Political transition in Mexico and the growth of corruption and violence
Author: Nubia Nieto
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 12/05/2012
During many decades Mexico was ruled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), but in July of 2000, for first time after 71 years of continuous power, the National Action Party (PAN) with Vicente Fox Quezada (2000-2006) as candidate of the PAN reached the national presidency. This election opened the door to a myriad of expectations. For some historians and politicians, this moment was the culmination of the democratic transition, reaching finally the consolidation of the democracy in Mexico. Certainly, with the arrival of Fox to the presidency was a different moment in the political democratic process of the country and in the history of Mexico, especially in terms of anti-corruption actions.
One of the most important promises of Vicente Fox, when he was competing for the national presidency was to end corruption and abuses of power perpetrated by the PRI and create a distinctive way to rule.
“Facing the XXl century, Mexico has two big challenges: build a developed nation, very competitive and with advanced technology that generates progress for the citizens, and set up a society based on the rule of law […] The State of law exists only in the imagination of some citizens. The reality is that, justice and law are used at the discretion of the executive power, named president, governor or mayor. Now, we propose to apply with “all rigor” and fight firmly against corruption” (Fox, 2000: 8-28).
Vicente Fox and many candidates of the PAN based their campaigns at national and regional levels against corruption. According to a survey carried out in 2000 by Mitofsky, the anti-corruption program proposed by the PAN obtained 52% approval of the Mexican population in comparison to the programs of the PRI, which got 27% and 18% of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, PRD (Mitofsky, 2000:5).
However, after a few months of Vicente Fox arriving to the presidency, he would be criticized by setting up discretionary agreements with politicians from the PRI at local, national and regional level. Even worse, in 2001 Fox was involved in a corruption scandal called “The toallagate”, which accused the president of spending 440 thousands pesos, about 49 thousands dollars at that time, on luxury towels (Oppenheimer, 2001). At the end of his ruling period, he was involved in many other corruptive practices reminiscent of the PRI.
The dream of good governance and transparency born from the democratic transition soon started to disappear. At the end of the governing period of Fox, he was accused of several scandals of nepotism, embezzlement, corruption and abuse of power, particularly, after his stepsons Manuel and Jorge Bribiesca Sahagún, used the position of their stepfather to relinquish properties from householders and peasants to build luxurious resorts (Alvarez, 2009).
Another case of nepotism during the government of Fox was his participation in the allocation of contracts of public enterprise, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), for almost 87 million dollars to the company “Oceanografia”, property of his stepsons Manuel and Jorge Bribiesca Sahagún, sons of his wife Marta Sahagún (Saldierna, 2007).
The promise of good governance seems every time far away from reality. In December 2006, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa assumed the presidency for six years. Calderón as a member of the PAN was also characterised by his constant promises against poverty. He promised to be a president of employment and reduce corruption. Those promises were reflected in the National Development Plan 2007-2012 that was structured in five points: 1) Rule of Law and security 2) Competitive economy and generation of jobs 3) Equality of opportunities 4) Environmental sustainability and 5) Effective democracy and responsible foreign policy (Calderón, 2007).
Despite the promises to fight against corruption, the government of Felipe Calderón was also accused of nepotism; for instance, his brother, Juan Luis Calderón Hinojosa was director of the (OOAPAS) Utility of Drinking Water and Wastewater in Morelia for 9 years, while his sister Luisa Maria Calderón Hinojosa was candidate of the government of Michoacán, and she was also accused of corruption once that she used excessive public resources expenditure for her political campaign, manipulation and buying votes in the region (Delgado, 2011). The brother of Felipe Calderón, Juan Luis is also involved in other corruption scandals such as being the person responsible for a debt of 110 million pesos as he was the manager of OOAPAS. He is also accused of mismanagement of a public enterprise, use of public resources, and use of state infrastructure for his own business in water companies, and being the direct person responsible for the disappearing of 90 million pesos in the company (Contraste, 2011)
It is important to remember that the electoral triumph of Felipe Calderón in July 2006, was questioned widely and several social protests against his triumph were staged throughout the country for more than a year, for many Mexican citizens the government of Calderón was “el gobierno espurio” (the spurious government) or “gobierno de facto” (de facto government) (Garrido, 2007).
The achievements at the end of the Calrderón government are not positive. Not only in terms of fighting against corruption, but also the increase of violence and poverty in the country. The dimension of corruption is more complex than ever before. Nowadays, talking about political corruption in Mexico is related to the development of narcotrafficking and violence.
The merger of political power, corruption and narcotrafficking, have triggered disastrous consequences for the population: extortion, kidnapping, torture and impunity are now among the most common crimes in the country.
