Covid-19 and Latin America's Epidemic of Corruption | Wilson Center

1 hour watch | June.29.2020

Even during normal times, Latin America, including its public health sectors, struggles to provide adequate services while containing corruption. In Mexico, for example, Impunidad Zero found that between 2014 and 2019, 837 shell companies embezzled $175 million from the health sector. The coronavirus has only amplified this challenge, given the snowballing demand for medications and medical equipment and services. During previous health threats, such as the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak, there were multiple cases of corruption, and early evidence from today's pandemic suggests Covid-19 will not be any different. The region's vulnerabilities, meanwhile, extend beyond the medical sector, and include the generous stimulus programs designed as urgent life support to sputtering economies.

Increased corruption is not inevitable, however. Careful public procurement, real-time transparency, robust monitoring and civil society oversight help prevent corruption, or detect it early. Where investments have been made in these institutions and practices, corruption is less likely, but it is difficult to initiate such reforms during a crisis. Moreover, existing safeguards might be bypassed in the name of expediency. What progress did Latin America make prior to the pandemic to guard against corruption, including in the health sector? Is the coronavirus proving the robustness of these systems, or exposing weaknesses? What steps are governments and civil society organizations taking to respond to the increased threat of corruption?

This session discussed Covid-19's test of Latin America's antibodies to corruption.