OP-ED: MEXICO: Corruption – A Shadow Looming Over President Peña

Peña Nieto's administration is once again involved in corruption allegations. Photo (c) Presidencia de la República 2017Peña Nieto's administration is once again involved in corruption allegations. Photo (c) Presidencia de la República 2017

The latest scandal in a long list of setbacks for President Enrique Peña Nieto was revealed in the form of a well-documented journalistic research published by online news portal Animal Político, in collaboration with NGO Mexicanos contra la Corrupción e Impunidad.

With the fitting title of “La Estafa Maestra” (“The Master Swindle”), this investigation showcased that, between 2013 and 2014, and using the aid of federal institutions such as the Secretariat of Social Development, the National Works and Public Sectors Bank as well as the state-owned energy giant Pemex, the federal government signed agreements with public universities and channeled funds that exceeded an amount of 7.67 billion Mexican pesos (approximately $429 million).

From this total, 3.4 billion Mexican pesos (approximately $191 million) were paid to phantom companies.

Frustration Meets Cynicism

The Mexican population is still trying to keep up with the number of public officials involved in corruption scandals. Photo (c) La Izquierda Diario 2017

The Mexican population is still trying to keep up with the number of public officials involved in corruption scandals. Photo (c) La Izquierda Diario 2017

With the publication of the news report, the Mexican population is still trying to keep up with the number of public officials involved in corruption scandals during ongoing Peña’s six-year tenure. In a non-exhaustive list, the following individuals have been linked with bribery, embezzlement, conflicts of interest and related criminal activities:

  • The President and the First Lady: during 2014, it was revealed that Peña and his wife, Angelica Rivera, owned a luxury residence worth 86 million Mexican pesos (approximately $4.6 million dollars). The property was not registered in the name neither of the President nor the First Lady but in the name of a construction conglomerate associated with Peña Nieto from his time as Governor of the State of Mexico.
  • The former Secretary of Finance and current Secretary of Foreign Affairs: in a similar fashion to Mr. Peña, Luis Videgaray was accused of having bought a property from a government contractor, which won millions of dollars’ worth of public works projects.
  • The former CEO of Pemex: according to a publication by Brazilian newspaper O Globo, Emilio Lozoya, head of one of the world’s leading oil companies, was directly involved in one the largest corruption case in Latin American history, the Odebrecht scandal. It was alleged that he received $10 million dollars in bribes, although he continues to deny any sort of involvement.
  • The current Secretary of Transport: after a large sinkhole appeared on a highway in central Mexico (which led to the death of two passengers who plunged into it), it was revealed that several warnings had been issued regarding the low quality of the infrastructure. Gerardo Ruiz Esparza, head of the Transport Department, argued that the sinkhole was due to an excessive amount of rain. However, it was revealed that the highway was built with contractors which were paid in excess or had been barred for improper practices.

Old Habits Die Hard

The "new" PRI (c) The Mexican Times 2017

The “new” PRI (c) The Mexican Times 2017

As if this was not enough, former Governors, such as Javier Duarte of Veracruz, César Duarte of Chihuahua, Guillermo Padres of Sonora and Roberto Borge of Quintana Roo, are also involved in corruption or embezzlement scandals and are either under arrest or at large. Although President Peña had many verbal blunders, the one that will end up defining his own Presidency is the way in which he described three of these Governors as examples of a “new PRI”, a generation of rulers that would bring a positive change for the party. How this turned out to be the literal opposite of what he argued in the interview is a source of awe for anyone interested in political communication.

In the past, cronyism and corruption are traits that have been used to describe the PRI’s way of governing. Nowadays, the label remains. With scandals involving public officials appear day after day, corruption seems to be a stain that follows the party currently in power. It is because of this reason that opposition parties have had a field day attacking the government and getting ready to fight with anti-PRI platforms for the 2018 Presidential election.

If Mexican society continues to be involved with political affairs, scrutinize government actions and demand functioning civic institutions as well as greater transparency within them, the country will continue its slow and uneven path towards a proper democracy.