In December 2006, the Mexican President Felipe Calderón, a few days after being in power, launched a new strategy to tackle the increase of narcotrafficking called “war on drugs”. More than 50,000 troops were deployed in the country. Since then more than 47,500 people have died in drug-related violence (Redacción de La Jornada, 2012:5).
The violence has been in the Media on a daily basis. National and local media have been targeted with armed attacks, bombings, killings and kidnappings of journalists.
According to Reporters without borders, “No fewer than 83 journalists have been killed in Mexico in the past decade and 14 others have disappeared. The overwhelming majority of these cases are unsolved and unpunished” (RWB, May 2012).
For Reporters Without Borders “Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries for journalist in the world”, and it is ranked 149 out of 179 countries on the Press Freedom Index for danger. According to Reporters without borders, Drug cartels and corrupt officials are implicated in most of the crimes of violence against journalists, which almost always go unpunished. As a result, journalists often censor themselves and some have to flee into exile (RWB, 2012).
The crimes against citizens, journalists, and the high levels of corruption and impunity contribute to increased brutality in the country. The violence is part of the New Mexican Landscape. The degree of brutality used by drug traffickers and the constant involvement of politicians, police men and members of the army are the most common consequences for the Mexican population. Beheadings and massive executions are also the new strategies of intimidation used in the country. Finding victims on roads, bridges, streets and landmarks is part of this new brutal reality.
For instance, on 13th May 2012, 49 bodies were found in the town of Cadereyta in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, the north of Mexico, 180 kilometers from the United States border. On 4th May, in the same state, 23 bodies were found hanging from a bridge and 14 persons were beheaded, and on the 9th May of the same year 15 bodies were found beheaded on the route of Occidental, in the state of Jalisco. A few days before, on 29th April 2012 in Sinaloa, also in the north of the country, 13 dead and 6 wounded were recorded due to fighting between the army and gangs. In the same month, on 12th April, in Michoacan, 11 persons lost their lives due to related gang violence and 4 bodies were found in the same state. Furthermore, on 29th February in Aguas Calientes, 8 dead and one wounded were registered after a police chase. On 29th January, in Jalisco 20 people killed, 7 of them buried in mass graves discovered in the town of Ejutla, and 3 policemen shot dead in Lagos de Moreno, and the list could go on and on (El Universal, May 13, 2012).
Furthermore, kidnapping for ransom has soared in recent years. A government study found that between 2005 and 2010, the number of reported kidnappings of Mexicans had risen by 317 percent. An average of 3.7 abductions were reported every day in 2010, some 1,350 over the year. However, anticrime groups say for every kidnapping reported, as many as ten may go unreported because the kidnappers say if the police hear about it, the hostage is going to get hurt. Therefore, Mexico has become the worst place for kidnapping on the planet (Grillo, 2012: 262). Nowadays, Mexico is classified on the Top 10 threat areas for kidnap for ransom in 2012 (Red24, 2012).
Fighting against narcotrafficking is more complicated when there are many corrupt politicians, soldiers, policemen. For example, the lieutenant, Miguel Ortiz Miranda, alias “El Tyson” was arrested in 2010, after founding that he was a collaborator of La Familia (one of the most dangerous Mexican cartels) in the state of Michoacán. He was involved directly in attacks on public officials, kidnappings and extortion, as well as in charge of cutting up corpses (Wilkinson, 2010).
In this context, the arrival of the PAN to the national presidency, after twelve years, shows that the expectations about the consolidation of the democracy in Mexico are far away of being accomplished.
According to Juan Linz, the consolidation of democracy involves a set of elements such as behaviour and attitude of citizens and resolution of conflicts through a constitution and laws (Linz,1996:5-6), and in the case of Mexico those elements are not still presents, particularly in terms of respect of “the rule of law”, resolution of conflicts through laws and institutions.
Democracy understood in terms of Linz has not been achieved in Mexico. Moreover, it is more pertinent to say that the arrival of the PAN to the executive and legislative power, and many other regional governments is just a change of the party in power, without a real change in political practices and implementation of accountability and transparency measures.
Mexico today seems to be trapped between young political institutions without experience in accountability and transparency, and the vices of the old regime, which are still quite present. The government of the PAN have continued reproducing the same schemes that the PRI used to apply such as clientelism, nepotism, caciquism, patrimonialism and the “Mordida”, which continue being part of the “savoir faire” of Mexican politicians.
According to the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) presented by Transparency International in 2011, Mexico is classified as number 100 out of 182 countries, getting a score of 3, on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 represents highly corrupt and 10 highly transparent, which meant that corruption is widely spread in the country (TI, 2011). On the other hand, in 2001 the CPI ranked Mexico number 89 from a list of 180 countries, registering a score of 3.3 out of 10, using the same scale from 0 to 10. Therefore, it is observed that the levels of corruption in Mexico did not reduce so much between 2001 with a score of 3.3 and 2011 with a note of 3 (TI, 2001).
