The New Vogue

Luis Rubio

From generalized and unpunished corruption Mexico has moved to centralized and purified corruption. What is left is the same corruption as always: only the adjectives changed.

The circus begins around the detention and extradition of the Pemex ex-CEO Emilio Lozoya but the corruption remains: a great hubbub, grand negotiations and a sole objective: distract the citizenry from the failures of the government, the terrible recession and the absence of action regarding the promise made by this President in his election campaign and that captivated the majority of the population: hope.

The preeminent promise of presidential candidate López Obrador was that he would end corruption.  The context was more than propitious not only because of the audacity that characterized corruption in Enrique Peña’s government, but also due to the population’s being fed up with what it perceived as the exploitation of natural resources for private advantage, permits and contracts granted to those close to those near the regime, and the privileges enjoyed by his cronies. As the information that Lozoya presumably has in his power suggests, corruption was not only an objective, but also a modus operandi: everything was fixed with money and no one or nothing was too marginal to be part of that perversity: member of congress, senators, journalists, governors, the opposition, entrepreneurs, the media. Peña comprised an extreme in the old practice and the very Mexican tradition of corruption due to lack of self-restraint: stealing was a divine right to be burnished in all its magnitude.

The history of President López Obrador is another: instead of fighting it, the new fashion is to centralize it. As in the good times of the PRI in the XX century, corruption is there to be administered from the presidency as an instrument to reward those nearby: relatives, close friends and favorites or to sanction the enemies. The novelty is that giving the presidential word is sufficient for cases of evident corruption to be purified: those who are close can never be corrupt because mere proximity disinfects them.

Corruption returns to be a trifling instrument of power: to generate loyalties and distract the citizenry: an old custom dating from the Colonial era, later refined in the XX century in form and substance, until reaching its current subtlety. What we are now observing is its ultimate perfecting in the manner of a media spectacle with vastly ambitious aims.

Rare was the government in PRIist times in which some functionary from the previous government was not apprehended to establish who was the new owner of the town. The practice was so frequent that the population knew the anticorruption laws as “the law of the letter carrier” because only lesser functionaries were prosecuted: all the rest were mere messages and personal retaliations. While the profile of those incarcerated from prior administrations escalated over time, it never achieved what is now presumed as possible: the prosecution of an ex-president.

The question is whether this a change of direction or a paltry strategy of distraction. Without doubt, the supposed evidence that Lozoya has in his possession entertains media and political value, but it is not obvious whether it could be employed as evidence in a judicial process that respects the rules of evidence and due process. The political usage of corruption is long-standing, and this government is preparing to take it to a new threshold.  But none of this implies that this would be combatting corruption or that it will sanction those proven to have incurred in that practice. The dilemma is whether to advance toward the eradication of corruption or merely give it new turn back to the usual: scapegoats instead of former functionaries properly prosecuted.

The matter is not a lesser one because neither is the circumstance. No government in the memory of anyone living today has undergone the size of the recession, the unemployment, and the violence, taken together, that characterizes today’s Mexico. The exceedingly strange moment that we are now living through, with a confinement that has frozen nearly everything -from the economy and political debate to social demands and personal conversations-, has created a political parenthesis that doubtlessly is the calm before the storm. Sooner or later these evils will explode and the government has not prepared itself to deal with its consequences. The economy will not recover soon, transfers to the president’s clienteles will be insufficient for addressing the needs, and the suffering will multiply irrepressibly. In contrast with other nations, the Mexican government appears to be petrified in place: in everything except the upcoming media circus and its unwavering concentration on the 2021 midterms.

The question is whether the attempt at distraction that the President is launching will be sufficient to release him from the responsibility of his poor decisions and incompetence in heading public affairs. In an environment where people are fed up with the status quo and as polarized, the natural cynicism of Mexicans will permit them to enjoy the comedy: nothing like seeing a president handcuffed, if the government achieves this-, but it will not change their opinion of a president whose principal vow was corruption, not chaos nor the circus. That is no mean difference.
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