La Semana: Monday, Sep 12
The week in the 4T vs corruption and the rupture of the opposition
Welcome to a Monday edition of The Mexpatriate.
In today’s newsletter:
Is Mexico less corrupt under AMLO?
Last rites for the PAN-PRI-PRD coalition
Please share your comments, feedback and questions, and feel free to forward this to anyone who may be interested. You will find all sources linked to directly in the body of the text.
“We have three major problems in security and justice: 1) very few crimes are reported, 2) of those reported, few are investigated, 3) of those investigated, few are prosecuted in a just and expedient way. None of this is solved with military patrols.”
—Tweet by Alejandro Hope (@ahope71), security analyst
“In Mexico, the land of ghost stories, dead people can kill. Alejandro ‘Alito’ Moreno is one of them.”
—Salvador Camarena, journalist and columnist, on the beleaguered leader of the PRI and his party’s blow to the coalition with the PAN and PRD
“Governors who defend pre-trial detention should go visit the prisons they supposedly control, observe the conditions and assume responsibility. By the time they are ex-governors it might be too late for this visit because they will end up living there.”
—Tweet by Tito Garza Onofre (@garza_onofre), legal scholar at UNAM
Is Mexico less corrupt under AMLO?
“We can say that in Mexico the oligarchy no longer prevails, but rather the poor are prioritized, corruption is not tolerated, nor is impunity, there is no decadence in the government and public servants act efficiently.”
According to President López Obrador’s fourth annual report given on September 1, the promises of “la cuarta transformación” have been fulfilled. While it is customary for heads of state to aggrandize their accomplishments in such addresses, AMLO’s triumphant discourse seemed to describe an imaginary country. “No somos iguales” (“we are not the same”) was the slogan used in brief video messages broadcast by the president in the lead-up to the annual report, emphasizing the contrasts between his administration and his predecessors’. Aside from doubting this choice of words in the context of a highly unequal country, the statement begs the question: how have things changed?
Corruption, which in AMLO’s rhetoric is synonymous with neo-liberalism, has been presented as Mexico’s arch-nemesis, and it is difficult to argue the contrary. The insidious effects of corruption, defined as “the use of entrusted power for private gain”, can be identified in so many aspects of Mexican life, a source of much of the cynicism and anger with Mexican institutions. The scandals that rocked the Peña Nieto administration provided rich fodder for Morena and AMLO’s campaign to rid the country of a predatory political class intent on enriching itself while betraying the interests of ordinary Mexicans. “Corrupción” is one of the most oft-used words in his mañaneras and has become a catch-all for not only past sins, but present critics.
If Mexico were Middle Earth (bear with me), the ring of power would be corruption itself and in AMLO’s retelling, he would be Frodo, casting it into the fires of Mount Doom. The trouble with corruption is that unlike the ring, its power cannot be destroyed by one brave hobbit (or tabasqueño).
As part of his strategy to end corruption, AMLO and his attorney general, Alejandro Gertz Manero, have pursued some of the most notorious figures of the Peña Nieto era, including Emilio Lozoya, the ex-director of Pemex, and Rosario Robles, ex-director of the Sedesol (Department of Social Development). Both were implicated in the “estafa maestra” or “master scam”, a fraud of 7.6 billion pesos involving 11 government agencies. And neither one has been tried yet.
Robles was remanded to prison in August 2019, charged with abuse of public office. She was released on August 19 of this year after numerous petitions to the judge to allow her freedom pending trial. Lozoya—who has also been charged with accepting money from Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction company that spun a web of bribery across Latin America over thirty years—was granted an “amparo” or appeal to review his pre-trial detention last week. He has been in prison since November 2021 and his lawyers are attempting to negotiate another deal with the attorney general’s office (he was already a state witness). Lozoya and his family are implicated in receiving up to $10 million US, funds which were supposed to grease Odebrecht’s path to contracts with Peña Nieto’s government but which the FGR (attorney general’s office) investigation found were kept for personal use.
Aside from these high-profile cases, what has been done to eradicate corruption since AMLO took office? Is there any notable change? His opponents emphatically proclaim “no”—pointing to the lack of convictions in these cases, as well as a lack of transparency within this administration. Public contracts have continued the same trend as during Peña Nieto’s administration, awarded directly more often than via public bid (80.3% of contracts and 38.1% of public funds in 2021), which is considered a risk factor for corruption.
However, according to the ASF (Federal Audit Office), there has been a dramatic 56% reduction in irregularities detected in municipal and state spending from 2018-20. The exact mechanisms that have led to this improvement are difficult to identify. In an article by analyst Viridiana Ríos, she points out that some entities and areas that had previously shown signs of corruption may be getting audited less, while those with cleaner records are getting more thorough audits. And what happens when possible fraud is detected? So far, no criminal charges have been filed for any public spending irregularities found since 2019. “The amount of money that is audited should not be celebrated, nor the number of audits or number of irregularities that are found. What matters is the number of public officials who face legal action for irregularities that have not been cleared up.”
While AMLO has promoted the concept of governmental austerity as part of the anti-corruption crusade, in practice this has looked more like redistribution and centralization than budget-cutting. Some of the biggest beneficiaries thus far have been state-owned companies, Pemex and the CFE (Federal Electricity Commission), which also have a long track record of corruption. Pemex received state subsidies and stimulus worth 792 billion pesos from January 2019 to June 2022 (1.6 times more than the Department of Health in the same period). In the projected 2023 federal budget just presented last week, Pemex will receive 6.6% more funding than in 2022 while CFE funding will drop 2.3%. Meanwhile, budgets for regulatory agencies in the energy sector (CRE and CNH) have dropped or been stagnant during this sexenio.
On a global level, Mexico scores 31 out of 100 (0 is highly corrupt) on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). This score is unchanged from 2020, though it has increased a few points from a nadir in 2018 (score of 28). National survey data from INEGI (National Institute of Statistics and Geography) shows that in 2013, 88.3% of respondents considered corrupt practices to be frequent or very frequent at a national level. In 2021, the percentage was 86.3% of Mexicans surveyed.
Perhaps we are still trudging through Mordor?
Last rites for the PAN-PRI-PRD coalition
“Va por México” is on life support. This coalition of convenience (PAN-PRI-PRD) received a mortal wound this week when a PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) congresswoman, Yolanda de la Torre, put forward a bill to extend military involvement in security operations through 2028. Up until this week, the coalition had been adamant in its opposition to the militarization strategy of AMLO/Morena. The leader of the PRI, Alejandro ‘Alito’ Moreno, had been sustaining attacks from morenistas—particularly his successor as governor of Campeche, Layda Sansores—who have not only filed charges against him for money laundering and other crimes during his term of office, but have leaked embarassing audio recordings, most recently regarding his purchase of two McLaren autombiles, which are valued at $300,000 USD each. The controversies over ‘Alito’ led some to speculate he would resign, but it appears he instead opted for a truce with Morena to “save his hide”.
AMLO and Morena appear to have won this round, with the other opposition leaders on the defensive; as pithily put by columnist Salvador Camarena, describing PAN leader Marko Cortés: “he has been shown up as a naïve politician…is there any worse combination than those two terms together?”
The internal divisions within the PRI have also been revealed by the reactions to Moreno’s about-face on militarization, with some still adhering to their staunch opposition to AMLO’s security strategy and announcing plans to oust Moreno from his position.
More to come on this spectacle in Mexican politics soon…