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What People Think: Corruption in Latin America & the Caribbean

Cases of corruption rarely seem to be out of the news in Latin America and the Caribbean. In the last few years alone, several high profile cases have sent shockwaves through the region. From Brazil’s Lava Jato scandal, to the expulsion by the Guatemalan government of the UN-backed anti-corruption body, CICIG, corruption has been under public scrutiny like never before.

Momentum has been building against corruption in the region. Popular movements for change, in countries like Honduras, have combined with a number of guilty verdicts for high-profile politicians and businesspeople involved in corruption. This has given many people hope that after decades of inaction things are changing across the region.

While huge scandals make headlines and shape peoples’ perceptions of corruption in national institutions, there are other, equally pervasive forms of corruption that impact the daily lives of individuals, families and communities, and undermine human development.

Global Corruption Barometer for Latin America and the Caribbean 2019

As our research shows, bribery in some institutions, such as the police, and for basic public services, including healthcare and education, remain huge barriers to progress and impact on the poorest and most vulnerable most.

The 10th edition of the Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) – Latin America and the Caribbean, reveals that while most people in Latin America and the Caribbean think corruption increased in their country, a majority also feel that they, as citizens, can make a difference in the fight against corruption.

The GCB is the largest, most detailed survey of citizens’ views on corruption and their direct experiences of bribery in Latin America and the Caribbean. The survey incorporates the views of more than 17,000 citizens from 18 countries across the region. This edition of the GCB also gathered data on gendered forms of corruption, and on corruption related to elections, such as vote-buying and fake news.

How corruption affects women

As primary caretakers for their families, women are often dependent on public services, which also make them more vulnerable to certain types of bribery.

In the 18 countries surveyed, the results found that one in five people experiences sexual extortion – or sextortion – when accessing a government service, like health care or education, or knows someone who has.

A lack of political integrity

Equally troubling, the survey shows that corruption flourishes around elections. One in four people was offered bribes in exchange for votes at a national, regional or local election in the past five years.

Given these disturbing trends, it’s no wonder people have very little trust in government. In fact, 65 per cent of respondents think their government is run by and for a few private interests.

<a name="think"></a>What do people think about corruption?

The results show that 85 percent of people think government corruption is a big problem. In addition, more than half think corruption is getting worse in their country and that their government is not doing enough to end corruption.

People also 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 respectively.

How do people experience corruption?

The report also found more than one in five people who accessed public services, such as health care and education, paid a bribe in the previous year.

This is equivalent to approximately 56 million citizens in the 18 countries surveyed.

Across the region, police earn the highest bribery rate (24 per cent), while other services like utilities, including electricity and water, are close behind (19 per cent).

<a name="difference"></a>Taking action

Governments have a long way to go in ensuring that people can safely report corruption without fear of retaliation.

Despite fears of retaliation, many people are ready and willing to take action against corruption and the corrupt.

Countries in focus


Eight-five per cent of citizens in Venezuela think corruption is getting worse, which is the highest in the region. The country also has the highest overall bribery rate (50 per cent), with the police earning the highest bribery rate of any country (62 per cent). Read more.

Costa Rica

By contrast, Costa Rica has one of the lowest bribery rates in the region (7 per cent), with the police also earning a low bribery rate (5 per cent). Given these positive results, it’s no surprise that more than 84 per cent of Costa Ricans think that ordinary citizens can make a difference in the fight against corruption. Read more.


The ever-changing political environment and high-profile corruption scandals remind us that now, more than ever, leaders need to fight corruption and strengthen democracy. Key measures include:

  • Electoral integrity. Ensure transparency of elections and enforce sanctions against vote-buying.
  • Political finance. Establish regulations for disclosing incomes and assets of political parties or candidates.
  • Public services. Improve efficiency of public services and invest in online platforms for citizens to access services.
  • Courts. Guarantee non-political and independent judicial appointments.
  • Reporting. Empower whistleblowers, civil society and media to monitor and report corruption.
  • Sextortion. Recognise sexual extortion as a form of corruption and ensure justice systems have the right tools to address these cases.
  • Commitments. Implement and report progress towards the Lima Commitment adopted at the VIII Summit of the Americas.

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