The International Writers Magazine: Opinion
So far from God, Corruption in Mexico
Corruption in Mexico resembles that cliché about the weather, everyone talks about it but nobody does anything about it. It is true the current Mexican President has tried to eliminate drug cartels. It is also true he failed for reasons generally referred to as corruption in his government.
The tourist in Mexico doesn’t see much corruption unless someone points out the smug fat traffic cop sitting on his motorcycle on the side of a busy street, awaiting his chance for another driver to extort. The cop certainly looks the part of corruption, his belly hanging over his thick black holster belt and boots shined as if professionally done. It is said (years ago I heard this) that a Mexican traffic cop in Mexico City pays $100,000 in United States currency to purchase his lucrative position ruling traffic on a busy street. Such a large sum either denotes many bribes saved over the years, or a sponsoring patron who wants a part of the action.
When a Mexican traffic cop gives chase to a guilty motorist (usually the cop does wait for an actual infraction) the pursued motorist will pull off the road. Following a polite and perfunctory discussion, often appearing rehearsed since it has happened so often to both, the cop receives from the motorist a “mordida” (in Spanish “bite”) or bribe to pay the fine. The motorist therefore will not be taken to the police station, or have his vehicle license plates removed and later forced to journey to court and pay for their return. Unless they are friends, are related by blood, or the motorist is a public figure, a “bribe’’ is paid on the spot, the only argument as to the amount. No cop, unless sure of immunity, risks arresting anyone with direct or indirect power over him. For the cop to forget this is to risk getting their own neck twisted from above.
The traffic bribe is the essence of Mexican corruption, something to save money, time, and gain favor. Everyone but the speech-making politician is constantly talking against corruption, and once in office does nothing, or next to nothing, to change it. In truth, nobody really expects the politician to do much. The motorist may complain about the “mordida” to friends, but it doesn’t matter what those friends or what their friend’s friends think, bribes are inevitable, a way of life. In a position of power the friends would do the same. Politicians, public servants, and individuals with something to bestow, have been on the take in Mexico for years. Bribes have been the rule for centuries and will continue to be so regardless of political party in power. I have heard wives of a bribe recipient harangue their husbands for not getting a bigger bribe. The “mordida” is a fact of life wherever you turn.
One must understand that it’s not the mushrooming drug trade in Mexico, nor the resultant increase in horrific killings and mutilations, that have brought corruption to the land. Corruption has been one of the mainstays of both the public and private sectors since Ferdinand and Isabela ruled over New Spain. Mexico is corruption. Some say the problem is basically a matter of semantics, that value judgments are relative, and in other important and ethical ways Mexico is quite “advanced.” At least, these people say, Mexican political careers are not ruined by sexual scandals or eccentric behavior in personal areas as is so often true in the West. The Governor or the President or the Senator may have mistresses that titillate an electorate, one the electorate enjoys by picking out their photos in Hola Magazine. But such thinking overlooks money lost to the state or the private company. The money has been stolen (theft, in a sense, is what a bribe is) and hurts the economy, not to mention stifling the “invisible hand” benefits that competition brings.
A corollary to the bribe in Mexico is a thriving nepotism. The old adage about how its not what you know, but who you know, is more true in Mexico than most nations. Sometimes a large “Mom & Pop” store is made up solely of relatives. What percentage of those relatives could not have achieved their position without nepotism is, of course, unknown. What is known is that it would be more than just a few.
Then there is the argument that one person’s corruption is another person’s ambition and drive. If one doesn’t want to take the time to go through a labyrinth of influence peddling, and all those other machinations that go into bribery, they lack the motivation to get ahead in the first place. After all, to someone busy bribing or receiving bribes, it’s not easy to remember what person did what favor (large or small) for you, and therefore deserves your vote, or your contract, or in case they are in a position to hurt you, your fear. Many Mexicans consider this in the nature of things. It is an integral part of Mexico, and Mexico is where they live. Such a justification begs the question of ethics. The question, unfortunately, has been begged for centuries.
Another rationale commonly given for corruption is that the public or private employee receiving the bribe, is paid a starvation salary and depends on bribes for his or her income. Without corruption many people would lose their jobs. This is historically true. Since the Colonial period, servants of the Spanish crown were given specific tasks (usually paid for by a bribe) to live in “New Spain.” Whether they be grants of territory, fancy titles, or both, it was well understood their recompense was to live off the Mexican land. This they did and often “earned” their keep by holding elaborate fiestas or festivals, huge parties where free food, drink, and entertainment were provided, as well as a paid day-off work taken. These activities created a bond between private employers and employees or government office holders and constituents. Now they not only owed their state or private jobs to the benefactor, but their good times as well.
Historically, the Church was as guilty of this as was the secular. During the Colonial Period a “gossip” was the spiritual link uniting godparents to the parent of a christened child. This created due reciprocal aid and assistance. Through “gossip” bonds, privileged sectors were qualified to receive public and private offices of great advantage.
An overpowering example of church control, and therefore more than an occasional abuse of power, was the caste system. In Mexico during the Colonial Era, a newborn baby was baptised under one of the following castes.
Peninsulares = European born white*
Creoles = Colonial born white
Mestizo = mixed blood, Spanish and Indian
Mulattos = mixed blood, Spanish and Negro
Indian = natives
*Interesting to note that many contemporary Mexicans travel to Spain to receive a Spanish Passport to go along with their Mexican passport. I have never heard a practical reason for doing this other than to have a “backup” passport to replace a lost or stolen one.
The Peninsulares considered themselves superior to Creoles and were so regarded by the law. The Creoles thought themselves superior to the Mextizos and Indians.
When a baby was baptized, it was assigned to what often amounted to a life’s role by the baptismal priest. Imagine the power possessed by a baptismal priest! He had the power to influence the entire life of the child through baptism designation. The bribes involved were frequent and enormous. A form of corruption beginning at birth.
I have given just a few of the many corruptions found in Mexico today, and yesterday. It is a long and sad story that owes its impetus to history. It will take years and a lot of luck for Mexico to escape what has become indigenous to the land of the eagle and the serpent. To give you an example of pervasive Mexican corruption: people burglarized seldom call the police. Why? People fear the police may or will be bribed, and they don’t want to get into a “bidding war.” Also, as the cop fills out the report, the burgled fear the cop may be listing valuables not taken. An inventory, if you will, for future theft and bribes.
Years ago, Mexican Dictator Porfirio Diaz, in reference to his nation’s geographical position, uttered: “Pity poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.”
Substitute the last two words into, “their history,” and you have the Mexican problem with corruption.
© James Morford July 2012
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