Is Corruption in Mexico Cultural or Institutional

Is Corruption in Mexico Cultural or Institutional

thebiteJust recently two people in San Carlos that I know very well were forced to deal with corrupt government officials. These officials were from the the state, not the city of Guaymas. What is interesting is how these two individuals dealt with the corrupt government officials. Both people secretly taped the officials that were preparing to extort money form them. One individual showed the officials that they had been recorded whilmordida-1e asking for a bribe and then threatened the officials with exposure if they did not back off. They backed off! The other individual never told the official they had been taped and was only going to use the taped conversation if they were unable to resolve the situation with a greatly reduce fine, which they succeeded in doing. So the question from this excellent article by Vadillo below is very relevant to me. What do you all think?


Please consider taking the poll on this question below and I do recommend reading the below article before you take it and then seriously ponder your answer! Gracias

Is Mexico Corruption Cultural or Institutional?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...
Is Mexico Corruption Cultural or Institutional? The Question of Andrés Guardado’ Gold Gup Penalty KickPosted: 30 Jul 2015 10:14 AM PDT

Sinembargo: Jorge Javier Romero Vadillo*

The unjust penalty marked in the last minute of regulation time in the match between Panama and Mexico in the semifinals of the [CONCACAF, Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football] Gold Cup, and Andrés Guardado’s decision to make his kick with the intention of scoring a goal has generated an interesting national debate, despite the trifle that a soccer game is in the midst of the sad national circumstances.

MV Note: With this penalty kick in overtime, Mexico won and advanced to the finals, where they defeated Jamaica. 

On the one hand, the chroniclers of television at the time of the event … the many always outraged in the social networks and various newpaper commentators have expressed irritation that the player executed the kick despite the lack of doubt by anyone that the referee’s call was unfair. On the other hand, there have been those who have defended Guardado because what he did was play by the rules of the game, by which the game referee is the undisputed authority on the field and even though his decision may be wrong, it cannot be contested. Two articles published in El Universal, one by León Krauze and the other by Mauricio Merino clearly summarize the polar positions on the issue.

Merino, perhaps the most prominent expert on corruption among Mexican academics, sees in Guardado’s action a reflection of the ethical disease in the country. In scoring an unjust goal, says the professor from CIDE [Center for Research and Teaching in Economics, a private university specializing in social sciences.], the player acted like many entrepreneurs who twist the law and pay bribes to get contracts, or public servants who turn a blind eye to corruption because of the money they receive. Thus, for Merino, corruption is an ethical problem that would be resolved if we all acted in accordance with principles and moral values.

Krauze, however, sees Guardado’s action as appropriate behavior within the environment of the game: in making the goal, Guardado did as he should, as both teams had agreed in advance to submit to the referee’s decisions, one of the basic principles in the rules of soccer. There was thus no violation of ethical behavior by the player, because he acted within the regulatory framework and took a legitimate advantage.

Beyond being anecdotal, the controversy is relevant insofar as it raises two ways of understanding the phenomenon of corruption that grips the country and that is undoubtedly one of the main causes of its economic stagnation, inequality and backwardness. I usually agree with Mauricio; I have fought a thousand battles with him, including the crusade for accountability to which he has been committed, but not in this case.

The idea reflected in Merino’s article is that to fight corruption, the thing to do is to undertake a process of moralization: those who are corrupt are so because their morals are twisted. Thus, the solution would be to reissue the call to the moral renewal of society proclaimed by the government of Miguel de la Madrid [president, 1982-88] thirty years ago. The cure of the evil would be an educational or religious matter of propagating spotless ethics in Mexicans. In essence Merino agrees with Peña Nieto that corruption is a cultural issue.

I think Krauze gives better clues regarding this issue. The question is: what is the appropriate behavior within a given institutional framework (rules of the game)? Corruption exists in Mexico in a generalized manner not because Mexicans are more morally twisted than Swedes or Germans, but because the institutional environment, the real rules of the game (not the written ones, which are usually worthless) make corrupt behavior appropriate and rational.

The driver who gives a “mordida” [“bite”, bribe] to the traffic police doesn’t do so because his soul is eaten away by moral degradation, but because that is the most appropriate behavior to solve the problem in which he became involved. He negotiates his obedience to the law directly with the agent because this practice is institutionalized and it is the rational behavior in the given environment. If he were to do the same in Berlin or London, it would be absolutely irrational behavior, because the police there would not be willing to negotiate obedience to the law, and it is likely that the Mexican willing to offer a bribe would end up in jail, as would the police for having behaved like a traffic cop open to bribery in Mexico City.

Rational behavior is not absolute. It is an adaptive mechanism for the institutional environment in which one operates, and what is rational in one society can be totally irrational in another. A friend of mine, an architect of impeccable rectitude, spent three days trying to renew the registration for his car, an older model, but each time he got to the clerk’s window, he learned that he lacked a specific piece of paper. His ethical behavior was stupid when all the gibberish could have been resolved with a hundred pesos [US$6] and a smile to the official who attended to him.

Corruption in Mexico is rational because it is the right way to deal with a civil service based on making deals with clients that has solved the problem of agency by granting relative autonomy to its employees to personally manage the rules and negotiate in their own way obedience or disobedience to laws conceived not as the actual rules of the game but precisely as boundaries to be negotiated.

