If you follow the strange, magical realist politics of Mexico, you probably have noticed that lately the press has focused on members of the new millionaire club comprised of former governors of many states. This club is the result of a Mexican Lotto game in which only select politicians get to play and usually win big, really big jackpots. The downside is that afterward, the winners have to leave the country and play a game of hide-and-seek around the world. The governors lie low in places such as Italy, Guatemala, and the USA, not to avoid relatives begging for a piece of the jackpot or people urging them to invest their newfound money. Instead, they hide from the agents of Interpol who go chasing after them to force them to return El Gordo, o sea, the Lotto cash, the millions of dollars they actually stole from the coffers of the states in which they governed, needless to say, badly and left a long trail of financial shock.
Although the latest and most infamous Lotto winners belong to the PRI, a party synonymous with corruption, nowadays members from all political sides—including PAN, PRD, and Morena—are playing this lucrative game in Mexico. If you want proof of this, all you have to do is watch videos of the recent debates in the elections for the governorship of the state of Mexico, where the candidates spent most of their interventions accusing each other of some form of corruption.
These charges are common in Mexico, a country that is on anyone’s list of most corrupt in the world. Much has been made about the roots of this evil that seems to lurk everywhere, even in la sacristía of the church. One root is said to be deep in the pre-Columbian indigenous civilizations and another stretches back into the medieval institutions, which the Spanish transplanted with them to this continent. We inherited from these two worlds, el Mal Mexicano: the corruption that we all have to experience, that we cannot escape from, like catching a common cold. Everyone living in Mexico knows they will come in contact with some type of corruption, sooner or later, all through their life.
Maybe this is one reason why we like to say, los mexicanos aguantan. Yes, we do. Mexicans have learned to endure corruption and to see it as a part of their life. In the U.S. people have a famous saying: you cannot escape death and taxes. Well, in Mexico, you cannot escape death and corruption. Taxes can be dispensed with, as anyone working in the massive informal economy (such as taquerías and mom and pop tienditas) knows. La corrupción siempre está ahí, it is part of the landscape, like the Popocatépetl volcano, always looming in the background, ready to erupt at any moment. We just learn to live with this menace.
Corruption is the Mexican people’s burden, institutionalized along with the Partido Revolucionario. We always knew that politicians were like pigs at the trough, but they kept a certain amount of decorum; they stole from the nation in, let’s say, a polite way, not making much noise. Bajita la mano and not over the top. This is no longer the case. In the new millennium, el Mal Mexicano has gone viral; it is out of control. As the governors’ millionaire club shows, nowadays politicians of every ilk take as many millions as they want. They openly display their ill-gotten wealth and, without the slightest consideration, rub it in the face of the nation. Which explains why in 2009 they dedicated in Mexico City, “La Plaza de la Transparencia.” Corruption is now as transparent as can be.
Let’s talk of crime and punishment. In Mexico there’s only crime, seldom is there punishment, that is reserved for the nacos of the popular class who populate the prison system. Politicians are aware of this and have revved up corruption to the max. They know the consequences they’ll suffer for enriching themselves illegally are negligible. Most people in Mexico don’t seem to care since they’re on survival mode, busy trying to get past the war against the cartels and a weak economy. Politicians are quick to realize they will only get a bit of blowback from some opinion writers in the press and television. The funny thing is that because of the absence of the rule of law in Mexico, politicians have become shameless to the extent that they’re willing to go on television to discuss the need to pass anti-corruption laws! Afterward, they probably go back to their offices and laugh their ass off, as they transfer millions of dollars into bank accounts in Switzerland and the Bahamas, or buy million-dollar houses in Miami.
So, in view of this phenomenon of the Mexican Lotto, what should we expect of the upcoming presidential elections of 2018? As I reflect on the corruption running rampant in Mexico today, I can’t help but to think of a story told about President Álvaro Obregón, who lost an arm in a battle of the Mexican Revolution. Perhaps the story is apocryphal, but it goes something like this. It is said that in the midst of his presidential campaign, Obregón encountered many people unhappy because of the widespread corruption in government. After giving one of his speeches, he was confronted by an angry voter who accused him, and the other presidential candidate, of enriching themselves at the expense of the government, a charge he had probably heard many times. Obregón is said to have jokingly answered: “Ok, it’s true. Everyone will steal from the government. But tell me, who is likely to steal more, my opponent who has two arms or I who have only one!”
That is the choice Mexicans will have to make when they go to the polls next summer. They will have to decide for whom to cast their vote not based on the merits of the presidential candidates, but on which of the candidates will steal less from the fast-fading nation that is Mexico.
This piece appeared originally on the blog “POSTCARDS FROM A POSTMEXICAN”