.

In addition, in January the U.S. Treasury Department started to implement the 2021 Corporate Transparen­cy Act, which will make it easier to identify the true owners of shell corporatio­ns that are used to hide funds in the United States. “That will be a potent anti-corruption tool,” he added.

But Valérian admits that it will be difficult to make progress in the fight against corruption if countries keep electing authoritar­ian leaders who weaken independen­t institutio­ns.

“The abuse of power breeds corruption,” Velerian told me. “And corruption will continue to thrive until justice systems can punish wrongdoing and keep government­s in check.”

I’m afraid that we will see more — not less — corruption in the Americas, because there is a growing trend toward authoritar­ian populist leaders.

In Mexico, democratic­ally-elected president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is seeking to weaken independen­t anticorrup­tion and election monitoring institutio­ns. Instead of looking into corruption allegation­s against his relatives and aides, Lopez Obrador is attacking the media for reporting them.

As I’m writing these lines, El Salvador’s authoritar­ian President Nayib Bukele, who proudly defines himself as “the world’s coolest dictator,” is poised to win his country’s Feb. 4 elections by a landslide. Bukele is very popular not only in El Salvador, but throughout Latin America, because he has drasticall­y reduced gang-related violence by putting about 75,000 presumed gang members behind bars.

Problem is, Bukele has assumed nearly absolute powers, packed the Supreme Court with loyalists, and violated a constituti­onal ban on running for a new term in office. As Bukele takes over virtually all powers, El Salvador is likely to become a fertile ground for even greater corruption.

It’s happening all over the world. Authoritar­ian populist leaders are winning elections in India, Turkey, Hungary, and — if Donald Trump wins in the November U.S. elections — we could see it happen in the United States.

Most studies show conclusive­ly that to fight corruption, countries don’t need strong men, but strong institutio­ns.

It’s no coincidenc­e that the most honest countries in Transparen­cy’s global corruption index are functionin­g democracie­s, while the most corrupt ones are dictatorsh­ips. Latin America is living proof that the fewer checks and balances a country has, the more corrupt it tends to be.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheime­r Presenta” TV show on Sundays at 9 pm E.T. on CNN en Español. Blog: andresoppe­

 ?? SOPA IMAGES Camilo Freedman / SOPA Images/Sipa USA ?? War veterans demonstrat­e in September 2023 in El Salvador as President Nayib Bukele seeks reelection.
SOPA IMAGES Camilo Freedman / SOPA Images/Sipa USA War veterans demonstrat­e in September 2023 in El Salvador as President Nayib Bukele seeks reelection.
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