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Corruption in Latin America – statistics & facts

The disparity of wealth in Latin America and the Caribbean is among the largest in the world. In at least ten countries, the richest twenty percent of the population held over half of the country's income as of 2018. Corruption plays a significant role in perpetuating economic inequality across the region at both a geopolitical and local level. From everyday encounters with the police and civil servants to large-scale governmental scandals – with the Odebrecht laundromat case being one of the most infamous in the past years – corruption is considered one of the most pressing issues in Latin America by a wide share of the public and the press.

Within the region, Colombia had the largest share of respondents who thought corruption was their country's main problem in 2018. At around 19 percent of respondents, Peru followed closely behind. According to the corruption perception index, however, both Colombia and Peru ranked slightly worse than the regional median, while Venezuela and Haiti were rated as the Latin American or Caribbean states where corruption is perceived as most rampant.

Between 2013 and 2019, Venezuela's corruption perception score significantly worsened, correlating with the escalation of the humanitarian crisis. Though abuse of power is a major cause of the country's political turmoil and economic havoc, comparatively few respondents in Venezuela cited corruption as the nation's main issue. In recent years, the Venezuelan population has faced staggering undernourishment, severe shortages of medication, and disrupted access to basic utilities.

In a public opinion survey, the police was named as the main social and political group involved in corruption in Venezuela. However, in the rest of Latin America, members of Congress were most widely considered the central figures of corruption. Even so, involvement in corruption cases also extends to local officials and law enforcement, with roughly one out of five respondents in Latin America reporting that they had been asked or forced to pay a bribe in the previous 12 months between 2018 and 2019.

Among other Latin American countries, Mexico stands out as the one where bribery victimization rates are highest, at nearly a third of those surveyed. The frequent occurrence of bribery corresponds to the most reported types of corruption cases in Mexico, with the highest number of claims resulting from contact with public security officers as well as vehicle-related procedures. The official numbers are only part of the picture, however, as public opinion on the perceived consequences of reporting a case of corruption in Latin America reveals a strong fear that denouncers will face retaliation, compelling many to remain silent.

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Corruption in Latin America

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Odebrecht scandal

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