Last year, a corruption case was filed against the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Mexico’s ruling party, by state prosecutors in Chihuahua. Dozens of PRI party members and politicians have already been arrested. Just over a month ago, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, the party’s leader, filed an injunction to stop any possible arrest warrants, though he has yet to be charged and maintains his innocence. Some are speculating that this means that Beltrones was involved and no longer wields the power that he once did to be above the law. Is this injunction an admission of guilt? Does this prove that this corruption case might help to rid Mexico of one the biggest threats to its democracy? Not so fast.
The charges in the case are in response to the 2016 state elections. It is accused that money was taken from public federal funds to finance political campaigns of the PRI. The prosecutors in the case claim to have evidence that Mr. Beltrones lead and designed the plan to use the money for political campaigns. Mr. Beltrones claims the injunction was filed in an effort to not be swept up into a “highly politicized case pursued by overzealous state officials.”
Corruption has a long history in Mexico’s political system. The modern Mexican political system was created in the 1930s with corruption in mind. Revolutionaries would be given government positions and money for extreme loyalty to the president. Since then, positions have been awarded based on negotiations and loyalty. The PRI, in particular, is notorious for its corruption. The PRI had power for 71 uninterrupted years from 1929-2000 and regained parliamentary majority in 2009 and presidential power in 2012 with the election of current president Enrique Pena Nieto. Even within their own party there is corruption – some officials claimed that the money taken for campaigns never made it to the actual campaign and was instead used by for others’ personal gain. PRI officials buy votes, pay cartels, are paid by cartels, take money from the government, and use federal money to fund campaigns, among other things. The PRI are not the only corrupt political party – when the National Action Party held the majority and the presidency the Mexican political system was still fraught with corruption.
A corrupt executive is not found in a healthy democracy. Accountability is a tenant of democracy. The most common cause of corruption is a combination of high discretion and low accountability by the government. Thus, a corrupt government cannot be held accountable or be truly democratic. In order for a government to be democratic, it needs to be free of manipulation. Yet, the definition of a corrupt political system involves manipulation. In democracies, decisions are made by the majority but in non-democracies decisions are made by the elites. In Mexico, the corruption of the political process makes this impossible. Corruption is a vital tool for authoritarian rulers to govern their regimes. In authoritarianism, executive power is centralized, loyalists are appointed, and the opposition is eliminated. This is exactly what is happening in Mexico’s executive – elites make decisions by appointing party loyalists and bribing decisions into being made. While Mexico is not a full authoritarian regime, seeing as civil liberties are still observed and there is opposition in the political system, it is not a full democracy either. The least corrupt countries are democracies, while the most corrupt countries are autocracies. Mexico has been and remains a very corrupt country.
There have been other cases against corruption in Mexico in the past, but most were stopped before they could really begin – let alone make arrests. So, this case is a big deal. In fact, one of the party’s top lieutenants was arrested in December of last year. This gives many hope that this case will be the one that sticks and bring an end to corruption in the Mexican political system. It is certainly the first time such a high-profile member of the party has taken such an action to address a corruption case.
While some may see Mr. Beltrones’ filing of the injunction as a sign that the corrupt elite that once seem untouchable are now coming crumbling down, it seems unlikely that this case alone will end Mexican politics’ corruption issue. Corruption is an integral part of Mexico’s political system and is unlikely to go away. It is part of the foundation of the birth of Mexico’s democracy. Mexico’s history of corruption has been holding it back from being a true democratic regime with all fairness and freedom. This corruption case may be a step toward ending this and the injunction filed by Beltrones is certainly a sign that this case is serious. However, due to the entrenchment of corruption in Mexican politics, it is most likely that this alone will not have much of an effect. The case does not seem to have had too much of an effect on Mr. Beltrones aside from filing the injunction – he was recently named the official coordinator for the PRI presidential candidate in the upcoming July election only days after he filed the injunction.
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