Mexico’s latest anti-corruption crusade is being led by a group of prominent social activists, lawyers, journalists and academics that have created an NGO aptly named “Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity.”
At a time where many see Mexico as a time bomb of social outrage, the group is trying to show that change is still possible by encouraging citizens to continue the fight against corruption within the framework of the system. And they're willing to bankroll that effort. The NGO is setting itself apart from other anti-corruption efforts by promising to fund and coordinate lawsuits, journalistic investigations, academic reports and media campaigns to expose and combat corrupt politicians of all stripes.
The group was specifically created to address Mexico’s so called “culture of corruption,” which is having huge political, economic and social repercussions. Corruption is not only hampering the country’s ability to compete in global markets, according to the 2015-2016 World Economic Forum report, but pushing Mexicans to increasingly mistrust their institutions, further weakening rule of law. The 2016 Global Impunity index ranks Mexico second to last on a list of 59 countries—a situation that some warn could bring Mexico's frustration to a boil in the form of a violent uprising, the rise of a Mexican demagogue, or a Brazil-like scenario of political upheaval.
But Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity insists the system can be fixed by exerting enough pressure on the country’s ruling class.
“We don’t want to only diagnose and then bash the problem, but offer solutions,” the organization’s co-founder Claudio González told me.
Before earning a reputation as a social activist for taking on the country’s corrupt teachers' unions, González headed social outreach efforts for big corporations and worked in government for nine years. But he says that after finding himself in some “uncomfortable ethical dilemmas” he took the path of philanthropy and activism as a way to bring about change.
“I left government with a bad taste in my mouth,” he told me. “I don’t believe in any government. I believe in citizens forcing governments to be more open and efficient.”
González's group will be far more aggressive against corruption than other NGO’s by targeting politicians with law suits. It’s also funding an investigative unit of top-notch journalists to expose corruption in both the private and public sectors.
“In Mexico many media companies have a serious corruption problem,” he said. “Many have government ties and depend on government publicity so it’s really hard for them to bite the hand that feeds.”
The NGO’s investigative team is being led by veteran Mexican journalist Sal Camarena, who has already recruited one of the reporters who worked on the investigative report that revealed Mexico’s first lady had purchased a $7 million mansion from a government contractor.
It's one of the group's first hires in what Camarena hopes to turn into an investigative reporter dream team.
“There’s a lot of Mexican media organizations doing good work, but we won’t have the anxiety and time constraints of filling out an entire edition or having normal deadlines like them,” Camarena told me. So far his team has published two reports exposing alleged acts of corruption by the outgoing governor of the embattled state of Veracruz and the the former head of Mexico’s National Water Commission.
There are some concerns that the organization could quickly become politicized after its first two journalistic investigations targeted officials from Mexico’s ruling party. But Camarena insists it's not a witch hunt and that his group will go after anyone regardless of their background.
“Good guys also sin,” he said. “Corruption goes to bed with everyone. We are going to be watching.”
Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity is part of a small yet growing trend of citizens pushing back against malfeasance. There are other initiatives including a citizen-sponsored legislative proposal popularly known as 3 de 3 (“three out of three”), which aims to oblige all Mexican lawmakers and candidates to publicly disclose their assets and conflicts of interest along with their tax returns.
In Mexico's most recent elections analysts point to corruption scandals as the main factor behind the ruling party losing seven state governorships to the opposition.
It’s small "victories" like these that renew hope by apparently showing change can still be attainable through democratic means.
“It’s going to be a frustrating task,” González told me. “I don’t think our political class really wants to change but they now know that in terms of public opinion they might no longer have a choice.”