In Mexico, Culture of Corruption Runs Deep

Lennox Samuels, Dallas Morning News, Dec. 28, 2005

MEXICO CITY—Last year, a member of Mexico City’s legislature was videotaped accepting a bribe. The brother of a former president is widely assumed to have built a $100 million fortune through influence peddling. In 1997, the head of the country’s drug interdiction office was dismissed—for involvement in drug trafficking.

Those and other examples illustrate the perennial stigma of Mexico, considered one of the most corrupt countries in the hemisphere. The recent furor over a video in which four enforcers for the Gulf cartel are interrogated and one is executed has sharply refocused attention on corruption.

The men on the video suggested links between drug traffickers and the government, and authorities have conceded that federal law enforcement officials and perhaps current or former members of the military may have been involved in torturing the four men and making the video.

The videotaped allegations are a reminder, analysts say, that in Mexico corruption not only is a disease that afflicts government and public officials, but also a national pathology.

And, some add, corruption is so deeply embedded in the society that there’s no prospect of eliminating or even curbing it anytime soon.

“Unfortunately, corruption seems to be part of our DNA,” said political analyst Jorge Chabat.

“What we have discovered . . . is that this is not endemic,” said Eduardo A. Bohorquez, executive secretary of Transparencia Mexicana, or Mexican Transparency. “It’s more epidemic.”

For Bohorquez, whose agency measures corruption in Mexico, “Corruption is the abuse of the public trust to gain a private benefit. You take a mandate from a public group and act on your own behalf.”

But other experts say the problem goes far beyond that, extending from the ordinary citizen to high reaches of government. They say most Mexicans have become accustomed to paying bribes and to the notion that the average police officer will try to shake them down in some way.

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Last year, video images showed Mexico City legislator Rene Bejarano Martinez of the Party of the Democratic Revolution receiving $45,000 from businessman Carlos Ahumada Kurtz. The legislator denied the money was for doing favors for Ahumada. Bejarano spent eight months in jail.

Raul Salinas de Gortari, brother of former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari and who was jailed for 10 years on a murder charge before being exonerated, was accused of receiving millions of dollars for influence peddling and stashing the money overseas. He has not been convicted of any crime related to the money.

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But the latest measurement of corruption by Berlin-based Transparency International found that 50 percent of Mexicans remain pessimistic about corruption and believe it will get worse.

The 2005 survey, released Dec. 9, showed that Mexico was one of the top four countries (along with Cameroon, Paraguay and Cambodia), where the largest number of respondents—between 31 percent and 45 percent—answered yes when asked if they or someone in their family had paid any kind of bribe in the last 12 months.

A majority of the Mexicans told pollsters the bribes had been directly solicited by authorities.

“In Mexico, corruption does not have a party,” said writer and political commentator Homero Aridjis. “It’s the same with the PRI, the PAN and the PRD.

“I grew up with the PRI and looked forward to the end of corruption with a different party in power. But is does not matter. For people like me it’s a moral collapse.”

This year, Arturo Montiel, who was seeking to become the PRI’s presidential candidate in 2006, withdrew from the race after media reports revealed that he owned half a dozen expensive real estate properties, including a $2.1 million apartment in Paris. Party officials later said an investigation was not warranted because he could have earned the money during his tenure as governor of the State of Mexico.

But an analysis by the Mexico City newspaper, Reforma, showed that Montiel could not have earned enough money as governor to pay for the properties.

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