The Expert Take | Where is Mexico’s Fight Against Corruption Now?

expert I (2)By Viridiana Rios

The deadliest earthquake since 1985 hit Mexico last week, the second significant earthquake in 2017. With at least 225 victims, the parallels between last week’s earthquake and 1985’s are spine chilling. Both happened on the same day of the year, September 19th, and both have awoken a powerful civilian mobilization to rescue victims from collapsed buildings.

Back in 1985, corruption and violations of the city’s building codes were attributed much of the destruction. Today, an excellent piece by Animal Político has proven that the state of Oaxaca was hit the hardest during the first earthquake of 2017 due to corruption and poor use of tax-payer resources. The entire seismic warning system of Oaxaca had not been operating since January due to the state government’s debts to the service provider. The alerts were either stored in warehouses, or were sold online by private parties. In Mexico City, out of the 7,356 seismic alerts that the city’s government had bought, about 46 percent were never installed and had simply disappeared.

In the face of these events, corruption becomes a humanitarian crisis, rather than just a judicial issue.

Mexico’s organized civil society knows this and, as a result, has recently embraced a vibrant and ambitious agenda to improve the corrupt system. Lawyers have joined efforts with activists to propose to Congress the necessary laws and institutions to effectively prosecute corruption acts and to watch over the legislation’s implementation.

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How Mexico’s Anti-Corruption Fight Went Off-Track

09/18/2017 Americas Quarterly

By Viridiana Rios, Mexico Institute Global Fellow

Eighteen months ago, I wrote in AQ about the success of Mexico’s citizen-driven corruption fight in Congress. Civil society groups, academics and activists had pushed for the rejection of a watered-down anti-corruption bill and instead presented their own, sharpened version of the legislation. This citizen’s bill, called #Ley3de3 (or #Law3of3) promised not only to help identify, punish and prevent corruption, but to do so while promoting collaboration among different federal institutions and citizen groups.

Congress agreed to discuss the bill only after 634,000 citizens signed their support, and approved it only after trying several times to reduce its scope. Passage of the #Ley3de3 thus marked one of the most important breakthroughs for Mexico’s civil society since democratization began in the late nineties.

All of us who were part of this effort knew that it was a first step, but were sure that many more would follow. Little did we know how resistant to outside pressure – from civil society, the media and others – the government would prove to be when it came to cleaning up its act.

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A Victim of Trump (and Fundamentals), the Peso Falls

11/14/2016 Forbes.com, Mexico Institute Blog

By Viridiana Rios, Global Fellow, Mexico Institute

pesoI write today as a middle class Mexican whose savings lost 10 percent of their value when American voters elected a leader who pledged to renegotiate NAFTA and tax us to pay for a wall. As a result of the election and other factors, the Mexican peso has overtaken the Argentine peso and the South African Rand to become the emerging markets 2016 worst performer.

The Mexican Peso was a barometer for the presidential campaign. It lost 10 percent of its value when Clinton lost, 1.9 percent in the week after the FBI reignited Clinton’s email controversy, and hit its historical low in the days following the election as speculation turned to the potential impact of Trump’s first months in office. The peso spiked 1.3 percent in less than an hour during the first presidential debate, and when Trump’s lewd conversation about women broke, it gained 2.2 percent.

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Mexico Wins: Anti-Corruption Reform Approved

7/12/2016 The Expert Take, By Viridiana Rios

expert I (2)Mexico just approved an anti-corruption reform that required changing 14 constitutional articles, drafting 2 new general laws, and reforming five more. This is not minor. The reform is, by far, the most encompassing system to identify and sanction corruption that the country has ever had and its effects will be felt quite soon.

In this text, I present the story of how Mexico got here and provide an assessment of the virtues and challenges of this change.

The Government tries to fight corruption

The need to create an entity to fight corruption was among Mexico’s policy priorities, at least rhetorically, since well before the arrival of Enrique Peña Nieto to the presidency.  However, the first of the 266 commitments that Peña Nieto had made during his campaign was to create a “National Anti-Corruption Commission” (NAC).

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Mexico’s Special Economic Zones: White Elephants?

By Viridiana Rios, Global Fellow, Mexico Institute

expert I (2)In June 2016, Mexico enacted a federal law to create Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in four of the poorest regions of the country. The initiative aims to reduce the markedly unequal levels of economic development inside Mexico, with a set of wealthy, internationally connected northern states, and an agricultural south that seems mired in perpetual underdevelopment.

