John Gibson asked me the other day on Fox TV why hordes of Mexicans flee their homeland and enter the U.S. illegally. My answer: the cancer of corruption that afflicts every level of Mexican society and restricts even the smallest forms of economic opportunity for the poorest Mexicans.
I said that Mexico has everything to make it a prosperous First World country. It has tourism ‹ everything it needs to rank highly among First World countries. All that stands in its way is corruption.
Mexico is a corrupt nation with a corrupt government from top to bottom, and until the U.S. and President Bush stand up and point a finger ‹ as my dad did at the evil empire ‹ and say you have to eliminate corruption if you want to keep your people home, the corruption will continue and so will the flow of illegal aliens.
They need for Bush to tell Mexico that the reason people are fleeing the country is the corruption that saps the very lifeblood of the Mexican economy, making it impossible for the poor to find jobs at wages that allow them to support their families or pay the ever-present mordida ‹ "the bite," as they call bribes.
Like the refugees who fled from behind the Iron Curtain to find freedom, they flee Mexico to find a living wage and escape the bondage of official bribery that condemns them to poverty.
The problem is so pervasive and so much a part of Mexican life that the official responsible for eliminating corruption, Minister of Comptrollership and Administrative Development Francisco Barrio, estimates that it will take 30 years to eradicate corruption in Mexico.
According to Transparencia Mexicana, in Mexico City alone, for every 100 public services, 22.6 percent (of the 38 administrative procedures tracked) in their survey required bribes. Want a driver's license, cough up the pesos. You name it, it costs.
In a series of papers, Shang-Jin Wei, formerly of the Kennedy School at Harvard, explored the economic effect of corruption. Contrary to the notion that corruption is a relatively minor cost of doing business, Wei found that corruption has a stifling effect on foreign investment and economic growth.
In his classic study "Ritual, Rumor and Corruption in the Constitution of Polity in Modern Mexico," Professor Claudio Lomnitz wrote that "corruption has also played a central role in conserving privilege, in keeping competitors out of specific markets, in creating an organized labor sector that stands apart from other sectors of the working class and in conserving the prerogatives of lineage."
Plainly stated, corruption bars a large segment of Mexico's population ‹ the poorest segment ‹ from participating in the nation's economic life. There is simply no way out except for the U.S.-Mexican border, and sheer desperation drives them there.
We need to take the gloves off and call the problem of illegal immigration from Mexico for what it is: a reaction to the culture of corruption. We need to tell official Mexico, "You allow the drug dealers to control the borders, everybody in every little state of Mexico at every level is on the take ‹ that it is impossible to do business there without greasing a multitude of palms. The Federales are on the take, the local police are on the take ‹ everybody is on the take."
It's time to tell President Fox and his government that until they change people are going to head north. But Mexico's officials do not want to change because they would rather sell out to the drug cartels and rake in the bribes.
By keeping quiet about Mexican corruption and the way it impacts Mexico's poor, we become accomplices to that corruption and help to drive more and more of them to cross our border illegally.
(E-mail Mike Reagan at email@example.com)