Corruption Kills: A chronicle of tragedies foretold in Mexico

Last Saturday 7th of January, two of Mexico City’s underground trains collided between two stations killing one person so far, and injuring at least 59 others. Mexico City’s underground system is among the world’s largest metro networks. It covers 226.5 kms of track, and has 195 stations. It serves an average of 4.6 million people every day.

Unfortunately this has not been the only tragic incident in the past years. In May 2021, an elevated section of the Line 12, dubbed as the Golden Line in 2012, collapsed, leaving 26 people dead, and over 100 others injured. Since it was inaugurated in 2012, Line 12 was involved in multiple scandals. Just a year and four months after opening, it had to close due to serious security and safety issues. A Congressional Investigation in 2014 found out major structural flaws, the use of low quality materials, as well as a dubiously fast process of safety certification required to open the line. Despite this, Line 12 was allowed to provide the service.

Both accidents signal a series of tragedies foretold. Multiple administrations in charge of governing Mexico City, first under the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), and then under MORENA, have continuously ignored warnings. Recent infrastructure projects are proposed and carried out without contemplating the maintenance they will require in the future. Both incidents also highlight several huge flaws with Mexico City’s government style. It is plagued with institutional weakness, corruption, nepotism and lack of transparency.

The austerity measures adopted by Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) have further worsened this. Most states now ruled by MORENA have cut funding across the most vital sectors: health care, women’s shelters, and public transport. Ironically, although such cuts have been made in the name of fighting endemic corruption, it us a deeply entrenched culture of corruption and opacity that have contributed to recent accidents and losses of human lives.

Savings from AMLO’s austerity plan have not been put to use to improve failing services or carry out improvements in infrastructure. Most of the money has gone to finance the construction of AMLO’s pharaonic projects: the Maya train, the Dos Bocas Refinery, and the Felipe Angeles Airport. Projects engulfed in corruption scandals, nepotism, embezzlement and opacity in their contacts.

The recent tragedies can no longer be blamed on the opposition, the go-to enemy of the incumbent president. Mexico City has been ruled by AMLO’s closest political allies for at least the past 20 years. Under the rule of Claudia Sheinbaum, the maintenance budget for public infrastructure has been severely slashed. It is clear that years of economic mismanagement, embezzlement, corruption and nepotism have all played an important role in these unfortunate accidents.

The last 4 years of the history of the Mexico City’s underground system will be characterised by constant negligence, opacity and flagrant impunity. Those that are guilty  remain unpunished. Some can aay, they have even been rewarded generously. Not only are they key members in AMLO’s government, they’re also the two frontrunners leading MORENA’s options as presidential candidates for 2024: Marcelo Ebrard and Claudia Sheinbaum.

The latest accident in Mexico City’s underground system shows that corruption kills. It also shows that those who engage in corruption are betting on going unpunished, due to the enormous rate of impunity in Mexico. AMLO’s closest allies and his own presidential cabinet have a long corruption track:

  1. AMLO employed 4 nephews in top jobs in his government: Rodrigo Beltrán Campero Calderón; Fernando Beltrán Camper Calderón; Thelma Beltrán; and Martha Alicia Magdaleno Medina.
  2. In 2015, Pío, AMLO’s brother was videotaped receiving large sums of money that he fail to declare.
  3. Delfina Gómez, the now candidate to the governorship of State of Mexico, illegally withheld 10% of the salary of all civil servants in the municipality of Texcoco, to finance MORENA’s electoral activities.
  4. Manuel Bartlett, general director of the Federal Electricity Commission, broke the law in  2019  by hiding 23 residences and 13 companies.  Even though the deeds and the constitutive acts were made public, AMLO fiercely defended him. He accused that everything was a plot and a political attack. He, however, made no attempt to refute the data. He instructed his collaborator Irma Eréndira Sandoval, Secretary of Public Administration, to investigate the case. But in doing so, he publicly dictated the conclusion: his friend and official was innocent. The official investigation was carried out and Bartlett was exonerated.
  5. Concepción Falcón Montejo, AMLO’s sister in law, was accused of the embezzlement of over 200 million pesos in Macuspana, Tabasco.
  6. Jessica Moreno Torres, another sister in law, was also accused of embezzlement of over 250 million pesos in Veracruz under the administration of Javier Duarte.

This list can go on, tracing back to the very beginnings of AMLO’s political career.  There is no corruption anymore, says AMLO over and over again. Sometimes, he adds a nuance: “Corruption is not tolerated from those in the federal government.” He hopes that by repeating that statement every time, people will actually believe corruption is. La a thing of the past under his rule. This just confirms another common trait of his ruling style: what is important is the discourse, not the facts; propaganda repetition, not evidence; rhetoric, not reality.

What should be worrying for Mexicans is the fact that AMLO’s favourite candidates to succeed him, Marcelo Ebrard and Claudia Sheinbaum, also have a shameful record of corruption.  Sheinbaum, his clear favourite, in Tlalpan, Mexico City, committed proven omissions to civil protection laws that allowed the fast and unsafe construction of the Rebsamen College. On September, 19th 2017, following a 7.1 magnitude earthquake, the Rebsamen College collapsed, killing instantly 19 children and 7 adults. The construction of the building where the school was located, was carried out without meeting the minimum safety requirements. Sheinbaum went even further, and a decision was made arbitrarily to prevent any investigation that would allow  information to be made public for four months, under the protection of a court order. The Delegational Transparency Committee, in an extraordinary session on October 27, 2017, reserved the information. This would allow Sheinbaum to participate in the election to become the Mayor of Mexico City without being legally accused of serious violations.

More recently, in December 2022, a protest took place in Xochimilco, Mexico City, following a construction of a hydraulic infrastructure project that would reduce water supply to residents. Sheinbaum authorised the use of force against the protesters and allowed destruction of their private property. She has also participated actively in advanced campaign acts, personalised promotion, illegal political rallies and misuse of public resources to position herself as MORENA’s 2024 presidential candidate. This has already been sanctioned by the National Electoral Institute (INE).

In 2018, over 30 million Mexicans gave AMLO the benefit of the doubt. They believed he would transform Mexico and end rampant criminality, corruption, poverty, impunity. 4 years into his administration, everything remains unchanged. Poverty and violence have even deteriorated under his presidency. A never ending cycle of violence combined with constant scandals of nepotism and mismanagement continue to topple AMLO’s mountain of political miscalculations and repetitive mistakes. Economic resources that could have been used to provide the much needed maintenance to public transport infrastructure are being funnelled to an illegal presidential campaign.

Under previous governments, there was at least the counterbalance of opposition and critics to those in power. Today, AMLO has normalised division and attacks on those who dare to criticise his policies. In doing this, he fragments opposition, marginalises, and ostracises critics, thus preventing unity among dissident voices. Mexico will have its next presidential elections in July 2024, and local state elections in Coahuila and Estado de México this year. MORENA seems to be leading the polls for the next 3 electoral processes despite the party’s inability to produce tangible result in any arena. Perhaps we’re approaching a new kind of epidemic: Disaffection, indifference and the absence of historical memory is now becoming a widespread disease among the Mexican electorate.

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza
Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza
Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza is a politics and international relations tutor at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She gained her Bachelor's in International Relations at the Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City and her MA in International Relations and World Order at the University of Leicester, England. She holds a PhD in Politics and International Relations from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She has spoken at numerous international conferences and has written on topics such as democracy, migration, European politics, Contemporary Mexican Politics and the Middle East. Her research interests include: Democratisation processes, governance and theories of the state, contemporary Mexican politics, Latin American politics, political parties, international relations theories, contemporary USA-Latin America foreign policy.