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This article first appeared in CNN Español  on January 25, 2022.

Corruption is a complex social, political and economic phenomenon that particularly affects most countries in Latin America. The latest report by Transparency International, with figures for 2021 and which evaluates the problem worldwide, reveals that the region continues to stagnate and shows practically no progress in its fight against corruption.

The non-governmental organization establishes a ranking of 180 countries, in which 0 points correspond to those where there is a total perception of corruption and 100 to those where it is considered that it does not exist. Venezuela is where this perception is the highest in Latin America with only 14 points and in position 177 of the entire list. It is followed by Nicaragua and Haiti with a score of 20 and then Honduras, with 23 points.

At the other extreme, Uruguay is where corruption is least perceived in the region and with 73 points ranks 18th internationally. Next, come Chile (67 points), Costa Rica (58), and Cuba (46). They are the only four Latin American countries that exceed the average score of 43 in the Americas.

The study is based on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which is based on evaluations made by various private sector experts on the level of corruption in a country’s public life, especially in the economy, politics, and administration.

Central America, marked by corruption

Transparency International is focusing this year on Central America, where it is particularly concerned about the growing authoritarianism in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

In Nicaragua, the concentration of power in the government of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo has allowed human rights to be violated and elections to be bypassed, the organization denounces. In El Salvador, the government of President Nayib Bukele has increasingly restricted access to information, according to Transparency International, harassing his critics and has shown a “serious” lack of transparency in the spending of public funds.

Bukele, who has not referred to this report, has chosen to respond to these types of accusations ironically. Last September he posted in his Twitter bio “Dictator of El Salvador” and “The Coolest Dictator in the World’s Coolest Dictator in the World”.

Venezuela and Mexico, no progress

About Venezuela, Transparency International highlights that not only is it the country with the highest perception of corruption in the region, but it has obtained the lowest score in its history. With 14 points and in position 177 of the global CPI, it is also one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

It also says that Mexico, with 31 points, has made no progress this year despite the “strong” anti-corruption rhetoric of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and highlights the major corruption scandals involving government collaborators and the criticism in the country about the political use of the Attorney General’s Office.

The link between corruption and covid-19

According to Transparency International, the region faces a major challenge in ensuring that funds and programs to address covid-19 are not lost to corruption.

“If this aid is not properly distributed, there is a risk of increasing social unrest, fanning the flames of harmful populism and further increasing poverty and inequality,” reads the report published last January.

An example of this is Venezuela, where the pandemic has pushed the health system to the limit. Some doctors and nurses reported acts of corruption to Transparency International. Such is the case of José, a doctor who was on the front line treating covid-19 patients in a Venezuelan hospital. When he tried to resign because of the conditions in which he was working, José said he was threatened by agents of the Special Action Forces (FAES), according to the document.

Transparencia Venezuela testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) about the lack of personal protective equipment, and other supplies, as well as the deterioration of the facilities. According to the organization Médicos Unidos de Venezuela, more than 800 health workers have died since June 2020 as a result of the pandemic. The figure represents more than 15% of the total covid-19 deaths reported by authorities in Venezuela, which exceed 5,200.

CNN contacted the Venezuelan Ministry of Health for its response to Transparencia Venezuela’s allegations and is still awaiting a response from the government agency.

In Honduras, the impact of the arrival of covid-19 was also marked by allegations of corruption, where officials took advantage of the health crisis.

According to Transparency International, the state agency responsible for emergency purchases did not act transparently. An investigation by Asociación para una Sociedad Más Justa (ASJ) revealed that the government overpaid for 7 mobile hospitals that have not yet been delivered. “These failures created the largest covid-19 tragedy in the country,” said Carlos Hernandez, executive director of ASJ, according to the non-governmental organization.

Following the allegations, Honduran authorities opened an investigation into the government’s nearly US$48 million purchase of Elmed Medical Systems, Inc, which operated as Last April, the former executive director and former administrator of the government’s procurement office, Marco Bográn and Alex Moraes respectively, were preventively detained on charges of fraud and violation of the duties of public officials, the Honduran Public Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement.

Investment in healthcare

According to the Transparency International study, countries with a good performance in the ranking invest more in healthcare and are more able to offer universal healthcare coverage to their population. It also notes that “they are less likely to violate democratic norms or the rule of law in their response to the crisis”.

Such is the case of Chile, one of the countries with the lowest rate of perceived corruption in Latin America, which implemented a calendar that is followed to the letter and placed it at the forefront of vaccination within the region.