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Down Mexico Way

Corruption is the reason Mexicans keep coming to America.

12:00 AM, Jun 21, 2006 • By JAMES THAYER
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EDUARDO had just graduated from the police academy and had been sent to a station on the outskirts of Mexico City. On his first day as a patrolman he was assigned to a senior beat cop, José, who seemed delighted to act as the tutor.

They walked around a corner and came upon two young men sitting on a bench drinking beer. José and the rookie Eduardo took the men to their patrol car, and drove around town for a while. Then the patrol car turned onto a quiet street, and stopped on the side of the road.

José turned to the young men. "All right now, boys, would you like me to alleviate your problem of drinking in the public right of way, or would you like to spend 36 hours locked up?"

"No, officer," one of the men replied

"Well," the senior officer asked, "what are you going to do?"

"All we've got on us is ten pesos," the man said.

"What do you mean only ten pesos?" José demanded. "What I want is money, but not ten pesos. I suggest you guide me to your home. In all likelihood your relatives have a little more money."

When they reached the family home, José told the rookie Eduardo to stand against the patrol car's door to hide the car's number. José spoke briefly with the father, who quickly produced 50 pesos. On his way out of the house, José reminded the father to keep his eye on his children to keep them out of trouble.

And the senior patrolman then summarized the lesson for Eduardo, "Never doubt anything that seems suspicious to you, because it is doubtless suspicious. Go check it out, because it's money."

This little episode was reported in Nexos magazine by National Autonomous University of Mexico sociologist Nelson Arteaga Botello and sociology student Adrián López, who joined a police force to investigate corruption. Artful variations of this scenario happen tens of thousands of times a day in Mexico. The shakedown is emblematic of the country, where corruption and cronyism are so deeply imbedded that the economy is profoundly and permanently crippled.

AS AMERICANS DEBATE illegal immigration, we tend to focus on the magnet that is the United States. We readily understand why people want to come here. But the pull of America is only half of the equation. The push of Mexico is the other half.

It is with good reason that Mexicans flee their own country.

We have two neighbors, of course. Our friends to the north happily export hockey players, timber, and Molson. The only Canadians waiting in line to get into the United States are seniors on crutches coming here for new hips. Canada "abounds in oil, natural gas, gold, silver, beaches, seafood, water, historic treasures, museums, industrial centers, and wonderful people."

Wait. That's College of William & Mary Professor George Grayson's description of Mexico, not Canada. Mexico has the same advantages Canada has. Why, then, does Canada work, while Mexico is so broken that its citizens flee en masse?

Let's start with corruption. In its entire history Mexico has seen only one peaceful regime change, six years ago when Vicente Fox of the National Action Party won the presidency, with hopes of ending what his advisor Sergio Aguayo termed "70 years of corruption." The Economist pointed out that Mexico was, in Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa's words, "a perfect dictatorship." It had the superficial appearance of a democracy, but the president could choose all the party's candidates, and so enjoyed nearly absolute power. There was no incentive to clean up the system.

"There is a total lack of control over the police forces," says Hiram Escudero, a representative in the Legislative Assembly of Mexico City. In a University of Wisconsin--Madison paper, Valentine Anozie and his colleagues note that 60 percent of crimes in Mexico involve policemen, that a survey indicates 90 percent of Mexico City residents have little or no trust in the police, and that 78 percent of Mexicans say it is normally necessary to pay bribes to resolve issues with the government. "Mexicans do not trust their police either to protect them from harm or to solve crimes," said National Secretary of Public Security Alejandro Gertz Manero, quoted in the BBC. Nelson Arteaga Botello and Adrián López conclude that "corruption in Mexico is by now thoroughly institutionalized and operates at the local and state as well as federal levels."

And if a Mexican can't work it out with the police, he's condemned to the court and prison systems. The BBC says, "Torture, intimidation, and coercion of detainees are entrenched practices in Mexico's criminal justice system." The Heritage Foundation in its 2006 Index of Economic Freedom uses these words to describe the judiciary and police: unprofessionallism, inefficiency, and corruption.