Most experts cite corruption as the key driver of Mexico’s problems, “the progenitor of all other public ills”. But is corruption in Mexico (or any other place) understandable to those who don’t live there? Asked differently, is “corruption” what outsiders think it is?
The PRI – one of the most corrupt political parties in modern times – didn’t use corruption just to enrich themselves; they used it to “oil” the wheels of bureaucracy and “glue” political alliances.
They created a set of structures and customs, including seniority, nepotism, gift giving, personal favors and influence peddling (among others) to enforce a hierarchy, facilitate negotiation, buy off antagonists, mediate disputes and broker compromises.
In a word, they used corruption to govern.
Most importantly, they built on something that was already deeply embedded in the culture, not just in politics but in business, social and even spiritual life. For Mexico was (and still is) a place where people patronize and owe their allegiance to bosses, families, villages, unions, politicos and outlaws.
Daily life runs on this principle: Mexico is a land of laws but not law, at least not relative to the role played by patronage in aligning the interests and positions of individuals. This comes before the law.