‘A politician who is poor is a poor politician’ Carlos Hank Gonzales, former Mayor of Mexico CityIn Mexico’s 2000 Presidential election car caravans of 100, 200, 300 cars flooded Baja California streets and highways flying blue and white banners of the opposition party, the PAN, that had trounced the national ruling party – the PRI – in Baja California state elections for over decade.
Sparking the mass movement manifested by thousands of Mexicans displaying deep support for the PAN and its candidate Vicente Fox was his campaign slogan that “the PRI is corruption, corruption is the PRI.
Fox won, Mexico entered a new political paradigm from which it could never revert to the “good old days” of seven decades of one-party rule. That was demonstrated on July 1, 2018 when Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) won the Presidency and a majority in the Mexican congress with an independent political party he founded six years ago.
Nonetheless, the reviled Mexican corruption that fueled Fox’s smashing victory in 2000 hasn’t gone away; corruption has flourished for 500 years since maverick Spanish adventurer Hernando Cortez invaded mainland Mexico and conquered the mighty Aztec Empire with “100 sailors, 530 soldiers…” and Mesoamerican Indian allies.
Corruption in Mexico starts at the police officer level and has worked itself upward to the Presidency itself. President Carlos Salinas de Gortari whose election in 1988 was tainted by two crashes of new hi-tech computerized vote counting systems was personally touched by massive corruption. Few believe Salinas de Gortari really won the Presidency in 1988, on the other hand, many believe Salinas to have conspired with his older brother Raul to steal millions from the Mexican Treasury.
Salinas de Gortari was so politically injured by the multi-million dollar thefts from the Treasury by his family that when he left the Presidency in 1994, he left Mexico to live in exile in Ireland.
Brother Raul was convicted of embezzlement and of ordering the murder of his brother-in-law after a four year trial and imprisoned for a total of ten years before a Mexican appeals court declared him not guilty.
While Mexican judges were convinced Raul Salinas de Gortari was innocent, the Swiss and U.S. governments thought otherwise and passed $74 million of confiscated funds of de Gortari back to the Mexican government headed by the very man President Carlos Salinas de Gortari blamed for the economic shambles left by President Salinas de Gortari when he left Mexico in December, 1994.
New President Ernesto Zedillo was sworn in on December 1, 1994; he discovered that the Mexican Treasury was empty. Billions of pesos had been stolen by Salinas de Gortari’s brother and other henchmen. Mexico was broke.
Zedillo asked American President Bill Clinton for help in the form of a 50 billion dollar loan. Clinton agreed as did new Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.
A right-wing Mexican hating cabal organized by commentator Pat Buchanan and a clique of hard-right wing congressmen and AFL/CIO union leaders fought the loan. They continued the fight they had lost on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); those same antagonists are still around still fighting NAFTA, this time, however, they are joined by a U.S. President.
President Bill Clinton saved the day by loaning the money to Mexico from funds already appropriated and under the President’s control. Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, using the $50 billion loan, steered Mexico back from the financial Black Hole left by Salinas de Gortari and rewarded Mexico with a clean election in 2000 that gave Mexico its first democratically elected President in history, Vicente Fox.
Corruption lessened but didn’t disappear. In 2013 Forbes Magazine published an article about the ten most corrupt Mexicans, 13 years after Fox was elected. Several were governors or former governors that ransacked their state treasuries to an extent never experienced in Mexico. Billions appear to have been stolen by the state leaders while they were in office. Others were or are union leaders of teachers and oil workers.
It remains to be seen as to whether the new President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) will be able to clean up any part of the 500 year-old corruption that plagues Mexico. He says he will but can he?
In the first offering of Dr. Vincent Padgett’s “Mexican Government and Politics” class at San Diego State in 1961, the final examination demanded an essay on the state of Mexican politics in 1961.
My essay earned an A+. I wrote, “The young lawyer running for the Mexican congress blistered the political establishment to a huge mass of voters bused in to town by the local political “caciques” – chiefs. The crowd roared its approval. When he finished, his older opponent, the former mayor, former state legislator and former state attorney general looked out at the crowd and asked them – “Who would you rather steal your money, me or someone you don’t know?”
Can AMLO overcome a 500-year-old system like that when he becomes President on December 1?