Counting on corruption?

There is a belief that developing countries tend to be more corrupt than their more developed counterparts.  That may be difficult to precisely measure, but looking at Latin America, across the region a number of states are currently dealing with high-profile corruption scandals.

There is a belief that developing countries tend to be more corrupt than their more developed counterparts.

That may be difficult to precisely measure, but looking at Latin America, across the region a number of states are currently dealing with high-profile corruption scandals.

Perhaps the most shocking of these, considering its extent and the personnel involved, is the one involving Brazil's state-run oil company Petrobras. Over 100 executives and politicians have been implicated in at least US$3 billion of kickbacks, bribery and money-laundering dating back to the 1990s and growing in extent after the incumbent Workers’ party won power.

While current president Dilma Rousseff has been cleared of responsibility, many find it hard to believe that she was unaware of what was happening considering she was president of the company in question during the period when the corruption was at its height.

In a further hit at Rousseff’s credibility, her party's secretary, João Vaccari, was charged with soliciting donations from political slush funds illegally built up by Petrobras officials.

Accusations of corruption and malpractice are even closer to 'home' for Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. In the latest controversy surrounding his personal finances, he is alleged to have misrepresented a land deal where he acquired a property. Reports indicate that he undervalued the land, purchased in the late 1980s, for one thousand times less than what it should have been.

Issues involving family finances are also blighting the Chilean head Michelle Bachelet. In a country where its politics and business practices are seen as the most transparent in the region, Bachelet is dealing with a bank loan scandal that has her son at its centre.

Alongside this, although it’s not linked to the president, is a campaign-financing scandal involving rightwing politicians and one of Chile’s leading financial companies Banco Penta.

Elsewhere, and as mentioned on these pages previously, Colombia's Constitutional Court president Jorge Pretelt is fighting allegations that he solicited a bribe in the region of US$210,000 to issue a ruling in favour of Fidupetrol, an oil company, in a dispute with the government. Corruption is nothing new for Colombia but this latest case goes to the heart of an institution that had been seen as relatively straight by many in the country.

Meanwhile for most observers, especially in the West, high-level corruption and the current government of Colombia’s neighbour, Venezuela, go hand in hand. Such a view gets a strong backing in – the oft criticised albeit – Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI). The country, lead by Nicolás Maduro, has been placed in the CPI’s 20 most corrupt states for the last number of years.

All the above cases (and other unmentioned ones) beg the question: Is corruption more of a problem in Latin America compared to some other of the world’s regions or is it a case that more ‘developed’ countries are better at hiding it? ‘A mixture of both’ is the answer that is probably closest to the truth.

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