Some TV anchors – Lou Dobbs among them – have signaled the immense corruption reigning at all levels of government in Mexico. One area in particular has suffered huge losses due to that concept since its nationalization in 1938: the oil industry.
“One reason is a rottenness at Pemex’s core. The company loses at least $1 billion a year to corruption, its executives say, in a continuous corrosion of the machine that keeps Mexico solvent.” (Tim Weiner, New York Times, 1/21/2003)
Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) has revenues of more than 200 billion dollars a year, making it the largest company in Mexico. Unfortunately, it is owned by the Mexican Government and, unofficially, by its union, which jealously guards the enormous privileges that it has been granted by fearful legislators (They fear losing the large bribes). The oil company union bosses have amassed huge fortunes and have rarely been held accountable by the judicial system. Workers at PEMEX can actually designate their successor when they retire, usually a family member, thus ensuring a continuing level of inefficiency.
Pemex is just the tip of the iceberg in the area of corruption; ever since the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) took over the government in 1929 and ruled with an iron fist for 70 years, official corruption became part of all political dealings. The PRI lost their stranglehold on the presidency of Mexico in 2000 to the PAN (National Action Party), a right-wing group with ties to the Catholic Church, but corruption is still rampant at all levels.
There is a saying in Mexico which reflects the cynicism with which ordinary people view politicians: “A politician who is poor is a poor politician.” Of course, the same applies to our country’s elected officials, though we find a way to jail a few every year thanks to whistleblowers.
Reporters Sans Frontieres (reporters without borders) keep a tally of murdered journalists in each country; for 2007, Mexico was the most deadly in the Americas with 2 killed and 3 who disappeared without trace. The assassination of reporters, both national and foreign, is another serious symptom of the country’s extensive corruption.
Mexico’s military, once a proud institution, has become tainted with corruption. An ordinary soldier, usually taken from the ranks of rural Indian villages, earns approximately $500 dollars a month. Officers under the rank of general make little more than $2,000 a month, a pittance considering that their equivalent in the U.S. (Captain) makes more than twice as much. It thus makes them the ideal prey for drug lords who need their “cooperation” to allow convoys to pass freely through checkpoints.
Mexican policemen as a whole cannot live on their miserable salaries; the “mordida” or bribe has become an intrinsic part of citizens’ daily lives. I was stopped once – I was living in Mexico – by a motorcycle cop for illegal parking. As he started to fill out the ticket, he casually mentioned that I could avoid the fine by reaching an “agreement” with him. This happens every day to thousands of motorists who break traffic laws. Of course, the officer does not get to keep the whole amount; he has to “contribute” to the welfare of his boss, who in turn has to share upwards all the way to the main guy. The main consequence is of course to divert funds that could be used by cities to fix streets or repair municipal services.
More than half of the population in Mexico lives in poverty; in contrast, the richest man in the world is a Mexican tycoon, Carlos Slim, the owner of Telefonos de Mexico or Telmex. Posh resorts like Acapulco or Cancun abut Indian villages where people still live in the Stone Age. Cancun was initially developed by an ex-Mexican president, Luis Echeverria, who amassed a huge fortune while in office. He was also accused of engineering the massacre of students during the famed Tlatelolco manifestations against his corrupt regime (1968). Did he go to jail? Did he stand trial? Of course not. No Mexican president was ever brought to justice since 1929 for abusing the powers of his office; not even the inept Vicente Fox who served from 2000 to 2006. Fox began his term riddled with debts and left a rich man, no doubt the product of his wise “investments”.
Mexico could be a wealthy and powerful country, following the model of the United States. Both countries achieved their independence with a revolution against the European oppressor, Spain in the case of Mexico, at about the same time in history, 1776 for the U.S. and 1810 for the Aztec country. Both countries possessed an enormous amount of natural resources when they started their independent journey. Why is it then that one became powerful and respected as a world power, where its citizens can achieve their personal dreams, while the other became mired in scandal and corruption?
Some scientists attribute the differences in achievement to nutrition; Mexico’s is based on corn, while the U.S.’s is wheat. Others compare the European heritage and culture with the Indian and mestizo’s racial base. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that as long as Mexico’s extensive corruption permeates all levels of society and government, glaring inequalities and social injustice will continue to provoke the exodus of Mexican workers trying to make a better living on the other side of the border.