Throughout Latin America, corruption that was once met with resignation and acceptance is now front-page news. Since 2014, hundreds of previously untouchable politicians and business leaders have been sentenced to jail, from Brazil to Peru, Guatemala, and beyond. This shift, though disruptive in the short term, has the potential to make the region significantly more fair and prosperous.
What’s happening is a truly regional anti-corruption movement, even if results have varied widely among countries. Public opinion polls and street demonstrations indicate it has strong support from a majority of Latin Americans. The movement’s success can be traced to deep structural changes over the past 30 years including the spread of democracy, the rise of independent judicial institutions and the growth of Latin America’s middle class. A broad coalition of judicial officials, civil society groups, politicians, private-sector leaders, and regular citizens is determined to continue to push for an end to impunity.
However, there have been recent setbacks. New scandals have continued to erupt, suggesting that many old practices remain stubbornly in place. With some exceptions, Latin American governments have failed to institute reforms that would meaningfully reduce opportunities or incentives for graft. In the face of continued scandal and dysfunction, some citizens are becoming increasingly disillusioned with not just their politicians, but with democracy itself.
This is therefore a critical moment for the anti-corruption movement. This report will explore recent developments and suggest eight potential strategies for a productive way forward, based on input received at a meeting of distinguished corruption fighters on March 1–2 at Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA) in New York City. The following content does not necessarily reflect the unanimous view of the conference participants, AS/COA or its members.