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MEXICO CITY, Mexico, Mon. June 14, 2021 (Reuters) – Latin American nations’ capacity to fight corruption diminished over the past year as the coronavirus pandemic absorbed resources and offered politicians in some countries the space to weaken judicial bodies, according to a report on Monday.

The annual survey of 15 Latin American countries, compiled by the Americas Society/Council of the Americas and Control Risks, found a decline in the efficiency and independence of anti-corruption agencies in almost all of those nations.

The index evaluates how effectively countries can combat corruption based on variables such as government transparency, judicial resources and the quality of the press. It ranked Venezuela as the least prepared of the 15 nations, with Uruguay the best.

The Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index also showed significant declines in the capacity to fight corruption in Latin America’s two most populous countries and biggest economies, Brazil and Mexico.

At a time when both foreign and domestic investment in Latin America are at multi-year lows, increasing doubts about the application of rule of law and about the quality of judicial institutions were undermining business confidence, the report said.

Brazil registered the sharpest fall in its annual scores, impacted by the dismantling in February of the Lava Jato anti-graft taskforce as well as President Jair Bolsonaro’s appointment of officials perceived as less independent to lead the Federal Police and the public prosecutors’ office.

Mexico saw its score decline for a third year, which the report said in part reflected significant budget cuts to the National Anti-Corruption System as part of austerity measures to cope with the economic impact of the pandemic.

Guatemala also slipped down the rankings, following the closure of a U.N.-backed anti-corruption body in 2019. A Presidential Commission against Corruption, created last year and directly under the control of the executive, has not undertaken any major investigations, the report found.

Ranked from highest to lowest score, the countries assessed in the index were Uruguay, Chile, Costa Rica, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Paraguay, Guatemala, Bolivia and Venezuela.

(Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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