Transparency International

This Anti-Corruption Helpdesk brief was produced in response to a query from one of Transparency International’s national chapters. The Anti-Corruption Helpdesk is operated by Transparency International and funded by the European Union


What is the relationship between corruption, autocracy and human rights? How do the three non-democratic countries in Latin America fare in that regard?


The relationship between corruption, autocracy and human rights can become a vicious circle, in which the deterioration of meaningful democracy allows corruption to go unchecked, which in turn facilitates human rights abuses that further cement authoritarian modes of governance. In the Latin American region, three countries were classified in prominent governance indices as non-democracies in 2021: Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Of these, Cuba performs considerably better in Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) than the other two countries. A review of the available literature suggest that this might be partly the result of the island nation’s state capacity, which allows it to better control what happens inside its borders, including petty corruption.


  1. Background
  2. Corruption, authoritarianism, and human rights
    • Corruption and authoritarianism
    • Corruption and human rights
  3. Corruption in autocracies in Latin America
    • Nicaragua
    • Cuba
    • Venezuela
  4. Countries to watch: El Salvador and Honduras
  5. References

Main points

  • Although intuitively it would seem logical that autocratic countries typically fare worse in international corruption indices, the picture is in fact more complex. In Latin America, one of the three non-democratic regimes, Cuba, performs notably better in the CPI than the other two non-democracies, Nicaragua and Venezuela, and even scores better than some of its more pluralistic democratic neighbours.
  • There is some indication that Cuba’s high state capacity might allow the government to exert more control over what happens in its territory, including by restricting petty corruption happening at the street level.
  • Both authoritarianism and corruption are detrimental to human rights. Corruption can enable human rights abuses by undermining the capacity of the state to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and by enabling autocrats to escape the consequences of their actions.


Gabriela Camacho, [email protected]


Matthew Jenkins, Luciana Torchiaro and Jon Vrushi, Transparency International



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