Nevertheless, the levels of corruption in Mexico in 2011 contrast widely with some of its Latin American neighbours, for example, Chile gets a value of 7.2, putting it at number 22 with better accountability and transparency, or Uruguay with a score of 7, reaching the 25 place.
In the same vein, in 2012 Maplecroft, an English analysis research centre, in its risk index of corruption classified Mexico as an “extreme risk” country and placed it at number 59 out 197 countries which were analyzed, using a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 represents the highest risk of corruption and 10 the lowest risk (Maplecroft, 2012).
The high levels of corruption in Mexico also contrasts with its international commitments to fight against this phenomenon with many organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations, the Inter- Development, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund among others.
Nevertheless, the levels of corruption in Mexico continue to be alarming not only in terms of figures, but also in human costs, since the most disadvantaged sectors are the most vulnerable ones for the cruelist human treatment. Trafficking of women and children as sexual slaves, trafficking of human organs, and recruiting young men for gangs among indigenous groups are part of the new reality of this country.
The exercise of political power continues to be an affair of “elites” more than a public matter, and the idea of corruption as an opportunity to amass riches is still present in the country, which is reflected in the very known phrase: “El que no tranza no avanza” (he who can’t con will never move on).
Certainly, Mexico has adopted new electoral institutions such as the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) and new Federal electoral codes through the Federal Code of Institutions and Electoral procedures (COFIPE), as well as the construction of autonomous electoral bodies, and the participation of non-partisan citizen political activities. Not to mention, the active role of the legislative power against the executive one. Nevertheless, these institutions and measures seem not to have substantial impacts in reducing corruption levels and violence.
It is important to remember that Mexico is regulated by the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States, which was set up in 1917, and affirms that States are sovereign and free” and have a governor and an assembly of representatives elected by universal suffrage. But in reality, these constitutional prerogatives had not been applied rigorously, because the force of this political system was based on other pillars such as the existence of an executive with constitutional and extra constitutional powers to control the other powers and the dominance of a political party on the remaining opposition parties, (Carpizo, 1978: 191), without forgetting another important component of this system: corruption, which became an essential element, not only in building this contemporaneous political system but also to nourish loyalties among the members of the PRI, friendships and maintaining the social peace that last for seven decades.
As Grillo says, the PRI system relied on corruption to keep ticking over smoothly. Businessmen could pay off small-town caciques and governors could pay off the president. Money flowed like water. Everybody was happy and stayed in line because everybody got paid (Grillo, 2012: 35). Even some scholars have considered the corruption in Mexico was not a rot but rather the oil and glue of the machine (Riding, 1985:140).
In the time of the PRI ruling, the mafias and whole society were regulated by the structure of the party and corruption. For instances, as Grillo indicates, if policemen could arrest a man who was paying off his colleague, or officers could take down a villain paying their boss. But things were kept in check by the PRI power structure. Lower-ranking police would kick back money up the chain of command. Higher-ranking officials didn’t even need to know where the bribes were coming from or have any contact with gangsters. Everyone respected the hierarchy, and if any official couldn’t keep order, he could simply be replaced by another aspiring PRI member. (Grillo, 2012: 52-53)
However, in the “democratic times”, policemen and politicians fight for interests of different cartels. According to Grillo, “Every time you arrest one trafficker, you are helping his rival. In this way, when the federal police stormed Zetas [a cartel] safe houses, they were scoring victories for Sinaloans [another cartel]. Whether they liked it or not, arrests did not subdue violence, but only inflamed it” (2012: 104). Therefore, corruption becomes more violent, less predictable and more complex not only in politicians, policemen and army, but also in the structure of the society.
One example of violence and corruption inside of the police institution is the confrontation among officers that happened in June 2012 inside of the Mexico City Airport, Benito Juárez, terminal 2, when policemen in service fired shots between themselves. The federal policemen who died were in charge of the surveillance inside of the airport, and at the same time, they worked for drug gangs, allowing people to pass with money over 10 thousand dollars, which is against Mexican migration rules, as well as facilitating smuggling of drug and illegal people (Méndez, 2012: 3).
Corruption and narcotrafficking have become an inseparable couple, making it difficult to separate them, even for analytical proposes. In this scenario, the corruption in Mexico has a deep and complex structure that requires serious commitments from all sectors of society, but mainly from the economical and political elites and the authentic respect of the state of law, without them; there is not a guarantee of a real consolidation of the democracy.
Certainly, PAN wasted the opportunity to consolidate democracy and install the State of law and create a different way to rule and reduce the huge gap between rich and poor, and even worse ,PAN facilitated the regression of the old regime, allowing the PRI to get again the Mexican presidency.
