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Mexico

'Mordida' remains Mexican way of life

Literally translated Mordida means "bite." In Mexico, it means bribe - the backhander, normally involving the greasing of palms via a small exchange of cash to avoid a traffic infraction or to untie red tape.

It's the thin edge of the wedge in bribery and corruption, which certainly isn't confined to Mexico, but has, by all accounts, held this country back for far too long.

Independent experts outside official circles say that the bane of corruption is being tackled and isn't anywhere near as rampant as it was in years past. Yet it still lingers in small form and also as grand larceny.

One story that recently made the headlines was the so-called Lady Profeco case. The Head of Mexico's Federal Consumer Protection Office (Profeco) Humberto Benitez Treviño was fired because his daughter Andrea threw a tantrum about not being allocated a table in a swanky restaurant.

Denied what she insisted was her rightful place, she threatened to call Daddy and get the establishment closed. Soon inspectors from Profeco arrived and alleged that rules had been violated.

A firestorm of criticism and outrage ensued. Mexico's Minister of the Interior Miguel Angel Osorio Chong waded in and announced that Benitez was fired. He stressed that although the hapless parent had no direct involvement in this sorry chapter, the whole inedible incident had tarnished the image of the agency. So Dad carried the can and was obliged to swallow the consequences.

Corruption culture

Antonio Luigi Mazzitelli, who's based in the Mexico branch of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, focuses on corruption and ways to combat it.

Luigi Mazzitelli, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
Copyright: James Blears, DW Mitarbeiter, Mexico June 2013

Mazzitelli says public awareness against corruption is growing

"On the one side, there's increased institutionalization. On the other, society scrutiny of VIP behavior goes in the same direction - namely, corruption is not acceptable any more. And the political cost related to impunity is becoming so costly that no one wants to bear it. The culture of citizenship, democratic participation in the handling of public affairs is increasing. This is one of the most important features of contemporary Mexico."

Another considerably more significant case on a much larger scale of corruption concerns boxes stuffed with more than 90 million pesos ($7 million) found in an office of Jose Sainz who was finance secretary during the 2007-2012 Administration of Tabasco State Governor Andres Granier. This is part of an ongoing investigation into alleged vast embezzlement.

Current Governor Arturo Nuñez has announced that an audit of his predecessor's Administration identified that 1.9 billion pesos are missing.

After returning from the United States, the former governor complained of chest pains and checked himself into a plush hospital for almost two weeks. A judge ordered his detention for 30 days while further investigations are launched. He’s now been charged with money laundering and embezzlement and transferred to the prison Reclusorio Oriente in Mexico City. This is the man who once boasted he went shopping in Beverly Hills, buying hundreds of suits and pairs of shoes. He later tried to retract this statement, claiming he was drunk when he made it.

Eduardo Bohorquez, Executive Director of Transparencia Mexicana, points out that corruption and impunity are illicit twins with the one expanding the perception of the other. He says that access to information regarding accountability is considerably better nowadays, but in many ways this is a tool and not an end in itself.

"In the past 10 years some 25,000 public servants have been sanctioned because of corruption in administrative procedures. But you still have the perception of the big ones operating freely in the system and that only certain levels of public servants are being punished."

Dollar and peso bills 
Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/GettyImages)

Stamping out corruption is a huge task

Public perception

The Mexican public would like to believe that the overall situation is improving but is still often faced with the unpalatable everyday realities. Laura Patricia Venegas Medina says that corruption permeates all social levels. "Corruption is a crime, irrespective of the amount involved. The robbing of a single peso is the same action as that of a thousand pesos. It's the actual process which is involved."

Mario Camacho says he does believe that the government is trying to improve institutions but he also says that people who offer bribes have to share a significant portion of the blame because it's not easy for those in positions of power being offered that cash to say no. "We have to be hopeful there will be a solution, if not in the immediate future, then maybe in the medium term."

Measuring any form of corruption anywhere isn't easy. Those who perpetrate it tend not to leave a contract or a receipt behind. But Bohorquez explains that studies in Mexico show petty corruption is an ever-present problem. It gobbles up around 14 percent of the average family's income - the equivalent of $32 billion annually.

However, he has identified a silver lining. "In Mexico we now have a Congress that is independent and exercising pressure over the Executive branch. This is not working at the speed Mexicans would love to see, but it is working. This is not anymore a society that is waiting quietly for things to happen."

Mazzitelli agrees. "I would say that rather than looking at a half-empty glass, I prefer to look at a half-full glass. Probably 10 years ago none of these cases would have been under public scrutiny, which means that the situation has changed. The important thing is that they are starting to be addressed by Mexican institutions at federal but also increasingly at state level. And civil society is taking a stand with respect to corruption and corrupt behavior, making it more and more unacceptable."

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