The problem of corruption is not rooted in the morals of drivers, or business people or officials, but the way in which the Mexican State has established its relationship with society: handing out privileges and protections in exchange for income or political support. It is true that stronger public ethics would help, but it would end up being superfluous where the operation of the State involves selling favors…. Spanish original

*Jorge Javier Romero Vadillo is a political scientist, professor and researcher in the Department of Politics and Culture of the Autonomous Metropolitan University, Xochimilco Campus. He holds a masters in Political Science from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a doctorate from the Faculty of Poltical Science and Sociology of the University Complutense of Madrid. He is a regular contributing columnist for Sinembargo.

13 Responses to Is Corruption in Mexico Cultural or Institutional

  1. I would be very interested and very hopeful to hear some comments on this post since I would suspect that almost anyone reading this post that has been in San Carlos for any amount of time has had some kind of experience with La Mordita!

  2. Can I say both? I could take a stand, but am I going to fix the system? And who am I, a gringo, to fix the system? There’s enough to be fixed. I want to fix my problem, not manana, not with multiple trips back and forth, taking up costly time, and then still I might reach the ‘mordida’ roadblock to get it done. If you escalate the situation you just pay a higher mordida and hit more red tape down the way. The high officials are going to get their pay and mordidas. Do I really think the money is going to get recorded and go to good causes? I understand fighting it in some situations to fight the good and just cause, but sometimes I’ve made a small seemingly harmless mistake, so… give the first official in the heat and first line of fire a couple cokes, or spend twenty minutes, possibly hours or more, and pay the undeserving boss a thousand plus pesos to his pocket and get the same wave on?

  3. No young man you can not say both!! LOL, I will post here what I did on Facebook,

    For me I personally think that the corruption is institutional in regards to state officials. Culturally many Mexicans have accepted this institutional corruption as a way of life but these last two incidents in San Carlos were people recorded the conversations of the officials is interesting and if more people did it what might happen…………………..? Could there be a change in the air coming…………..

  4. I lived in Puerto Vallarta for 3 years and drove out every 6 months for the visa. When you get pulled over at 6 am just outside of Navajoa for “speeding dangerously” which he new it was B.S. and I knew it was B.S. but I was not going to go to the police station and wait to take care of the ticket when all I had to do was hand him 200 peso’s after negotiating from 900 peso’s. I know I’m contributing to the problem and he knows he has me, that I’m in a hurry to get home, so he get a little from me (and others in the same situation) and I’m on my way.
    Now I fixed the problem and moved to San Carlos, forget that drive out every six months. Never had a problem here, so far, been here six months. Maybe here I might go to the station and deal with it there, but not out in the middle of nowhere.

  5. Just to add one more thing, I do think it is corruption Institutionally in gov’t positions. The local population hates it as much as we do but they have lived with it their whole lives. It’s called the have’s and the have not’s. I have seen, when they get in a position to get that job (cop, etc.) they also become another corrupt official. It’s a way to supplement their terrible income, which by the way is almost un-livable. The majority of Mexican citizen’s are fair in their dealing I’ve had with them, so long as they don’t get promoted to a official job.

  6. Corruption is a international pandemia, even though it sounds redundant;, is all over the world; perhaps minimun in Scandinavian countries. In most of “first world” countries is in the big companies and politicians. is privative of the human race. At least of some individuals.

  7. I think it’s cultural, it’s part of the “Spanish Hangover” after Spain stole, raped, killed the original folks living there and left in place the form of government that exists today…..

  8. I was stopped by the cop in a patrol car in Hermosillo. He said I had speeded through a school zone. I was alone and terrified. I produced my Visa and said = take me to the police station. After an hour he let me go on my way. I think it Cultural because when I told my experience – most people were not shocked.

  9. Hey Amigo Vince Radice, I believe it is both; There have been instances where I paid a small mordita and everything was forgiven, times where I paid no mordida and nothing came of it, except some wasted time on my behalf & that of the cop, and one time where I refused to pay a modida, taken to jail and then had to pay a mordida to get out or perhaps I would still be rotting in the hell hole of which I never want 2 sea again! 😉 I did vote for Institutional as I lean to that side just a bit more.

  10. I think that if corruption in Mexico were institutional it could be fixed fairly easily via transparency and accountability measures. Won’t happen. Anyone who’s spent time in Mexico knows it won’t happen. So, my conclusion is that since corruption in Mexico cannot be fixed via the system (institutional) then the corruption in Mexico is probably cultural. Just my dos centavos. This, after considering and concluding that the corruption in the USA appears to me to be institutional vs. cultural.

  11. The thing is Pam that most Mexicans I know absolutely hate the fact that they get extorted and I think the majority of Mexicans don’t want to fight the system hard. If they did then the system could be changed. I vote Institutional and I use elections in Mexico as an example. For 70 years PRI had a strangle hold on power in Mexico. There was finally election reform and no one can argue that Mexican elections are not more transparent. I think it is simply going to take more time and more Mexicans to reject the idea of Institutional Corruption. I don’t believe that Mexico is Culturally corrupt. There are populations here rich in culture and communities yet poor economically and I think that is the grand problem. The poverty makes one cynical that nothing can be done.

  12. Now let’s vote on the corruption in the USA …does it appear to be institutional or cultural! Hahaha. It’s a sad state of affairs. USA has a legal form of corruption in the form of lobbying. And MANY corrupt elected officials have been fixin’ the books for a long time. I think greed and a lack of accountability is what’s sending our countries down the road of corruption. What say ye?

Leave a reply