No one likes corruption. If there was one topic every voter, no matter the political ideology, could agree upon it would be their disdain for corruption. So, why is it still around in countries like Mexico where the existence of corruption is no recent incident. The inability of countries to rein in on corruption, especially when it is overt, is a telltale sign of democratic erosion or the lack of democratic consolidation in the case of continual corruption. The corruption that has plagued Mexico for years will only continue to hold it back from truly becoming a more democratic country.
Mexico is no stranger to corruption. In a country that saw a one-party rule for 71 years, corruption became rampant and an everyday thing to citizens. The spread of it has reached all levels of government and society. It has become so entrenched in society that for the first time in the 2018 election, exit polls showed that the majority of voters said that corruption was more important than crime or the economy. With it being so widespread, the federal government has taken steps in recent years to build domestic institutions to combat the spread of corruption. In 2014, constitutional amendments were made to change the more federal Procuraduría General de la República into the Fiscalía General de la República (FGR). This in large part was so that prosecutors could have more independence when working and seeking litigation. In 2016, the Mexican Legislature created the Sistema Nacional Anticorrupción (SNA) as an organization with citizen oversight to prevent and investigate acts of corruption on both the federal, state, and local level. This organization was meant to be one that saw both the citizenry and the federal and local governments coming together to combat corruption. While both steps has good intentions, their mandates have not truly been met.
In Nara Pavão’s 2018 article, she claims that voters are often skeptical of politicians who claim to be able to handle corruption. Such is why corrupt politicians are often elected into office, because an anti-corruption candidate is not trusted by the electorate or all candidates are corrupt. However, when a candidate is trusted to tackle corruption, they are often voted in. Such an instance occurred in Mexico during the 2018 elections. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, more commonly referred to as AMLO, became the champion of the anti-corruption cause. So much so that he won by a landslide, winning above 50% of the vote and 30% away from his nearest challenger. After winning, AMLO claimed that tackling corruption would be one of his top priorities.
Despite receiving such a resounding mandate to tackle corruption, little has actually been done two years after taking office. In fact, some could argue that it has only gotten worse. Since coming to office, AMLO has railed against the bureaucracy of the government about how it stands in his way. While not too much cause for concern, paired with other comments it becomes alarming. For the 2020 fiscal year, both the SNA and FGR faced budget cuts which is odd for an administration that wants to combat corruption. Perhaps even as a result of budget cuts, the FGR was reported to be sitting on around 500 complaints of corruption without a single action having taken place. Furthermore, local SNA branches have been unable to hire and work efficiently due to local and state governments withholding funds. With all this in mind, in July of this year AMLO criticized the utility of the SNA, one of the largest organizations to fight corruption in the country. Perhaps most alarming, in his weekly press conferences it has been observed that AMLO uses the term corrupt to bring down his political opponents and shore up support before the next election. According to Ilan Semo, a professor at Iberoamerican University in Mexico City, “What AMLO does is media lynchings. He uses accusations of corruption to destroy political opponents.” This all leads to the conclusion that corruption is being weaponized in Mexican society. Government officials at the highest levels, most overtly AMLO, are using the fight against corruption to fend off controversies and political opponents. Such is what Lindsay Mayka and Amy Erica Smith state in their article about how corruption cases can actually undermine democracy. Even though AMLO was ushered into office to fight corruption, he is actually using it to shore up support politically and to push away all those who would go against him. Ironically, the candidate who wished to fight corruption is actually using that fight to undermine democracy. After believing in an anti-corruption candidate, voters may become even more pessimistic of anti-corruption causes in the ballot box in future elections. If nothing changes with the AMLO administration, much of what Pavão states will occur in Mexico.
Despite the unfortunate turn of events lately, there is still a path forward for the fight against corruption. The United States recently arrested and extradited former Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, who was the country’s former Minister of Defense. The primary charge was aiding the H-2 Cartel. With Cienfuegos in Mexican custody, the country and administration stand at a crossroads in terms of fighting corruption. While Mexico is no stranger to corrupt politicians facing prosecution in the past, the current administration is at a prime standing point to both prosecute Cienfuegos and tackle corruption even further. While there is a path forward for the country, no substantive stances may be taken anytime soon. As of right now, AMLO looks posed to repeat what he has been doing for the past two years – rail against the establishment while offering no solutions. Even though it got him elected president, the lack of results have begun to harm AMLO’s once high polling numbers. The country will be waiting to see how this administration handles itself in the months to come.