Mexicans have become as used to politicians' promises to end corruption as they are used to knowing it won't happen.
MEXICO CITY - For ordinary people in Mexico, reports of corruption in the public administration are barely worth raising an eyebrow. In the collective conscience and popular imagination of Mexicans, cases of corruption are merely seen as unpunishable crimes and the corrupted as unredeemable public officials. Citizens have grown resigned that shady deals exist everywhere, and at all levels of government.
At the same time, it is no surprise that corruption has become a major theme of the next presidential elections, whose campaign kicks off next month. The three main candidates have already raised the issue repeatedly. The leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, AMLO, has made it central to his discourse and the conservative Ricardo Anaya has threatened to send the outgoing President Enrique Peña Nieto to jail should he uncover corruption in his government. The ruling PRI party of Peña Nieto can't avoid the issue, though its candidate José Antonio Meade has downplayed corruption in his platform.
Will we witness history?
Are we really about to start a new phase in Mexico's social and political life? Will the winner of these elections lay out the bases to take us closer to an advanced democracy, where the administration acts in line with the rule of law? Are we going to witness a historic event: the disappearance of kleptocratic abuse and some big white-collar thieves sent to prison?
There is every reason to be skeptical. Remember that we already have public institutions meant to fight this problem, including the Superior Auditing Law (Ley de la fiscalización superior de la Federación, LFSF) acting through the Federation's Higher Auditing Office (ASF), and the SFP or Civil Service ministry, directly dependent on the executive branch of the federal administration.
Last month, the front pages of Mexico's main newspapers reported that from 2012 to 2016, some 6,879,000,000 pesos (more than $300 million) were suspected to have been "diverted" using a mechanism that allows transactions between government bodies while skirting around the Law on Public Sector Acquisitions. This allowed public monies to be paid to non-supervised, private firms involved in the transactions. How was this swindle — or "diversion" to use the auditor's language — possible?
Enrique Peña Nieto , President of Mexico — Photo: kremlin.ru
It was simple: The mechanism allowed certain government ministries, public universities or state and municipal governments to pay for "consultancies' or similar services, many of which are not documented or did not take place. One name has emerged from this bundle of charges and pointed fingers: the head of the Agricultural and Territorial Development Secretariat (Sedatu), Rosario Robles, and ASF's suspicion of "diversion" of some two billion pesos in that ministry. But ultimately it was just another, disgraceful public spectacle for nothing, since legislators from the PRI, the Green party PVEM, and centrist PANAL, all voted to scupper any effective accountability. The matter has fizzled out and slunk away.
Nothing happened then, and nothing will. No suspect in these dealings has been removed from his or her position, while our parliament — and its dubious reputation — smothered the affair under endless procedural actions, formalities, and legalities. The media finally lost interest and moved on. And that is standard procedure for Mexican political life, where everything and nothing changes all the time.