Thursday, December 1, 2011

Corruption Perception Index Shows Unexpected Gains, and Losses, for LatAm

Transparency International released its annual Corruption Perception Index, which showed improvements for many countries in Latin America.

Alejandro Salas, Americas director of the organization, welcomed the results, saying that Latin America was freeing itself from the perception that it was culturally condemned to corruption.

Three countries in the region were placed in the worst category, scoring less than 2.5 out of a possible 10. These were Venezuela, Haiti, and Paraguay, with Haiti coming in bottom, dropping again after two years of steady improvement. Venezuela was next, with a pretty constant score over the last four years.

Canada scored best out of the Americas, unsurprisingly, with 8.7, followed by Barbados and the Bahamas, while Chile led the table for Latin America, beating the U.S. into fifth place in the region as a whole.

The rates of corruption perceptions do not seem to correlate with indices of violence and conflict; the only country in the hemisphere that shifted categories since last year (although this only involved an improvement of 0.2 points), was Honduras, with moved up and out of the bottom category it had shared with Haiti, Venezuela, and Paraguay. This is despite the political upheavals seen in the country since the 2009 coup, and the fact that the murder rate is set to be the highest in the world this year, at 86 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Meanwhile Mexico, which has seen murder rates rocket in some areas since the government launched its war on the drug cartels in 2006, with mass killings by criminal groups and accusations that many elements of the government and security forces are in league with these criminals, has seen its corruption perception steadily improve in the last four years up to 3.

Costa Rica, which has been largely spared the inroads by organized criminal groups of its neighbors in the region, has a correspondingly higher score, putting it in a category above that of most other countries in Latin America, with 4.8. This score has, however, fallen slightly in the last four years.

Cuba also saw a significant improvement from 2010, jumping 0.5 to return almost to its 2008 rating of 4.3. TI Americas director Salas noted that the island, while lacking democratic institutions, has a strong institutional framework.

Salas linked low scores on the part of  Venezuela, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican Republic to weak institutions in these countries, with a strong executive limiting the independence of bodies like the judiciary.

The TI representative also noted that there have been strong efforts on the part of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff to “stop sweeping problems under the carpet,” with the removal of five government ministers amid corruption scandals. This progress may be reflected in this year’s corruption perceptions index, which tracks a slight rise to 3.8.

In Colombia, meanwhile, anti-corruption drives on the part of President Juan Manuel Santos have not yielded the hoped-for results, notes Portafolio.

For a useful mapping of the results, with previous years’ scores, see the Guardian

News Briefs

  • The Economist’s Americas blog looks at Hugo Chavez’s plans to bring Venezuela’s gold and reserves home, which have begun to be put into action with the first gold shipment arriving last week. He is also shifting foreign currency reserves out of U.S. and European banks into countries including Russia and China. The Christian Science Monitor says that the move is more than just a publicity stunt, as Chavez’s expropriations from foreign companies operating in Venezuela mean that the country could face have its assets abroad confiscated as compensation. However, the Economist points out that, in the case of the foreign currency, the cash could be more at risk in the countries where it is being rehoused, arguing that a more likely reason is Chavez’s need for cash as he faces a tricky 2012 presidential election.
  • Slate has an interesting piece on the work of an MIT PHd student who applies economic principles to the actors in Mexico’s drug war. By viewing the criminal groups as actors motivated by profit, Melissa Dell shows that ”the cartels have behaved like textbook economic actors, shifting their trafficking routes in predictable ways to circumvent towns where the government has cracked down and raiding towns where competing cartels have been weakened by government efforts.” This can help explain some counterintuitive patterns visible in the country, where the “beheading” of a drug trafficking organization, through the capture or killing of its leader, has often been followed by a boom in violence rates -- as one group’s monopoly control is weakened, others flood in to take advantage.
  • The U.S. customs agency reported the discovery of the most sophisticated smuggling tunnel ever found under the Mexican border, stretching from San Diego to near to Tijuana’s airport. The structure was complete with an elevator, hydraulic doors, and electric rail tracks, and was 600 yards long, reports the AP.
  • Following the murder of peace activist Nepomuceno Moreno in north Mexico, the government has criticized state officials for making public details of the dead man’s criminal record. As noted on yesterday’s post, this is a sensitive issue in a country where President Felipe Calderon has repeatedly claimed that the majority of those killed in the drug-fueled conflict are criminals themselves. The Interior Department said the officials had  “criminalized victims of violence by emphasizing their criminal records.” Meanwhile, Moreno’s family havereportedly fled the state of Sonora, where they lived, to seek safety in Mexico City.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on President Cristina Fernandez’s plans to bring to heel the unions that helped her win re-election this year, asking them to accept wage increases limited to 18 percent in the coming year, amid rising inflation, compared to a normal increase of 25 percent. This is despite the government’s attempts to silence economists who calculated higher inflation rates than those the authorities had published.
  • Controversial plans to grant silver mining rights in lands held sacred by a Mexican indigenous group have been opposed by a number of well-known writers and artists, reports the Associated Press.
  • A propaganda campaign by the Colombian government to persuade guerrillas to demobilize, rolled out last Christmas, has won an international prize, reports the BBC. For the campaign, soldiers strung up Christmas lights on an 82-foot high tree in the jungle, that would be activated by movement, that spelled out the messages "Demobilise, at Christmas everything is possible" and "If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home."
  • The Associated Press reports on vote counting in Guayana’s general election, held Monday, with opposition politicians alleging irregularities in the vote. The governing PPPC party’s candidate is ahead in the presidential race, with 180,000 votes counted, reports EPA.
  • The Guardian reports on “carbon piracy” in the Peruvian Amazon, where the drive for a global carbon market is having unwanted effects, in the form of business interests rushing in to get indigenous communities to commit to carbon offsetting projects. One campaign group told the newspaper; "NGOs, carbon consultants and investors are roaming the jungle in search of communities with carbon offsetting potential. In one case this even involved an effort to convince communities to sign away their rights to carbon in a contract with no defined end point."

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