Transparency International’s report on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) in Nicaragua reveals that the country continues to fall in this ranking. According to this report, Nicaragua ranks as the most corrupt country in Central America and the third most corrupt in Latin America, only surpassed by Venezuela and Haiti.
In the 2023 CPI, Nicaragua scored 19 points, ranking 167 out of 180 countries globally, while Venezuela scored 14 points and Haiti 17.
Deterioration of the perception of corruption in Nicaragua
Compared to the previous report of 2021, where Nicaragua obtained 20 points in the ranking, there is evidence of an upturn in the perception of corruption in the administration of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, who have been in power for 16 years.
Transparency International highlights that in the countries with the worst results, such as Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala, “elites and organized crime have co-opted state institutions”. This situation prevents the adoption of strong measures to combat corruption and strengthen public institutions.
According to the report, this situation facilitates the activities of organized crime, weakens democracy and human rights, and threatens the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It also fuels violence, environmental damage and migration throughout the hemisphere.
The impact of corruption in Nicaragua
Transparency International Chair Delia Ferreira Rubio notes that “the pervasiveness of corruption in the Americas fuels many other crises in the region. Fragile governments fail to curb criminal networks, social conflict and violence, and some exacerbate threats to human rights by concentrating power under the pretext of responding to insecurity”.
The CPI ranks countries and territories according to perceptions of corruption in the public sector, on a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 represents high corruption and 100 represents low corruption. The average in the Americas stands at 43, with almost two-thirds of the countries scoring below 50.
Corruption situation in Nicaragua
During 2022, a chain of corruption was revealed in the cities of Rivas and Diriamba in Nicaragua, mainly linked to litigation and appropriation of valuable properties. These cases shook the intermediate structures of the Sandinista Front and generated the fall of a magistrate of the Judiciary, the forced resignation of a mayor and the suicide of another, the dismissal of a political secretary, as well as the removal and partial imprisonment of officials and political operators.
The governing party handled these cases without transparency, applying sanctions and removals decided from the FSLN political secretariat and under the command of the presidential couple’s powerful security advisor, Néstor Moncada Lau.
The institutions in charge of dealing with these matters have remained silent or have simply been mere executors of the orders coming from power. The National Police has not issued any press release on these incidents, nor has the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic (CGR).
An investigation by CONFIDENCIAL revealed that the issue is handled directly by the leadership of the Ortega regime, and that it has only been known that this “purge” is orchestrated by Moncada Lau, and is related to the dispute of valuable coastal properties in the areas of Carazo and Rivas.
Other versions add that, in the midst of the conflict over the properties, there is also an internal struggle between Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo for power in the Sandinista Front, a third party that is currently leaning in favor of the dictator’s wife.
Ortega and Murillo’s regime has also remained silent on the imprisonment of retired Commissioner General Adolfo Marenco Corea, former director of police investigation and intelligence and former member of Rosario Murillo’s inner circle, and security advisor Néstor Moncada Lau.
The impact of corruption in the region
In environments with high levels of corruption, such as those mentioned in the Transparency International report, increasing violence and the violation of social and economic rights disproportionately affect historically marginalized groups, which promotes massive migratory movements to other countries in the region.
The organization highlights that, in order to reduce gang violence, countries such as El Salvador and Honduras have declared states of emergency, but this has resulted in unjustified arrests and abuses of power.
In El Salvador, emergency rule has also been used to repress and silence voices critical of the government and further limit access to information.
In most of these countries, the fight against corruption is led almost exclusively by civil society organizations and the independent press, with the support of the international community.
However, the co-optation of justice institutions and the criminalization of actors who denounce acts of corruption have contributed to abuses against journalists, activists, indigenous communities and prosecutors.
In Guatemala, the unjustified arrests of journalist José Rubén Zamora and former prosecutors Virginia Laparra and Samari Gómez are emblematic cases.
In Venezuela, illegal economic activities accounted for 21% of its GDP in 2021; criminal groups exercise exhaustive control over gold mining operations and employ extortion and irregular payments to military commanders to maintain their illicit activities, according to Transparency International.
Similarly, in Honduras, extortion of small businesses and citizens by criminal gangs is a serious problem, yet goes unpunished.
This situation slows economic development, exacerbates insecurity and promotes the flow of illicit money into the financial system, with Hondurans making an estimated US$737 million in extortion payments per year, representing 16% of the country’s annual GDP.