The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) held a public event on Wednesday, July 29, 2020 to discuss the current state of anti-corruption efforts and rule of law in Latin America and the Trump administration’s impact on human rights and democracy in the region. Adriana Beltrán, Director of Citizen Security at WOLA, moderated the event and was joined by panelists Michael Camilleri, Director of the Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program at the Dialogue, Claudia Paz y Paz, Director of Mexico and Central America Program at CEJIL, and Gustavo Gorriti, Director at El Instituto de Defensa Legal—Reporters.
Comments by Michael Camilleri:
“Broadly speaking… the pervasiveness and the principal modalities of corruption in the region have not changed much in the last four years.”
“In some cases, the institutional innovations of the last decade or two have proven resilient and effective, and recent surveys show that even in the midst of a global pandemic, corruption remains near the top of citizens’ concerns in many countries in the region. I don’t think governments will be able to ignore that. But at the same time, it’s clear that the situation has changed: the sense of momentum has dissipated, and some countries are clearly backsliding. For example, the penal code reforms in Honduras, which actually seemed designed to benefit corrupt politicians and shield them from corruption investigations.”
“What explains the lost momentum and the loss of the sense that we were at least trending in the right direction? Let me mention three things to start the conversation: the first is we had a series of pretty consequential elections in the region which brought change, in some cases pretty radical change, but not necessarily change for the better… The second… is the backlash. Corrupt networks and interests are very resilient, including in the face of scandals, prosecutions, arrests… The final thing is the Trump administration. I don’t think we should overstate this, but we should not understate it. It is undeniable that at some critical junctures, the Trump administration has either not prioritized or has actively undermined efforts to combat corruption and uphold the rule of law.”
“Even when US diplomats say the right things about corruption and the rule of law… they are undermined by the lack of credibility and consistency of the [Trump] administration they serve. Ultimately, the danger is that the damage to US credibility and capacity to advance the rule of law internationally could be lasting… The critique you hear from countries like Russia and China that seek to undermine the international human rights project… is that this movement is not underpinned by universal values but actually is just a vehicle for a western political agenda. The Trump administration feeds this critique with a transparently ideological selectivity in its defense of the rule of law, both in the Americas and beyond, and I do worry that that will have a lasting impact and take much time to unwind and correct.”