Antigua, Guatemala - September 15, 2017: Locals wave Guatemalan flags & slogans protesting against government corruption in front of city hall on Guatemala's Independence Day.
Anti-corruption sentiment in Latin America and the Caribbean has grown over the past several years, as people experience the many ways in which corruption undermines integrity and accountability in politics.

The Global Corruption Barometer – Latin America and the Caribbean 2019 points to a substantial lack of political integrity among political figures and institutions, as well as around electoral processes, which weakens the foundations of democracies and leads to mistrust in government leaders.

In fact, the results show that most people in Latin America and the Caribbean think the office of the President and Prime Minister, as well as Members of Parliament, are the most corrupt groups or institutions by 53 and 52 per cent of people respectively.

Favours and gifts for votes

One of the root causes of political corruption is election abuse, including fraudulent funding of political parties, vote-buying or the spread of fake news during campaigns.

Our results show that one in four citizens in the region is offered bribes in exchange for votes at national, regional or local elections in the past five years.

In several countries, citizens are also threatened with retaliation if they don’t vote in a particular way.

Mexico leads the ranking on this dismal statistic: one in two people was offered a bribe for their vote and one in four was threatened with retaliation.

In the Dominican Republic, 46 per cent of citizens experience vote-buying, while in Brazil and Colombia, that rate is 40 per cent. By contrast, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Jamaica, have the lowest rates.

In Venezuela, more than one in five citizens received threats of retaliation if they did not vote in a particular way.

Fake news and mistrust in media

Today, journalists around the world face a growing mistrust in how they report the news and Latin America and the Caribbean are no exception to this trend.

According to our results, 56 per cent of people think that fake news often spreads around elections. By contrast, 30 per cent think it happens only rarely or occasionally.

In Brazil, the issue is especially prolific, with more than three in four people believing that fake news spreads frequently or very frequently.

In the 2018 national elections, the tactics of spreading ‘fake news’ was reportedly used by campaigners for President Jair Bolsonaro  to discredit political opponents. Hundreds of messages with misleading and discriminating content were spread through social media groups created specifically for this purpose. In a country where close to half of the voting public gets their information via Whatsapp, this can be a very powerful tool.

Private and public interests

While clean campaigns and elections are crucial, once politicians take office, they also must act with integrity. Too often, presidents, prime ministers, parliamentarians and other political leaders act in their own self-interest at the expense of the citizens they serve.

The results show 65 per cent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean think their government is run by and for a few private interests, particularly in the Bahamas and Brazil (79 and 75 per cent respectively).

Fifty-four per cent also think politicians make decisions or vote in a way that favours business or individuals who give them political support or donations.

Recommendations

  • Advocate for stronger political integrity, especially around elections.
    Governments should ensure a transparent environment for elections, enforce sanctions against vote-buying and uphold and reform campaign finance regulations. In addition, governments and businesses should tackle fake news by reducing the economic incentives for producing it and by supporting fact-based journalism.
  • Improve transparency of political finance.
    Governments should establish regulations; ensure disclosure of incomes, spending, assets and loans of political parties or candidates on an ongoing basis; and ensure all information is published in a single online portal, in open data format.