Latin American political corruption can attribute its origins in part to the region’s colonial history. Much of Latin America was colonized by the West, and the centralization of power this entailed resulted in a tendency toward autocracy following independence. When autocratic governments were in place, there was often a complete lack of transparency and accountability to prevent abuse of power or the taking of bribes by government officials. Even as countries throughout the region have transitioned to more democratic systems, oftentimes rent-seeking behavior on the part of national bureaucracies has been difficult to root out. In recent years, corruption in the region has become inextricably linked to organized crime units, most commonly international drug cartels. The question now is: what strategies may be used to combat corruption in Latin America?
Accusations of corruption within Latin America have coincided with the rise of violent crime, drug trafficking, and other illegal activities. According to data from Transparency International, corruption rates vary between governmental departments, such as law enforcement, utilities, and public transportation. The rates vary between countries as well; Transparency International found the average departmental corruption rate in each country ranged from 11%-51%.
In order to effectively tackle corruption in this region we must simultaneously look at fundamental factors that lead to corruption as well as projects or political solutions to limit corruption and how they have affected these nations. Many of the causes of corruption can be tied to such potential solutions, both successful and failed. For instance, corruption can often be driven by a lack of economic success and weak institutions that fail to provide proportional consequences for crimes committed. Resolving this would entail providing well-supervised foreign aid to weak governments for the purposes of institution-building, improving government function and accountability, while simultaneously paving the way toward establishing anti-corruption bodies that can self-police. Strengthened institutions can also crack down more effectively on drug trafficking in markets saturated with drug use and associated illicit activity.
At the highest level, policy must be written to promote transparency, both at the domestic level, and as a trust-building measure with the international community and NGOs that have the ability to aid in other ways. These solutions all have drawbacks that must be taken into consideration. A lack of adequate oversight when providing funds and aid to necessary parties could result in a continued cycle of corruption if the proper transparency mechanisms have not been established. In order to address the issue of corruption, we must consider the subsidiary issues that affect the presence of corruption in Latin America, including but not limited to continued drug trafficking, organized crime, and the issue of authoritarian vs. democratic governments.