An anti-corruption protest in Peru. (AP)

An anti-corruption protest in Peru. (AP)

LatAm in Focus: What Happened to Latin America's Anti-Corruption Push?

By Luisa Leme

The pandemic distracts from anti-graft battles even as it proves their urgency, explains AS/COA’s Brian Winter in this deep dive into the 2021 Capacity to Combat Corruption Index.

Brian Winter

A few years ago, Latin America’s anti-graft battles were paying off. Independent courts, prosecutors’ offices, and attorney generals opened investigations against corrupt politicians as leaders’ misdeeds were met with punishment. Dozens of Brazilian congressmen faced investigations in the largest anti-graft operation in the history of the region. The president of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, resigned and was arrested amid scandal.

But, more recently, the fight against corruption appears to be losing steam. Mechanisms such as Lava Jato in Brazil and CICIG in Guatemala came to a close and institutions saw their efforts checked. “We’re seeing the pendulum, not just Latin America but in much of the world, swing away from valuing institutions and back toward this belief in strong leaders,” says Brian Winter, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and AS/COA vice president of policy. “We just know that over time that never works.”

“Sometimes the successes of anti-corruption efforts end up feeding their demise because they anger the powers that be.”

Moreover, the backsliding has happened while Covid batters the region. “It's understandable that things like anti-corruption get relegated somewhat to the backburner in name of saving people's lives,” says Winter, adding that, on the other hand, pandemic-related scandals and the need for economic recovery only highlight the need to keep graft in check. “People don't invest when they don't know the rules of the game and when they're worried about being shaken down for a bribe,” he says.

In this episode, Winter speaks with AS/COA Online’s Luisa Leme about about why anti-corruption efforts in Latin America slowed or even stalled, and dives into the findings of AS/COA’s Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index, now in its third edition. The CCC Index evaluates 15 countries on their ability to detect, punish, and prevent corruption, with Uruguay leading the pack and Venezuela at the bottom of the list.

But even amid signs of backsliding, there are anti-corruption bright spots as well, with the Dominican Republic making strides, even as Brazil and Mexico slip. Winter, who leads AS/COA’s Anti-Corruption Working Group, also points out that the Index shows a strengthened civil society in the region, while investigative journalism plays a valuable role when it comes to exposing scandals. “The appreciation that people have for an activist media in particular has grown over the last couple of years, because they see it as one of the only kinds of powers that is able to really offset the influence of a strong executive,” he explains.

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Luisa Leme produced this episode. The music in this podcast was performed at Americas Society in New York. Learn more about upcoming concerts at