John McCain’s great timing

John McCain, the presumptive U.S Republican presidential candidate, couldn’t have timed his trip to Latin America better. Not only does he fly into Colombia a day before 6-year hostage of the FARC Ingrid Betancourt is liberated, he then rides into Mexico City this morning days after the Merida Initiative gets approved in El Norte.

Some of that great timing is pure coincidence – some not. Continue reading

Bribe culture in action

Corruption within Mexico’s law enforcement agencies is reputedly rife, and recent figures show that people here spent more on bribes last year than they did during 2005. But it’s always interesting to see hearsay happen, and yesterday I had the pleasure of witnessing the power of the bribe first hand.

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Mexicans spending more on bribes

The fact that there exist official statistics on the amount and size of bribes paid in Mexico is perhaps indicative of the level to which corruption and the ‘informal economy’ is ingrained in Mexican Society.

The latest figures from Transperencia Mexico show that Mexicans spent 42% more on bribes last year than in 2005, splashing out a massive $2.6 billion. That’s an average of more than $24 for each of Mexico’s 105 million people.

A brief survey of friends shows that some have paid up to 500 pesos to policemen to get out of parking/ speeding and drinking infractions. But the best bribe story has to be a friend who got stopped for having a dodgy back-light, and gave the policeman such a hard time he eventually got off with just giving him a piece of gum as his payoff. Nice work.

For my part, I recall watching the TV news one afternoon. The newsreader was talking about how there is a problem in Mexico City with people dumping their trash on the pavement / sidewalk rather than leaving it in their house and bringing it out when the garbage guys pass by. It’s an offence, but it doesn’t carry a fine. He went on to say, on network TV, that the police were going to be of no help enforcing the law because there was no money in it for them – people weren’t going to pay a bribe if they weren’t eventually going to have to pay a fine. Such overt acknowledgement of the city’s system made me laugh.

There’s more on the nature of the types of bribes paid through this link – but it’s important to remember that the poll included tipping garbage collectors and other little ‘mordidas’ which in my mind, is more of a tip than a bribe. You decide.

Severe human rights problems persist in Mexico: US State Department

The headline might be stating the obvious, but for the record, according to the 2007 country report from the US State department, released this week:

‘The [Mexican] government generally respected and promoted human rights at the national level by investigating, prosecuting, and sentencing public officials and members of the security forces. However, impunity and corruption remained problems, particularly at the state and local level. The following human rights problems were reported: unlawful killings by security forces; kidnappings, including by police; physical abuse; poor and overcrowded prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detention; corruption, inefficiency, and lack of transparency in the judicial system; confessions coerced through physical abuse permitted as evidence in trials; criminal intimidation of journalists leading to self-censorship; corruption at all levels of government; domestic violence against women, often perpetrated with impunity; violence, including killings, against women; trafficking in persons, sometimes allegedly with official involvement; social and economic discrimination against indigenous people; and child labor.

Read the full report here.

‘Innocent until proven guilty’ to underlie Mexican justice system

Sweeping overhauls to Mexico’s criminal trial system announced last week could bring the country into the modern world, according to the Financial Times. People suspected of crimes will be presumed innocent until proved guilty, according to the reforms backed by President Felipe Calderon.

‘For the first time – and assuming that a majority of the country’s 31 local legislatures approves the constitutional change – defendants will be presumed innocent until proved guilty. Trials will become open and more transparent, with judges and lawyers having to work in public and under the scrutiny of the media.’

amnesty.gifBut according to human rights groups, some of the elements of the reforms threaten to undermine human rights by allowing prosecutors to enforce house-arrest on suspects or to put suspects in jail before they’re charged.

Alberto Herrera, executive director of , said: “We want the judicial system to be efficient but this can mean permission to violate human rights.” Continue reading