Mexico will create its first Mexican SEZ in the Pacific port of Lázaro Cárdenas, on the border of the states of Michoacán and Guerrero, and the other three will follow at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (Veracruz and Oaxaca states), Puerto Chiapas (Chiapas), and the Coatzacoalcos Corridor /Ciudad del Carmen (Campeche). The goal is to have at least one “anchor firm” operating in each SEZ by 2018, the last year of the current administration.

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Prioridades para el nuevo embajador en Estados Unidos

4/7/2016 Animal Politico

By Duncan Wood and Viridiana Rios

us mex flagMéxico cambió su embajador en Estados Unidos, nombrando a Carlos Manuel Sada Solana. La prioridad del nuevo embajador es clara: representar a México en una forma más constructiva y positiva, sobre todo ante el congreso estadounidense, identificando a los representantes y senadores que pueden tener influencia en la relación bilateral. Esto será importante no solamente en el contexto de este año electoral, también para la relación a largo plazo.

La principal tarea del embajador Sada Solana debería ser una: no responder de forma directa al discurso antiméxico que se está detonando por el periodo electoral, sino estratégica. Se debe enfatizar la importancia de nuestra relación con Estados Unidos, y los logros significativos que ha tenido México en los últimos años. Ello incluye la aprobación de reformas, la creación del Dialogo Económico de Alto Nivel (DEAN o HLED por sus siglas en Inglés), el desarrollo de una frontera inteligente, los esfuerzos bilaterales en energía, cambio climático, crimen organizado, y migración.

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Anger Management and Gun Control? New Ways to Reduce Violence in Latin America

3/29/16 Americas Quarterly

By Viridiana Rios, Mexico Institute Global Fellow

Reducing violence is not about controlling violent neighborhoods or even about controlling violent people. It is about inducing people to control themselves. That’s it. The best policing comes when no police are required.

The question is how to achieve this in Latin America, the most violent region in the world and home to countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Venezuela, each with homicide rates similar to war zones.

The answer may be unsettling. Many instances of large decreases in homicide rates in Latin America can be traced not to large-scale judicial or police reforms, but to changes in the behavior of gang members as a result of truces with their rivals. Homicides go down when rival drug gangs, in an effort to improve their business conditions, agree to reduce violence.

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Video | The Impact of Violence on Mexico’s Economy

3/29/16 Wilson Center NOW

Mexico Institute Global Fellow, Viridiana Rios is studying the impact of violence on Mexico’s economy and has come to some surprising conclusions. It appears that in some cases crime does pay. She discusses economic winners and losers in this edition of  Wilson Center NOW.

Watch the interview.

10 Ways to Reduce Violence in Mexico

3/3/2016 The Expert Take, Mexico Institute

By Viridiana Rios

expert I (2)This article identifies 10 punctual policy recommendations for reducing violence and containing crime in Mexico. Each of these recommendations were drawn from the results of “What works in reducing community violence,” USAID’s latest study, and by comparing it with evidence and analysis of violence-reducing strategies in Mexico. The goal is to push Mexico’s violence reduction efforts back on track, particularly now that murder rates have once again begun to rise.

Mexico is more violent now than a year ago. In 2015, murder rates were up at least 11% from the prior year, a sharp contrast with previous years when, since at least 2012, murder rates had diminished consistently.

Though violence prevention programs are quite common, more and better information is urgently needed to guide social investment targeted at reducing community violence. That is why this new report and the conversation about it hosted by theWilson Center’s Mexico Institute and Latin American Program in Washington, D.C. is so important. In the report, Harvard professors Thomas Abt and Christopher Winship did what many had tried before: analyzed decades of empirical evidence to identify the most effective policies to reduce violence.

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Mexico: From a Drug War to a War Against Corruption

2/16/2016 Mexico Institute, The Expert Take

By Viridiana Rios

expert I (2)Frustration. Such is the feeling that permeates Mexican citizens who have seen corruption and security scandals breaking one after another, year after year.

Cases like the disappearance of 43 students at Ayotzinapa, the release of private audios showing government contractors describing corruption operations in infrastructure developments, and the identification of millionaire government funds poured into programs without proper evaluations of impact, have all contributed to the founded belief that corruption is one of the most daunting problems Mexico is facing currently.

The Mexican government has proven unable to diminish such frustration, and thus is paying a brutal toll in terms of its credibility. Corruption scandals have been the main ingredient behind the sharp reduction in popularity of Mexico’s President, Mr. Peña Nieto. During the six months after Ms. Carmen Aristegui broke the news about him inhabiting a luxurious home that had not been declared as part of his assets, approval of the president fell 20 percentage points, sharply decreasing from 59% to 39%, according to Parametría, one of Mexico’s major polling companies.

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