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WASHINGTON May 17, 2023 – The majority of people in Latin America and the Caribbean believe their government is using misinformation to shape public opinion in their favor.
That’s just one indication of authoritarianism and widespread mistrust of government in the region, as captured in 26 new Rule of Law country reports released today by the World Justice Project (WJP).
“These reports represent the voices of the people across Latin America and the Caribbean and how they perceive and experience the rule of law,” said WJP Executive Director Elizabeth Andersen. “We are excited to share more of our survey data than ever before, to help diverse stakeholders pinpoint rule of law weaknesses and develop policies to address them.”
Drawing on nationally representative surveys across Latin America and the Caribbean, the reports illuminate trends over time on topics including corruption, fundamental freedoms, crime victimization, security, and access to justice.
Meanwhile, new polling questions on authoritarianism and democracy reveal widespread beliefs that top government officials are seeking to attack and weaken key checks on executive power.
“Broad perceptions of authoritarian behavior along with low levels of trust don’t bode well for the rule of law and democracy in the region,” Andersen said.
In 19 out of 23 countries,1 a majority of people believe top government officials attack or discredit the media and civil society organizations. This belief is most widespread in Trinidad and Tobago (80%), Brazil (77%), Colombia (74%), and Argentina (73%) and Bolivia (73%). It is least prevalent in Haiti (38%), where the central government is very weak.
In 18 out of 23 Latin American and Caribbean countries, a majority of people believe top executive branch officials are working to weaken, influence, or disobey the judiciary. At least two-thirds of people in Ecuador, Argentina, and Brazil hold each of these beliefs. Most people disagreed with all of these beliefs in only five countries: Barbados, Haiti, Honduras, Dominica, and Panama.
In 15 out of 23 countries, at least half the people believe top government officials attack or try to discredit their country’s electoral system. This belief is most widespread in Brazil (75%), Trinidad and Tobago (72%), Colombia (71%), Ecuador (71%), and Bolivia (68%). It is least prevalent in Barbados (30%).
At the same time, most people think high-ranking officials can easily escape accountability. The World Justice Project asked people in 13 Central and South American countries whether they thought top officials would be held accountable for breaking the law. Only in El Salvador, where the president has record-breaking approval ratings, did a slight majority (51%) answer yes. In Paraguay and Argentina, a mere 14% said yes.
Trust in government officials and elected representatives is generally low across Latin America and the Caribbean.
Among 26 countries, Barbados is the only one where most people say they trust both national and local government officers (68% and 69% respectively). El Salvador is the only other country where a majority of people (60%) say they trust national officials; while Guyana is the only other country where half the people (50%) say they trust local government officers.
In 23 out of 26 countries, at least half the people think most or all members of the national congress or parliament are corrupt. This belief is most widely held in Colombia (88%), Peru (84%), and Paraguay (80%). It is least prevalent in St. Lucia (44%), Barbados (32%), and El Salvador (22%).
Reflecting trends in both mistrust and perceived authoritarian behavior across Latin America and the Caribbean, a majority of people in 21 out of 23 countries say that top government officials use misinformation to shape public opinion in their favor. This belief is most widely held in The Bahamas (77%), Brazil (75%), and Trinidad and Tobago (75%). It is least prevalent in Haiti (37%), followed by Panama, where almost half the people (49%) share this belief.
The World Justice Project’s new Rule of Law reports expand upon data contained in the 2022 WJP Rule of Law Index, which measures the rule of law in 140 countries and jurisdictions around the world. The Index relies on nationally representative household polls and expert surveys, and the new country reports draw additional insights from the household polls.
“Rule of law is the foundation for healthy communities that ensure justice, opportunity, and peace,” Andersen said. “These new reports are a resource for each country to examine and address the rule of law weaknesses their own citizens have identified, and to track progress where reforms are already under way.”
The reports are broken down into five subregions - the Andes; Central America; the Southern Cone; Eastern Caribbean; and Greater Antilles, The Bahamas, and the Guianas. Data from each country in a subregion is used to calculate subregional averages and comparisons. All sub-regions experienced a weakened or low confidence in the criminal justice system. Examples of key findings for each sub-region follow.
In the Andes region (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru), between 50-75% of people believe that government officials engage in authoritarian behavior. Fewer people believe local government officials are elected through a clean process compared to the last year of data collection. Furthermore, less than one-third of all respondents in Andean countries believe high-ranking officials would be held accountable for breaking the law.
In Central American countries (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama), about half of all respondents think top government officials engage in authoritarian behavior. Nearly one-third of people in Central America, on average, believe the president does not have to follow the law. This is the highest average percentage response to this question across all five sub-regions.
Southern Cone countries (Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay) show a high perception of authoritarian behavior and a weakened trust in government accountability. In Argentina and Brazil, most people believe top government officials engage in authoritarian behavior. More specifically, Argentinians most often felt that government officials try to undermine the judiciary while Brazilians most often felt that government officials try to undermine electoral systems and opposition parties. In Paraguay, only one-third of respondents believe that local government officials are elected through a clean process.
Worsening corruption is a prominent trend in Eastern Caribbean countries (Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago). Public views on the pervasiveness of corruption in the public sector deteriorated in every country except Grenada and St. Lucia since 2016. A separate WJP report released last month goes into greater detail on corruption in the Caribbean.
Greater Antilles, The Bahamas, and the Guianas
Corruption was also a top concern in the Caribbean region that includes The Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, and Suriname, along with a perceived decline in fundamental freedoms. The reports found that acceptance of corrupt behaviors in the region is relatively common compared to the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean. In terms of fundamental freedoms, fewer people believe that their freedoms of expression, political participation, election, and religion are guaranteed in The Bahamas, Guyana, Jamaica, and Suriname compared to the last year of data collection.
Explore all the data in the new Rule of Law country reports.
Read the press release in Spanish.