Anti-Corruption Watch

How to Stop Corruption – and Save Democracy – in Latin America

Corruption erodes democracy. Strengthening institutions is the only sure way to stop it.
Venezuelans fill up drinking water tanks during Caracas' March 2019 blackout.
Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty

This article is adapted from AQ’s latest issue on Latin America's anti-corruption movement. 

Corruption is the most expensive tax paid by society. It affects citizens rich and poor, but harms underserved populations the most. Its effects are also widespread: Corruption plants itself in the moral fabric of society, destroying notions of what is right and what is wrong.

When it comes to government, corruption diminishes the ability of a country to build institutions and prevents leaders from creating predictable legal and social frameworks. Corruption gives rise to an environment in which leaders lack credibility. It eventually weakens and even destroys democracy.

An extreme example of the impact of corruption can be found in Venezuela. Former President Hugo Chávez’s rise to power was the result of political and economic corruption in both the public and private sectors. He was not the cause. However, under his regime corruption worsened and, under President Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela has become an ungovernable narco-state.

In Venezuela and throughout the region, corruption will not be eliminated overnight. But to reduce it, several things must occur. First, the cost-benefit analysis for corruption must be changed. The benefits of corrupt acts must be outweighed by higher costs: jail, the loss of stolen funds, public shame for the corrupt and their families.

Second, institutions must be strengthened. Countries need independent judicial systems that both investigate and prosecute crimes.

Education is also a critical element if corruption is to be reduced and eventually eliminated. This includes childhood education particularly in the area of civics. Young people must understand how democratic governments work — and appreciate things like freedom of the press and respect for human rights. They must understand that corruption will destroy their hopes and dreams to live a better and more productive life.

It is only when society understands and values the responsibility of being a citizen that change will occur — and that more citizens will trust their leaders and more countries will reach their potential.

That is our collective challenge; not just in Latin America, but everywhere.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Segal is President and CEO of Americas Society and Council of the Americas.

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: democratic institutions, Judicial Reform, chavismo, corruption


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