Massive study details alarming extent of corruption in Mexico
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Massive study details alarming extent of corruption in Mexico

Last week, Mexico’s Center of Economic Investigation and Teaching (CIDE in Spanish) and The Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) released a lengthy report by María Amparo Casar, sociologist and IMCO’s Anti-corruption Director, detailing the nature and extent of corruption in Mexico.

The 63-page report, presented to the Mexican press last Wednesday, was titled “Mexico: The Anatomy of Corruption,” and drew from multiple sources of data collected by various entities to paint a picture of the specific nature of corruption in the country, as well as its social, political, and economic impacts.

Citing data collected in surveys conducted over the past several years, Casar reported that the majority of Mexicans perceive the public sector to be corrupt. Ninety-one percent don’t trust political parties; 83 percent lack faith in legislators; and 80 percent don’t trust the judicial system.

The distrust of these primary institutions of the democracy has a depressing trickle-down effect: only 27 percent of Mexicans say they are “satisfied” with their country’s democracy.

Mexicans don’t trust that concerns about corruption that are brought to public officials will be addressed or resolved. There’s legitimate reason to feel that way: only 2 percent of corruption-related crimes that are reported, investigated and tried ultimately result in punishment.

Other entities crucial to public safety and order are also subject to suspicion and skepticism among Mexicans surveyed. A full 90 percent of Mexicans don’t trust police and nearly 50 percent are wary of the military.

Corporations don’t fare much better in the public eye, and it’s not hard to see why. At least 44 percent of them have admitted paying bribes as part of business transactions — and if 44 percent have admitted to doing so, that suggests there’s a considerable number that have also bribed or been bribed but have not reported the transaction.

Eighty-eight percent of Mexicans consider corruption a frequent or very frequent problem and believe corruption has increased significantly in the past two years.

However, Casar’s report also details Mexican citizens’ own complicity in corrupt practices, showing just how complex and pervasive corruption is in the country.

A full 41 percent of Mexicans surveyed in the National Survey of Constitutional Culture, conducted by the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 2010, said that they are willing to break the law if confronted with what they perceive as the need to do so. And that need was relatively frequent and pervasive, if the results of a 2013 study by Transparency International are any indication: 61 percent of those surveyed had paid a bribe to a police officer at least once within the preceding year and 55 percent had paid a bribe to a judicial official during the past 12 months.

At the individual level, these bribes and “mordidas” (literally, “little bites” or “minor” bribes) have a significant financial impact. According to a study by Transparencia Mexicana cited in Casar’s report, 14 percent of a household’s annual income is ultimately designated, albeit unofficially, for “extraofficial” payments.

Meanwhile, corruption at the national level has devastating economic consequences, according to Casar.

“Investments are at least 5 percent lower in countries that have major corruption,” she wrote. Other quantitative impacts she cited include job losses related to piracy of goods, especially electronics.

Not all of the data in Casar’s report are contextualized accurately or fully. For example, in her brief to the press, the author stated that “in the past 18 years, the number of articles about corruption in the press went from 502 to 29,505. This,” she reflected, “represents an increase of more than 5,000 percent.”

While it’s undoubtedly true that the reporting on corruption has increased, there’s no mention of digital outlets and other developments apart from the increase in corruption itself that may be partly responsible for the increase.

Casar closes the report with some suggestions for ameliorating corruption, some of which are interesting, including prohibiting cash transactions at government offices. It’s worth considering, however, that the proposals, while innovative, would likely further marginalize those Mexicans — especially rural and poor Mexicans — who already find themselves in precarious financial and social positions.

The complete study can be accessed here.

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