Corruption and Mexican Political Culture

Article excerpt

Contemporary Mexican political history brims with dramatic, soap-opera-like scandals; wild accusations; seemingly credible evidence of widespread corruption (high and low, bureaucratic and political); and periodic, almost ritualistic anti-corruption campaigns. Yet the end of the PRI's long reign coupled with global trends has lifted corruption and the anti-corruption movement to a new level, what Camp, Coleman, and Davis (1999) refer to as the "politicization" of corruption. (1) Indeed, in contrast to just a decade ago, we now have data on everything from the frequency and types of corruption to periodic assessments of the administration's efforts to curb it. Data compare the levels of corruption in Mexico (perceptions and participation rates) to those in other countries (via Transparency International Corruption Perception Indices; Mexico does not fare very well) and by state (the most corrupt, the Federal District; the least corrupt, Colima; TM 2001b). The once highly technocratic Secretaria de Contraloria y Desarrollo Administrativo (Secodam) has become more engaged and conspicuous, social organizations have become more informed and involved, the press dishes up a daily helping of news about corruption and the "scandal-of-the-moment," and academics and students have begun to analyze this once-neglected dimension of the polity.

Corruption surfaced as a prominent theme on Vicente Fox's campaign trail and a priority for his administration. The political outsider lashed out at the deep-seated corruption stemming from years of PRI rule--a generic target easy to blame for virtually all of society's ills--and during the first few months in office he put together the high-level Intersecretarial Comisi6n contra la Corrupci6n, the integrated Programa Nacional para la Transparencia y contra la Corrupcion, and a social pact known as the Acuerdo Nacional para la Transparencia y el Combate a la Corrupcion. In certain ways Fox's anti-corruption program resembles those of his predecessors: strong on rhetoric, weak on results. (2) But unlike past anti-corruption campaigns, the current anti-corruption movement features an acute attention to cultural values and the engagement of civic organizations. Such innovations raise important questions: How might these changes influence the dynamic of the anti-corruption campaign? Do they suggest a different outcome for the current anti-corruption drive?

In this paper I looks at two broad aspects of Mexico's political culture relating to corruption. In the first part I examine recent polls gauging the public's perceptions about corruption and related areas. Data describe the extent to which corruption is considered a national problem; perceptions about levels, areas, and causes of corruption; assessments of Fox's anti-corruption campaign; and confidence in public institutions, politicians, and the people. The descriptive studies offer a panorama--a cognitive map--of Mexico's "culture of corruption." As noted, such data have really never existed until now, so besides what they tell us about Mexicans' views, these polls, the product of social organizations, also represent a new ingredient in the current anti-corruption drive. In the second part I look at this new component, exploring the range of societal organizations currently engaged in anti-corruption activities. I conclude by discussing how this unique ingredient might potentially alter the nature, dynamic, and outcome of the current anti-corruption campaign.


Before exploring Mexico's culture of corruption--defined here broadly as popular attitudes and opinions about corruption and participation in the area--it is best to begin by asking about its theoretical relevance and place. While the notion of a culture of corruption is generally accepted in the literature, there is little agreement about its significance. (3) The key controversy centers on the nature of the relationship linking culture and corruption. …