Compared to the United States, Mexico is a culturally diverse country with a significant number of African descendants, stemming from the country’s history of slavery in addition to Spanish descendants who came into the country as colonialists. In addition, this diversity has also contributed to the unique culture of Mexico which also influenced its politics, both good and bad which would define its character after achieving independence.
If there is one ugly side to Mexican politics, it is the “culture” of corruption which threatens to undermine, if not destroy the government’s credibility, if not Mexico itself in the eyes of the international community. This paper is going to look at the nature of corruption in the politics and government of Mexico. Mexico stands at a very distinct position. It is the only developing country that borders with the United States. One of the distinguishing features of the Mexican culture is their political system.
Mexico follows a multi-party system in which the majority party known as the Partido Revolucionario Institucionalizado holds most of the elected offices. Political rule in Mexico has been in the hands of this party since the early 1930s. This party has developed a system through which state governments are given authority to run the states autonomously in exchange for their loyalty to the national policies and central government (Dow, 1995). In other words, the local officials are beholden to those in the national government in exchange for their autonomy.
In order to gain a further understanding of the Mexican political system, it can be divided into three parts: government of light, government of darkness and government of agencies. The government of light whose leaders are elected by the people constitutes of officials who are in the public eye, subject to public scrutiny (Dow, 1995). These leaders devise a number of strategies concerning how to address national issues, development of the rural areas, provision of food and services to the poor and the sick, and implementation of free trade in order to liberate the economy.
The “government of darkness,” on the other hand, is headed by officials appointed by members of the government of light. The main responsibility of the government of darkness, as stated by Dow (1995), is to handle claims between the government and the people and also take care of the significant investment relationships of the ruling party. Officials of the government of darkness are free from scrutiny by the press. It can be further inferred that this “branch” of government is free from any accountability due to its “dark” nature.
The third form of government is the government of agencies. This comprise of institutes, agencies, and businesses that are run by the federal government. These agencies are managed by permanent staff and are regulated by the executive arm of the federal government (Dow, 1995). It is widely believed, in North America, that if Mexico was to privatize some of the services provided by the federal government, it could get rid of the challenges it is currently faces.
However, this cannot absolutely clear the mess caused by the government of darkness whose free hand in doing things could spiral out of control and invite corruption which has bedeviled several administrations already (Needler, 1995, p. 17). Given these facts, one can see that this makes Mexico’s government susceptible to graft and corruption, the bane of any government. The most common form of corruption practiced is the politics of patronage, also known as the patron-client system or rent-seeking.
Such transactiomal politics is very prevalent, particularly in developing countries like Mexico. One must understand that political power comes from two sources in Mexico – the one from above and the other from below. It is the unlikely marriage of patronage, the one who wields authority and clout, and consensus, the influencing entity or the instrument of those in power to perpetuate themselves. In the harsh reality of politics, the patronage system maintains stability the government and keeps that political power in the hands of those in power (Dow, 1995).
The incumbents, more often than not members of the social elite, manage what is called a paternalistic pyramid, the higher members of which distribute benefits, such as public works, money, or goods to the lower members and in exchange for these, are assured of their continued loyalty in their respective locales. Mexicans see politics as a competition between parties for the control of the patronage system where the spoils system is the norm. A new administration would remove those associated with the previous administration and replace them with party members or supporters, not only as a reward but to assure their hold in power.
Mexican political parties are not like parties in the north. They behave more like unions (in the North American sense) or cliques . Each one has its band of loyal followers whose livelihoods depend on their attachment to the group (Dow, 1995; Needler, 1995, p. 17). Going back to the “government of darkness,” they are the ones who stand to commit graft and corruption because of their “freedom” from any accountability, operating on the rationale that they were not elected by the people and therefore not answerable to them.
As stated earlier, they are the ones who deal with the “clients” or rent-seekers on behalf of the government through informal or backdoor channels. These rent-seekers also belong to the socio-economic elite like those in power. They possess the resources necessary to keep the incumbents in power amd in the competitive world of capitalism, these cliques want to get ahead of other competitors and would curry favor from the government in exchange for something ranging from influence-peddling to wealth, often in the form of bribes which is often questionable when audited (Dow, 1995; Joseph & Henderson, 2002, p.
684). In addition, because of their freedom from accountability, they have a tendency to enrich themselves at the expense of the government. They would initiate projects and these require a budget and once the money is in their hands they could pocket it through kickbacks and find the lowest bidder to cover the loss. Since they are also a clique as well, they protect themselves from anyone who tries to curb their abuses and use their powers to deal with interlopers.
It can be said that this clique behaves like a mafia and as a result of their practices, help contribute to the unequal distribution of wealth and further widening the gap between rich and poor (Dow, 1995; Joseph & Henderson, 2002, p. 482). To a certain extent, it is also one of the (indirect) causes of Mexico’s drug problem as the trafficking of illegal drugs has become so strong in Mexico that drug lords and cartels became bold enough to defy the law, prompting the government to deploy the military to deal with the problem which still goes on to this day.
In conclusion, graft and corruption is the bane of Mexico’s politics just as in other Third World or developing countries. This is partly due to the legacy left behind by the former colonial masters which employed the “divide and conquer” rule where they favored local elites and gave them concessions and upon independence, the latter ended up imitating their former colonizers, behaving in a similar way, living a privileged life and sense of entitlement and at the same time marginalizing those of the lower classes and to ensure it stay that way resort to corruption to stay in power.
This is consistent to Lord Acton’s adage of power corrupting. Poverty can be attributed as the chief cause or impetus as people, driven by survival, resort to all means to make money to survive, to the extent of comprosing morals, especially in a predominantly Catholic country like Mexico.
Such people then would hitch their fortunes to their patrons and thereby continue this seemingly perpetual cycle unless good government steps in and initiates firmer and stronger measures to eliminate corruption for when there is no corruption, nobody will be poor and conversely, if nobody is poor, corruption will never happen or practiced by those in government. References: Dow J. (1995). The Mexican Political System and the Promise of Reform. Retrieved on July 28, 2010 from http://files. oakland. edu/users/dow/web/personal/papers/mexpol/mexican political_system. html. Joseph, G. and Henderson T. (2002). The Mexico reader: history, culture, politics. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Duke University Press. Needler M. (Ed. ). (1995). Mexican politics: the containment of conflict. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. Ross J. (Ed. ). (2003). Mexico: a guide to the people, politics and culture. Northampton, Massachusetts: Interlink Books. U. S. Library of Congress. (n. d. ). Government. Retrieved on July 28, 2010 from http://country studies. us/mexico/80. htm