The recent presidential elections held on 1st July 2012, the PRI recovered the presidential power with Enrique Peña Nieto as a candidate getting 38.15% of votes against the candidate of the left, PRD, Andres Manuel L-pez Obrador, who obtained 31.64%, and against the right party, PAN, represented with Josefina Vázques Mota who registered 25.40% of votes (IFE, 2012).
The presidential election was widely controversial due to many irregularities such as voter fraud, media bias, corrupt officials, manipulation of votes, excessive vote buying, manipulation of opinion polls, hostility toward PRD of the two main TV broadcast companies: Televisa and Television Azteca, and hostile criticism against the student movement called “Yo soy protest #132” (Weisbrot, 2012).
The presidential election in 2012 has revealed that democracy is far away and the democratic transition is still yet to arrive, and the return to the PRI to the national presidency is a painful backward to the Mexican democracy.
The 1st December 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto sworn as Mexico’s new president, promising to boost economic growth and tackle drug-related violence. Nevertheless, the inauguration was followed for clashes between protesters and police. Dozens of protesters were injured after being hit with a tear gas canister, and others sent to prison (BBC, Mexico’s Enrique Pena, Dec 1st, 2012)
The experience in Mexico demonstrates that the democratic process is not lineal and an easy process. The Mexican case also shows that a democratic transition might have some setbacks, and there is not a guarantee to consolidate a democracy if there is not a modification of the institutions in charge to regulate the law in a country.
Moreover, the most worrying thing is that the current political elites do not seem to have a real commitment to fight against corruption, impunity, and improving the standard of living for the whole of society. The future of democracy in Mexico does not look good for the deep problems of narcotraficking and violence, but also from the political rulers. It is pertinent to underline that Enrique Peña Nieto has a controversial background, which does not help the legitimacy of democratic elites and freedom of expression of citizens.
The unpopularity of Peña Nieto caused several marches and protests against him around the country when he was competing for the presidency, with the participation of over 90,000 people (Ascención, 2012), who accused him of being a “rapist”, “murderer” and “killer”, and claimed justice for “Atenco” –Atenco was a massive repression carried out on May 2006 against peasants who protested for the expropriation of their lands for an airport construction. The measures against protesters were the same applied in Congo, Africa, meaning mass rape to women and children, and torture and imprisonment to men by police officers. The mass rape applied in Atenco was used as a weapon of war in order to cause fear and disarticulate the social movement. The responsible for this horrific experience was Enrique Peña Nieto, who was at that time the governor of the State of Mexico (2005-2011) (Amnesty International, Women of Atenco, 2006).
In this context, the democratic transition in Mexico shows that the risk of going back to anti-democratic measures and brutal rulers is always present, and the high levels of corruption is one of the most dangerous threats for the consolidation of democracy, which can trigger a myriad of problems such as narcotrafficking, violence, extreme poverty, restriction of freedom of expression, limitation of civil rights, and infringements of human rights.
Equally, the consolidation of democracy is not complete if there is not an improving of public health, education, housing, access of clean water and reduction of the gap between rich and poor, and of course the application of the state of law and the implementation of mechanisms of accountability.
As well as, the empowerment of citizens to decide whether politicians get to stay or have to go. In Mexico, in theory, the citizens have the power to kick the politicians out of office, albeit in practice, Mexico denies its citizens this right, and once politicians are elected there is no way to remove them or hold them accountable until the end of their elected tenure. In this sense, it is urgent that the consolidation of democracy takes into account the accountability of their representatives and the empowerment of citizens to judge their performance.
Enrique Peña Nieto arrives to the presidency with a party that was absent from power for 12 years and in the middle of violent protests and controversial elections, and faces huge challenges in the political, economical and social spheres. However, the big question now is to know if Enrique Peña Nieto will be able to address the still incomplete consolidation of democracy and be able to lead the country to a more equal society with less corruption. Doubtless, Peña Nieto is confronted with a great opportunity to transform the country and to show to the world a true peaceful democratic consolidation.
Bio: Dr Nubia Nieto holds a Ph.D. in Geopolitics from the Sorbonne University Panthéon I- Paris, France, a Master’s in Latin American Societies (DEA) from the Institute of Latin American Studies (IHEAL), Paris III, France, a Master’s in Political Science from the National Autonomous University of Mexico UNAM, Mexico. Diploma in Latin American Studies (DELA) at the IHEAL, France a Diploma in Political Analysis, UNAM, Mexico, a Bachelor Degree in Sociology and another one in Communication Sciences from the Autonomous Metropolitan University UAM-Campus Xochimilco, Mexico and a certificate in Foreign Policy Analysis from the University of Birberck, London, England.