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A simple proposal to combat corruption in Mexico

Was President Enrique Peña Nieto’s 2012 presidential campaign financed by illegal money? There must be an independent investigation in order for us to find it out.
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is a news anchor on Univision. Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of several best-selling books. His latest is “Take a Stand: Lessons From Rebels.”
Mexican Presidente Enrique Peña Nieto during a visit to Argentina in July 2016. Crédito: Getty Images

I propose that we fight corruption in Mexico, and my idea about how to do that is neither perfect nor is it certain to put all who are guilty in jail.

But it would be a great first step. I suggest we create an International Commission Against Corruption in Mexico under the auspices of the United Nations.

First, we have to admit that Mexicans by ourselves have not managed to put an end to corruption. Quite the opposite: We have many corrupt politicians, many institutions that are rotten to the core and many processes — from elections to awarding contracts to getting a driver’s license — that only move forward through cheating, bribing and scamming. Also, was President Enrique Peña Nieto’s 2012 presidential campaign financed by illegal money? There must be an independent investigation in order for us to find it out.

Mexico’s acting attorney general last week fired a prosecutor who led an investigation into allegations that Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht funneled cash into Pena Nieto's 2012 election campaign. Odebrecht is at the heart of a Brazilian bribery and kickback probe, known as Lava Jato or Car Wash, involving numerous governments in the region.

The second step will be more difficult to accept. It is the admission that we need help, and we need the urgent support of a reliable internationally recognized organization, like the UN, to untangle this extremely messy business.

Guatemala has already done it. After the end of the 1994-1996 peace process, Guatemalans realized that their justice system was very inefficient. In 2007 they agreed to create the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). A decade later, they managed to remove President Otto Pérez Molina from office, as well as his vice president, Roxana Baldetti, on corruption charges.
Mexico could do the same. If we wanted to.

“Could we take you to Mexico?,” I asked Iván Velázquez, the current head of the commission in Guatemala, and it was not really a joke.

“I believe each country has to define how to face corruption,” said Velázquez, who had been on the Supreme Court of Justice of Colombia. “Guatemala — its society, its government — was very brave in accepting the situation they were in and looking for international help.”

I’m not sure whether Mexico would dare to follow in Guatemala’s steps. Even minimal international supervision terrifies Mexican politicians, who know that the current system protects them. As the next presidential election nears, we should ask all the candidates if they would agree to have such a commission, and we will see how many of them, claiming a false nationalism, will say that we don’t need foreigners to tell us what is wrong and promote the prosecution of Mexicans. Their answers will reveal how they plan to govern.

This idea of an international commission should not get in the way of Mexico's selecting an independent prosecutor. The fight against corruption in Mexico would then be twofold: from the inside out, and from the outside in. And the two would not oppose each other. The commission would operate under Mexican law, supporting criminal investigations in the country and proposing reforms to the judiciary.

We must try something new, or corruption will continue to devour us. Only 6% of Mexicans said they agree with how democracy works in the country, and only 2% have "almost complete trust in the government," according to a survey by the Pew Center. This is one of the lowest trust index figures worldwide.

We can trace the blame back to Los Pinos, the presidential seat. Not long ago, President Peña Nieto publicly despised those who reported his administration’s corruption. He said, “Anything that happens today is blamed on corruption. Take a car accident, here, right at this crossroads, people will say even that was caused by corruption … Behind every event, they want to find someone to blame, a culprit.”

The real problem is that most crimes are left unpunished. Mexico has the highest impunity rate in the Americas, according to a study by the Universidad de las Américas, near Puebla. Killing and stealing do not have a high social cost.

What to do? Corruption is fought from the top down. I do hope one day to see a president or a cabinet member who has been given houses or received favors from a government contractor, or a governor whose family has obtained illicit gains from the state budget, or a former president whose public earnings cannot explain his immense fortune, in jail. We must start somewhere, and soon.

Before saying no, we must keep in mind that there are a thousand reasons for us to say yes.