During the last decade, Mexico has reached unprecedented levels of violence, not only in quantitative numbers but also in qualitative terms. For instance, 2017 was the most violent year recorded in the past two decades, with more than 29,000 violent murders and followed by 27,000 recorded in 2011.
Not only various quantitative indicators of public security reveal a highly deteriorated situation; in states such as Guerrero, Michoacán or Sinaloa, the barbarism has also been unprecedented. Mass graves, bodies hanging from bridges and unknown amounts of forced disappeared people are unfortunately common in those regions. The kidnaping of 43 students in the municipality of Iguala, State of Guerrero in September 2014, by local policemen and drug traffickers, is an example of the situation affecting certain regions of the country; a situation that the new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) will have to face through a systemic approach that hasn’t been adopted yet.
Certainly, the cruelty, violence and public insecurity observed in Mexico demands urgent policies and actions. However, these are the expressions of a deeper structural problem that catalyses lawful and unlawful agents who distort public institutions: Corruption.
It is important to call attention on this dynamic due to the fact that if corruption isn’t seriously addressed, the criminal expressions – drug trafficking, kidnappings, forced disappearance and femicides, among others – will keep increasing, evolving and reproducing in Mexico, no matter the policies and actions taken.
In fact, the case of the 43 students reveals the structural role of corruption, as this kidnapping was only possible through an extensive network of collaboration between the “Guerreros Unidos” criminal group and local authorities that included policemen and the mayor. Additionally, as expected, the subsequent investigations carried out by the Prosecutors Office included corruption and irregular procedures, such as torture to obtain guilty pleas used in indictments.
As a result, last June a Federal Mexican Court stated that the reports, conclusions and indictments achieved by local authorities -including prosecutors- were invalid. The same federal court ruled that a truth commission should be established to clarify not only the original kidnapping of the 43 students but also all the subsequent wrongdoings during the investigations.
The initial kidnapping of 43 students was already a social tragedy and the structural corruption along with institutional chaos exacerbated it even more. This case therefore reveals corruption, impunity and institutional chaos across most of the Mexican public administration structure.
When corruption affects almost the entire public structure, it neutralizes the tools and mechanisms in charge of confronting corruption itself. Unfortunately, this has also happened in Colombia, at the beginning of the century when narco-paramilitary forces coordinated their actions with executive, legislative, and judicial operators. This is an example of how corruption can become both systemic and structural.
In Mexico today, as in other Central American or Central African countries, corruption isn’t only a matter of millionaire bribes paid to obtain contracts. Corruption is the catalyzer that sustains several types of illicit markets. From trafficking of minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to a parallel customs office supported by a president in Guatemala, corruption is at the base of domestic and transnational criminal networks. At such an extensive scope, the traditional concept of corruption must be reformulated to explain a mutual coordination of players who reconfigure the raison d’être state institutions.
It is easy to recognize that corruption and its subsequent impunity have structural roles in the deteriorated situation of Mexico: both will hinder every social or security policy. Funds for social policies will end up in the pockets of a few public servants and public and private firms, as it has happened several times. Likewise, actions and policies for confronting insecurity will fail when money, coercion and favors flow among criminal structures and some public servants in the judiciary and security agencies.
It seems like the newly elected president has a good idea of the structural role corruption plays in the problems and challenges Mexico faces. During the election, AMLO constantly repeated that eliminating corruption would increase the economic, political and social opportunities of the country. Indeed, considering how the Peña Nieto administration constantly denied the problem, acknowledging the situation is a good starting point for AMLO, although insufficient.
Despite a few laws for promoting transparency, establishing a specialized anti-corruption prosecutor -who hasn’t been appointed- or promoting anti-corruption campaigns; in reality there are no efficient tools for prosecuting and judging massive networks of corruption, impunity and co-optation. Several innocuous processes against corrupt governors have shown this ineffectiveness during the last administration.
After decades of ineffectiveness against corruption and impunity, most investigators, prosecutors and judges will likely lack the required tools for conducting the demanding processes. If this process has been difficult in Guatemala, even with the support of the United Nations through the International Commission Against Impunity, expectations in Mexico are very low.
AMLO therefore needs a clear strategy for dramatically strengthening the capacities to investigate, prosecute and judge corruption, as an unavoidable condition before trying to improve any deteriorated social or security situations within the country. This strategy must go beyond anti-corruption campaigns and inefficient laws.
International support will be required to break the strong perverse causality between corruption and impunity. In the case of the 43 missing students, for instance, an international group of independent experts was required -and critical- for truly achieving some truth. Therefore, it’s very likely that something similar will be needed for achieving the truth in the perverse cases of corruption and co-optation that currently affect the structure of the Mexican public administration.