Mexico – the World’s Most Corrupt Country

MoneyChangingHands It’s easy to find examples of crime and corruption within the ranks of Mexico’s police and federal governments. Despite having more billionaires than most other countries on the planet, Mexico is considered one of the most corrupt countries in the hemisphere. This, while having a GDP (gross domestic product, which measures the effectiveness of a country’s economic output), that is ranked 15th in the world.

Consider the following.

Dagoberto Rivera Servin, aged 26, sought medical attention at a Red Cross station for head wounds he received from a thrown bottle during a riot. After treatment, he was detained during which time he was threatened and beaten by the judicial police. The next day Dagoberto was forced to sign a confession admitting to multiple offenses including gang activity, rioting, and “offenses against public officials”. When he appeared before the judge, Dagoberto explained that he had been coerced into signing the confession, that he was not allowed to see an attorney, and he had not even been allowed to read the “official” statement that the police took from him. The following week the judge committed him for trial despite Dagoberto’s allegations of torture and coercion. The judge ruled that only his first, original confession was admissible. Dagoberto spent seven months in jail before being released on bail.

Aaron Alejandro Garcia, 19 years old, told Amnesty International that he had been beaten by municipal police officers during a disturbance in town.  He was arrested and placed into custody of the State Public Prosecutor’s Office where he was stripped and beaten with a gun.  He was forced to lie on the floor while police placed a plastic bag over his head and partially asphyxiated him.  He then signed a confession and was charged.  When he explained to the judge that his confession had been obtained under torture, he was sentenced to 10 months in prison.

Amnesty International reported that “the Public Prosecutor’s Office has excessive powers to determine the value of evidence gathered, take statements from the accused, and restrict the defendant’s access to an adequate defense.  In practice, this allows cases that come before a judge to have strong procedural weight against the accused, as the case file is already completed.”

In addition, unlike the remainder of the world, in Mexico, judges are encouraged to dismiss any retraction of a confession if the accused claims the confession was obtained under duress.  Otherwise, they presume any accused criminal will claim their confession was obtained under torture (despite the fact that it would be much easier for the accused to simply not confess at all rather than give a false confession).

Mexico’s corruption extends beyond the arm of the law too.  Raul Salinas de Gortari, brother of former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari was accused of receiving millions of dollars for “influence peddling” and stashing the money overseas.  His accusers state that Raul used his influence and power to bribe business owners.

In another example if Mexican government corruption, 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.  Analysis by the Mexico City newspaper, Reforma, showed that Montiel could not have earned enough money as governor to pay for the properties.  The public presumes the money was derived from bribery and extortion.

Mexico’s corruption spills from the highest levels of the government to the military branches that the Mexican government oversees.  Mexican officials have been spotted at border crossings helping traffickers unload drug shipments.  There are several documented cases of United States border patrol agents chasing drug runners to the border and reporting that Mexican military waited on the other side and even assisted the drug runners with the unloading of their trucks.  Strangely, Mexico has never extradited an active drug lord to the United States nor is there universal cooperation between Mexico and the United States in the U.S. drug war.

Beyond the Mexican military branches, heavily armed “zetas” or former Mexican military personnel, often trained by the United States, act as mercenaries.  They offer their services, including protection, extraction, and assassination, to the highest bidder.  Corrupt politicians’ and other government leaders frequently use their services in an effort to bend the will of people who oppose them.

Mexicans accept the corruption of their leaders with open arms.  Bribery is a way of life in Mexico.  The practice of “la mordida”, the bribe is common with police who pull tourists over for minor traffic violations and accept payment on the spot.  Most Mexicans are accustomed to paying bribes and the police are accustomed to demanding bribes to augment their low salaries.  In a recent survey, about 40% of the Mexican respondents admitted they had paid a bribe within the last year.

The reason for the corruption of the Mexican police forces is easy to assess.  Mexican police are often inadequately trained and most officers have very little formal education.  Proper background checks for new officers are never conducted which allows corrupt police or “plants” from the drug cartels to easily join the police forces.  In addition to the corrupt police forces, Mexican prisons are not secure.  Guards routinely accept payment from drug traffickers to allow prisoners to escape.

How did Mexico come to accept corruption within their government, a practice which has hindered the advancement of their country’s middle class?  When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico, they were sent with instructions to extract money from the locals in order to pay for their conquest.  In addition, the leaders the conquistadors put into place were told to do the same thing – extract money from the public to pay for their office expenses.  The Mexican governmental system evolved into a pyramid with bureaucrats at the top and everyone else below them benefiting from bribes, tips, or misappropriations of funds.  The money flowed from the bottom to the top.  Bribery has always been a way of life for Mexicans.

The acceptance of corruption as a way of life starts at an early age.  Mexican children are taught to distrust authoritarian figures, including police, at a very early age.  In addition, the Mexican public views corruption itself in a different light than others.  For instance, sexual misconduct by a public official is not considered corrupt because Mexicans easily distinguish between a person’s public and private lives.

The result is an intricate system of exchanges that allows people to support public officials and expect privileges in return for their support.  Combine these factors with overcrowded jails, poor record keeping, and little oversight of police departments (very few Mexican police departments have Internal Affairs divisions) and you have a society accustomed and accepting of corruptive practices.

This acceptance of corruption is harmful to other countries and hurts Mexico’s standing in the world.  For instance, their corruption spills over into the private sector and allows drug cartels to flourish.  The four main Mexican crime groups, Tijuana Organization, Sonora Cartel, Juarez Cartel, and the Gulf Group, prosper in a 142 billion dollar business and act as the major exporters of drugs to the United States.  Mexico’s refusal to cooperate with the U.S. in the war of drugs compounds the problem even further.

Can anything be done to reduce or eliminate the corruption?  In the late 2000’s, Mexico stepped up its efforts to fight against government corruption.  Of course, the drug cartels fought back with violence spilling into the streets and sometimes over the border into the United States.

Still, many in Mexico understand that the country cannot ultimately succeed as long as they tolerate a corrupt police and judiciary force.  In the 1990s, the Mexico City suburb of Nezahualcoyotl fired 318 officers, nearly its entire force.  And the governor of Mexico State fired his police superintendent after two policemen tried to carjack the son of then-president Ernesto Zedillo.

In 2010, 5,000 police officers were deployed to Juarez, one of the most dangerous cities in the world, to replace the corrupt military and police.  The Juarez police force explained that drug cartels simply paid better than their local government.  In essence, the police officers were more valuable to the drug cartels than to the local government.

Critics of the Mexican’s initiatives to combat corruption, point out that similar efforts in the past have in due course, always failed.

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