Corruption and the Drug War

My partner and I haven’t had to deal with much local corruption here in Mexico.  The times when we thought we’d have to pay a bribe here or there: when our car was towed, when receiving a cellphone plan discount, getting our immigration papers etc., nothing was implied.  Even trying to give a generous tip was sometimes refused.

It’s a nice reality from what we read before we came.  We were told that the local police would stop you for a cash payment, border officials might need an incentive to leave you alone, and “morditas” (little bites) would be required to make life smooth.

Instead, in recent years everyday Mexicans seem to be less and less corrupt as a culture.  Maybe they instinctively recognise the damage it does to their economy and way of life, or maybe enforcement against such corruption has increased.

Unfortunately, corruption in Mexico still permeates anything to do with the drug war, senior business leaders and politicians.

As part of the federal government’s protracted war on drug cartels, swathes of mayors, local police chiefs, elected officials and community leaders are arrested for corruption relating to the drug trade.  Even the head of Mexico’s narco offensive in 2008 was bought. A lot of the times the problem is greed for money and power.  But sometimes the corrupted don’t have much choice.  Either they accept money and help the drug traffickers, or they and their families may be kidnapped or shot.

And the latter is also common here.  An English language client of mine was shot at in his car while giving a friend a ride back home.  She is the daughter of a member of the judicial police and had received death threats.  Federal police and soldiers are ambushed on the roadside, tortured, decapitated.  Senior politicians are assassinated.  There are thousands of kidnappings per year.

I still feel safer here than in many parts of the USA and New Zealand – partly because most of the crime is centered near the US border, in Mexico City, and/or is drug related.

The problem is that many state and local police are corrupt or inefficient.  I read an estimate that 98% of crimes in Mexico are unpunished.  Municipal police can be paid as low as 30 pesos an hour ($US 2.27).  That sort of wage doesn’t encourage anyone to put themselves in harms way.  It also promotes widespread corruption.

There is a lack of transparency and checks and balances in local, state and federal budgets.  Politicians earmark essential funds for pet projects, and siphon money as it is spent.  This is a problem in the USA as well, but in Mexico it’s harder to trace.

In my opinion, Mexico’s Drug War started by President Calderon (a good man, but hamstrung by widespread self-interest and corruption in his government and administration) is unwinnable unless the rich and powerful of Mexico renounce corruption and their own ties with the drug cartels.