How much detail is necessary to fill in the blanks?
A former Mexican governor, accused of stealing hundreds of millions and plunging his state into the worst financial crisis in years, flees in a helicopter. His confidante, a high-ranking official who assumed the governorship for 48 days after aiding and abetting his boss’s escape, is now in federal prison.
Thanks to new rules enacted as part of a recent constitutional reform, the Mexican government was able to jail the official, Flavino Ríos – a former minister of the Interior and Education – for a year without any possibility of bail.
Change of faces, same formula
This episode stands out from so many others only because it involves both remarkable levels of corruption (Veracruz is nearly bankrupt) and a deeply unpopular politician. Javier Duarte’s ouster by voters in the June 2016 election was the first time in 86 years the PRI lost the governorship of Veracruz.
In a word, Duarte became a liability to the party.
But the PRI is not going to sit with its hands folded when a long-time operative like Ríos is thrown in prison. Since most towns in Veracruz are still under PRI domain, local officials have recently started giving the cartels a much longer leash. Overnight, there has been a sharp spike in violent crime. Beheaded cadavers with signs of gruesome torture – many with the message “War you want, War you’ll have” – are now a commonplace news item.
Impunity now flourishes in Veracruz.
Lesson for US politicians?
While this happens, PRI officials give speeches about the importance of transparency and the fight against corruption. In their own unique way, they’ve managed to weaponize cynicism. Violence, disorder, desmadre – the nuclear option is now part of daily life, both in politics and in the street. The names and details may vary, but the pattern remains intact.
Whether Mr. Ríos is eventually found guilty or not will be merely a footnote. Most commentators don’t even believe he’s in jail, just a media show arranged between the PRI and the new governor.
Within months, say these critics, Riós will be released and forgotten.
Yet, I think this should serve as a stark warning to politicians elsewhere eager to play no-holds-barred: when corruption itself becomes corrupt, and impunity takes root – no one is spared.