Mexican Anti-Corruption Activists Welcome Sharp Criticism by Former US Envoy

Mark Browne | May 26, 2016 | 7:02pm EDT
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Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Antonio Garza. (Photo: Garza website)

Mexico City ( – Wading into a pitched debate over stalled anti-corruption legislation in Mexico, a former American ambassador says the country must clean house if it is to have any hope of changing a “pervasive” image in the U.S. of being “corrupt, violent and overridden by cartels.”

Anti-corruption activists in Mexico City immediately applauded the statements by Ambassador Antonio Garza, which appeared in an op-ed in the American-Statesman this week.

Garza singled out President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose administration recently launched a public relations campaign aimed at improving Mexico’s image in the U.S.

The government’s PR effort is in part a response to GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s pledge to build a wall along the border and deport millions of undocumented Mexican immigrants if elected president.

“The problem isn’t just one of public relations,” Garza wrote. “If Mexico really wants to change its image, it needs to start at home.”

Garza served as President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Mexico from 2002 to 2009. He now works as an attorney in Mexico City.

“Peña Nieto and the rest of the government should be championing anti-corruption and other rule-of-law initiatives and reforms first and foremost for Mexicans and their country’s future,” Garza argued.

Mexico’s national congress has failed to pass sweeping anti-corruption proposals by Peña Nieto’s administration as well as an historic citizens’ initiative petition known as the “3de3” calling on every public servant – including those in the widely criticized judiciary – to file a financial disclosure, a statement of wealth, and past tax returns.

Garza blamed the inaction on “congressional jockeying” and a “void in political leadership.” Legislators have, however, promised to take up the proposals during an extraordinary session this summer.

Anti-corruption activist Rafael Garcia Aceves, a project coordinator with Transparencia Mexicana – a co-sponsor of the “3de3” proposal – praised Garza’s op-ed, saying the former envoy was “doing the right thing.”

“He’s increasing the cost of not approving the legislation and bringing extra pressure to bear on Congress,” Garcia said.

The unprecedented “3de3” petition initiative was made possible by recent changes to the Constitution.

While Congress is legally required to consider the proposal, it could gut the part that requires that financial, wealth and tax disclosures by public servants be made public.

Garcia, however, says he was “100 percent sure” that citizen pressure being applied on politicians nationally will result in the disclosures being made public.

Citizen pressure, including more than 600,000 signatures collected was made possible by the creation of an interactive website, connected with Twitter, allowing Mexicans to send messages directly to candidates and elected officials, Garcia said.

Using the website, citizens can demand that politicians reveal their financial information and elected officials can in turn upload their financial information to the same site, he explained.

“There’s no other website in the world that brings together citizens and politicians to reveal this information,” Garcia said.

Fifty-thousand messages were sent using the web platform during Mexico’s recent mid-term elections, and 399 candidates for governorships, local legislatures and the national Congress disclosed their financial information on the platform, he noted.

Among them are 12 out of 32 governors and 20 percent of federal congressmen.

The effort to pass a law forcing public servants to reveal their wealth, taxes and finances stems from growing public dissatisfaction with rampant government corruption.

Only two percent of public servants that commit crimes actually end up in prison, according to research by the Mexican think tank IMCO.

IMCO’s Director General Dr. Juan E. Pardines said he agreed with the remarks by the former ambassador.

Corruption in Mexico “is a national crisis” that threatens Mexico’s national security, Pardines said, charging that police work directly with criminals and the crisis touches all levels of government down to individual cities and towns.

“The Congress and the executive have been too slow and too soft in dealing with these problems,” Pardines said.

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