Mexico: It’s not (just) a PR problem, It’s the corruption

Antonio O. Garza (Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s May 26, 2016 newsletter.

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It’s been nearly a year since President Enrique Peña Nieto pushed through a series of anti-corruption focused constitutional amendments.

These well-received reforms established a National Anti-Corruption System (to coordinate national, state, and local efforts), gave teeth to the Superior Auditing Office, and made the Federal Tribunal of Administrative Justice an independent court. However, passing these reforms was merely the first step. Members of Congress gave themselves twelve months (until this upcoming May 28th) to write and approve the necessary secondary legislation. Yet with the deadline rapidly approaching, the completed bills are still nowhere in sight.

Ley 3de3 was the most well-known of this secondary legislation bundle. The bill broke up the business-as-usual congressional politics, originating with civil society groups and garnering over 630,000 signatures (five times the number needed for congressional review). It requires officials to publicly declare three things: wealth, conflicts of interest, and tax records. Yet only five of the seven required bills were ever presented. And just as disappointing, the government’s proposed law for replacing the Ley 3de3 wouldn’t require officials’ full declarations to be made public.

Given this outcome, it’s no wonder that the latest polls show Mexicans souring on their elected officials. Last month, President Peña Nieto pulled in a record low 30 percent approval rating, while 83 percent of Mexicans reported that they don’t trust their congressional lawmakers. According to Peña Nieto, Mexicans are just undergoing a nation-wide grumpiness, with citizens failing to recognize the advances taking place across the country. But—as I wrote in this op-ed—a far better way to brighten up the “collective bad mood” would be for elected representatives to make inroads on the issues that Mexicans care about most.

In the United States, Americans are also engaging with the political process in an electoral cycle that in many respects has been characterized by its pessimism. Analysts have repeatedly commented on the isolationist worldview that has largely defined the campaign cycle. I also recently added my voice to this debate in an op-ed that takes on the hostile rhetoric surrounding trade and immigrants.

In short, I believe that blaming our country’s ills on a single issue or a group of people is not just wrong, it’s not leadership. And apparently Americans agree, as a recent New York Times article highlighted how voters are viewing this campaign as a classic case of the ‘evil of two lessers.’

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