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Usted está aquí: Inicio Acerca del CLAD Publicaciones Revista del CLAD Reforma y Democracia Artículos por número publicado 028, Febrero 2004 The Burden on Our Backs: Corruption in Latin America

The Burden on Our Backs: Corruption in Latin America

Gerald E. Caiden

Corruption dates from the very dawn of government and has bedeviled civilization ever since. Any office holder who exercises power over others is tempted to misuse or abuse that power and deviate from the expected norms governing the exercise of public authority. For this reason, every society has tried to institutionalize safeguards against powerful people abusing their positions of trust. But such safeguards often fail and fail completely, allowing the powerful to drift further and further and further away from public expectations. While some power holders manage to keep their hands relatively clean, others get their hands dirtier and dirtier. The corrupt get to institutionalize their corrupt practices such that corruption becomes a way of life and very difficult to reverse. No society is entirely free but some suffer much more than others. Whatever forms it takes, corruption undermines political stability, economic prospects, social harmony and public integrity and as such is now recognized universally as a distinct obstacle to national development.

Although it is possible to generalize about corruption and its many different causes, forms and consequences, every society, every community within it, and every organization within that has to be considered apart from any other if any progress to reduce its presence in everyday life and its societal dysfunctions is to be made. By no means are all alike. Some are much more prone to corruption than others. Contemporary attempts to measure its reputed pervasiveness by Transparency International and others indicate wide disparities between and within countries. The most corruption-free public institutions are thought to be in Scandinavia and Australasia while the most prone are believed to be in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia. Latin America and the Caribbean are considered to be around or just below average with none being exactly extemporary but with a few, like Haiti, considered among the world's worst. Again, particularly within the largest countries of the region, there are towns and cities that are models of integrity and others that are rotten to the core.

That such disparity can co-exist within much the same culture suggests that no matter how embedded corruption may appear to be, determined efforts can reverse the situation. Sufficient knowledge and aid on reducing corruption already exists and is readily available from several international agencies, Latin America centers and places which have succeeded in cleansing themselves if not entirely then to the point where corruption is hardly noticeable. What is most lacking are not the tools but the political will to take effective action against the corrupt whose life is unfairly comfortable and who have the skills to beat back the reformers and continue to enjoy their ill-gotten desserts. To succeed, the reformers need to mobilize public support, enforce the rule of law equitably, insist on integrity in conducting public business, professionalize public service, and remain vigilant that corrupt practices do not creep back again.

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