April 23, 2004

Commentary:

Impunity and emigration

By Andrés Lozano

Manifold are the reasons for the Mexican emigration to America. The dire vicious circle of joblessness and poverty is often underlined as the most prevalent. Probably it is. Not that often the reasons for this catch-22 situation are fully scrutinized. After all, Mexico is far from being a destitute nation in both manpower and resources: Under no circumstance! So, where does this no-win situation arise? It does from widespread impunity: At the government and its pull peddlers.

There is a Mexican saying: Made the law, made the fraud. This may not make sense in America where the laws of the land are enacted through contentious debate and where remedies exist to keep lawmaking a legitimate endeavor. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Mexico without legal precedence, and where the Legislative and Judiciary have been merely rubberstamps of the Executive at the national, regional and municipal level, since colonial times. Legalism has prospered, make no mistake, but legality and justice have been absent always. Simply put: the people have had no role in lawmaking, thus the legal body, on the whole, is a series of inapplicable legalistic generalities at best and, in practice a means to justify widespread unfairness. As long as Mexico was a country with a small, scattered population, different chieftains and bosses dispensed their interpretation of the law without right of redress. The thing is that in the last seventy years or so, population has risen from under twenty to over one hundred million. Clearly, discretionary law is unenforceable in a complex society and the absence of a legal framework is the main reason for the national torpor.

If put to define the Mexican legal system as of today in a short sentence it could be: Biased and unfair laws of exception framed to favor vested interests in government and its private operators. I am mainly referring to civil law; if criminal law were included, the definition would be worst. Justice, thus, it is a totally alien notion. Without justice, without a plain field where to operate from, major projects wither and people simply do not risk their resources knowing in advance somewhere along the road they’re going to be heisted by the government, its cronies or by general random lawlessness. Awful? Reality is worst.

According to the CIA’s Factbook, Mexican GDP -purchasing parity power adjusted- was $925 billion in 2002, 40% was concentrated among the richest 10% of the population, while the poorest 10% received only 1.6%. That means that the richest ten percent has an annual income per head of $36,976 while the poorest ten percent, barely $1,479; that is: the richest ten percent receive an income 25 times larger on the average than the poorest ten percent. So, when the pressure to emigrate is analyzed it must be taken into consideration emigrants, at the $5.15 federal minimum wage level in America, can earn up to $12,360 US dollars a year, or 8.4 times what they earn in Mexico, plus live in a society where rules apply. Are better incentives needed to emigrate?

Oil and electricity are government monopolies. Public utilities, noticeably telecommunications, are private monopolies granted to buddies. Oil and power unions are among the most corrupt and inefficient in the world. Union bosses conspiring with politicians and bureaucrats abuse the government monopolies, bleeding them white. Teachers’ and civil workers unions siphon most of the government’s expenditure for their own private gratification. Telephone rates in Mexico are the highest in the world. Of course, Mexican laws protect all these privileges! That is their sole purpose. Typically, entitlement resources are spent at the payroll level. Yes, position padding is the standard procedure. Little or no resources are left for alleged social purposes. For instance, it is estimated only 15 percent of extreme poverty aid actually reaches intended recipients, the bulk gulped down by ‘sundry’ administrative expenses.

Mexicans thought that this corruption was the result of a one-party-system prevalent for over seventy years. They were partially right. Indeed, the legal decadence took place during that period, but in the process polluted the entire body politic as well. At least for a decade opposition party candidates have been winning elections and becoming government, only to behave as the previous robber barons. A case in point: Since 1997, a leftist party, the PRD, has effectively mismanaged Mexico City the country and world’s largest city. Their excesses make the previous thieves in charge look tame in comparison. It has been established beyond reasonable doubt that the city mayor’s associates have embezzled and mismanaged hundreds of millions. Yet, the mayor stands defiant to any legal investigation and may very well succeed at it. Moreover, he is the most popular politician at the national level and an almost shoo-in to win the 2006 presidential elections. Therefore, defying and breaking the law are no restraints in Mexico to become a popular candidate. This of course is a terrible thing: it implies a majority among voters do not consider respect of the law as a prerequisite to governing, sadly true since legality as a whole is an alien notion in Mexico as previously claimed. Now, I ask the question again: Are there better reasons to emigrate?

Andrés Lozano can be emailed at alozanoh@msn.com

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