Friday, January 29, 2016

Corruption 2015 regional theme - Transparency International's corruption index (Jan. 29, 2016)

Last year was a warning to the corrupt in the Americas, according to Transparency International, which released its 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index this week.

TI notes two "remarkable" trends in the region last year: the uncovering of grand corruption networks -- Petrobras in Brazil and La Línea in Guatemala -- and mass mobilization of citizens against corruption. While neither affected corruption scores very much, it sends a strong message that institutional reform is needed, writes Alejandro Salas the Regional Director for the Americas.

Brazil and Guatemala suffered the region's worst increases in public perception of corruption, which is related to the corruption scandals unveiled there over the last year, explains Salas in Mexico's Vanguardia. In that sense the numbers can be misleading: what looks like a negative development is actually an indicator of longstanding corruption that is being addressed.

He points to Argentina and Brazil as two countries with potential to improve scores over the next year -- pointing specifically to Mauricio Macri's new government in Argentina which has spoken a lot about combatting corruption, though exact policies have not been proposed.

Argentina is close to the bottom of the list of 168 countries, notes InfoBae
In the case of Mexico, Salas is dubious of real anti-corruption efforts on the part of the government, despite increased interest given to the issue after the disappearance of 43 teachers college students in 2014. Efforts have been "lukewarm," according to Salas.

As a whole the region might be improving: 17 countries improved over their performance last year, notes InSight Crime. Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama, and Paraguay all made double digit gains in this year's rankings over last year's.

But Venezuela and Haiti rank among the countries with the worst perception of corruption in the world. TI's Venezuela director, Mercedes Freitas notes that the government has coopted watchdog agencies, eliminating separation of powers and vastly weakening accountability, she told BBC Mundo.

World Politics Review notes that the increased focus on corruption in the region comes as the most countries in the region face economic difficulties that limit governments ability to placate with social programs.
Near the top of the list, Uruguay and Chile are the region's least corrupt, notes BBC Mundo.

The index got coverage in papers around the region, who note their country's movements and specifics.

In Honduras, La Tribuna notes that there have been significant improvements in perceptions in the past two years, the country rose 28 points in the world ranking.

Colombia's score remained virtually the same in recent years, a worrisome trend in light of peace accords which could be signed this year, according to La Semana.

Critics note that the index is subjective, and doesn't measure actual corruption levels. Bolivia's government, for example, has clarified that it doesn't recognize TI's index, reports La Razón.

News Briefs

  • Norway's sovereign-wealth fund, which is the world's largest, placed Brazilian state-run oil company Petrobras under observation due to the risk of corruption, reports the Wall Street Journal. The Central Bank, which took the decision, cited the broad bribery system in which executives and politicians are accused of receiving kickbacks in return for overpriced contracts.  
  • The Brazilian government presented a plan to jump-start the economy yesterday by increasing credit available for farmers, home buyers, exporters, small businesses and for financing the purchase of capital and consumer goods, reports the Wall Street Journal. The goal is to pull the economy out of recession without increasing inflation or worsening the budget deficit. The funding won't require subsidies and won’t hurt public finances, promised Finance Minister Nelson Barbosa.
  • The upcoming Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and the massive mosquito-borne Zika virus outbreak in Brazil could combine to spread the virus around the world, reports the New York Times. In fact, researchers believe that Zika came to Brazil during the last mega sporting event held there, the 2014 World Cup. The disease is believed to be linked to birth defects and has already spread to more than 20 countries and territories in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Already the World Health Organization is predicting four million cases of Zika in the Americas, reports Reuters. The agency plans to convene a meeting of independent experts Monday to decide whether the Zika outbreak should be declared an international health emergency, reports the Los Angeles Times. The disease has become a major health concern in the Americas, and experts are trying to find answers regarding the link of Zika to babies born with microcephaly and potential vaccines, reports the Wall Street Journal
  • In Venezuela, some civil society groups and medical organizations say the country could have the region's worst Zika crisis, as the virus combines with an already faltering health care system where medicines are extremely difficult to obtain, reports the Miami Herald. Further complicating matters, epidemiological data is not regularly published by authorities. Doctors are calling for the government to publish statistics about Zika, warning that Venezuela could already be facing an epidemic, reports the Associated Press.
  • And Colombia is reporting an uptick in Guillain-Barré syndorme, a rare neurological disorder that can cause paralysis among people. Authorities believe it is Zika related, reports the Guardian.
  • Hypochondriacs in Latin America really shouldn't keep reading all the gory details coming out about Zika and how it spreads. But if you can't resist, the Associated Press explores why Brazilian cities are such fertile mosquito breeding grounds and whether other mosquito species could also be spreading Zika.
  • Supporters of outgoing Haitian President Michel Martelly have taken to the streets demanding a new election date to choose his successor. While politicians are scrambling to agree on a transitional government to take power on Feb. 7, when his mandate ends, Martelly is now saying he won't leave without a clear path of succession, reports Reuters. Options include shelving the current elections, ensuring that Martelly leaves office as scheduled, installing an interim government and holding a completely new vote within weeks or months, reports the Los Angeles Times which has a review of the situation of Haiti's political crisis.
  • Haiti asked the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to send a four member delegation to help ensure the elections are free and transparent, reports TeleSur.
  • A report in Other Worlds accuses the government backed presidential candidate Jovenel Moïse of dispossessing as many as 800 peasants - who were legally farming - and destroying houses and crops two years ago. The land was seized by his company and turned into a private banana plantation, according to the piece.
  • Honduran lawmakers chose eight of 15 Supreme Court magistrates, using a system of secret balloting after a failed attempt earlier this week to select the judges by open vote. Each candidate, selected from a group of 45 submitted by a Nominating Committee, must obtain the support of two-thirds of the Congress. The Liberal and Nationalist parties agreed in advance on their slate of candidates, but alone did not obtain enough votes to push them through. The votes of the Anti-Corruption Party were definitive in the selection of the new magistrates yesterday, reports La Prensa. Former president Mel Zelaya's Libre party officially abstained from voting any candidates, although at least two congressmen broke ranks.
  • The U.N. mission to monitor a potential Colombian peace accord will be made up entirely of officials from neighboring CELAC countries, according to Colombia Reports.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is asking the U.S. to remove the FARC from its list of terrorist organizations and suspend drug warrants against guerrilla commanders to help him seal a peace deal with Latin America's oldest leftist insurgency, reports the Associated Press.
  • Cut-rate dollar changers across Colombia, where customers can obtain a ten percent discount on money exchanges, are used to launder money obtained from drug trafficking and illegal mining, reports Bloomberg.
  • Colombia's top human rights official resigned yesterday, in a sexual harassment scandal that included sending nude selfies to his secretary, reports the Associated Press.
  • Puerto Rico will propose a debt exchange to investors today, offering debt swaps that would allow it to delay payments, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The question of relations with Cuba moves big money in U.S. politics, spurred by PACs both in favor of closer ties and those against it, reports the Miami Herald
  • But U.S. warmth toward the island is likely to cool, regardless of who wins the election later this year, as Cuba is reciprocating very little, argues Andres Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald.

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