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A little here and a little there….

2 September 2006

Who doesn’t know about about the little kickbacks that drivers give to the cops (in Mexico) when they’re stopped for a traffic violation? These mordidas are a part of doing doing business and if you’ve driven in Mexico, you’ve either heard about it or gotten into a situation where you have to decide how you want to handle it. When it happened to me, in Merida, we had the choice of paying off the cop with 200 pesos, of visiting with the commandante, or of going to court with a ticket. At the time, it seemed that the simplest and least expensive solution was to pay the “bite” on the spot.

Here in the U.S., I would have gotten a ticket (for an illegal turn). The ticket might have cost me $60. I’d have had to go to court, pay court costs, lost a point or two on my drivers’ license, and possibly had to pay an increase in my insurance. Paying the equivalent of $19 in Mexico, on the spot seemed like a better alternative to me.

People often say that if the cops were paid a better wage, there wouldn’t be so much corruption. I have one word for that theory…. ‘Serpico’. Those New York City cops made a decent wage, but it didn’t make them act any differently…. from the top of the organization to the bottom.

Until I read an article by Sergio Solache,… I had no idea exactly how pervasive the mordida tradition was/is in Mexico. Color me naive!

Solache says:

Mexicans start paying bribes as children in order to get good grades from their teacher. At 18, many pay a 200 peso bribe to be excused from their required military service.

Mexicans rationalize bribes with sayings like “El que no transa no avanza,” or “He who doesn’t sell out, doesn’t get ahead.” But when you add up all the little payoffs, about 12% of Mexico’s gross domestic product is lost to corruption, CEI estimates. That’s enough money to cover all
Mexico’s health care needs.

Bribes are sometimes paid out to speed up the time it takes to get a drivers license. If you don’t want to wait in line for the 3 or 4 hours that it might take, give the intermediary 250 pesos and you’re on your way in 20 min.

Claudia Medina, university student, says:

“I went to pay a fine for my father, and I was in the treasury office about three hours, just to pay 250 pesos. The bureaucracy is unbearable.”

To avoid the wait, citizens give mordidas of $10 to $50 U.S. to traffic cops. The code word for the money is “for a soda.”

Even after ad campaigns paid for by the federal gov. and by civic groups, urging Mexicans to fight back, a poll(2004) indicates that 70% of Mexicans believe that the public is still willing to pay for “favors”.

As a fifth-grader with a missing book report, it just might be easier to offer your teacher a cold can of pop and straw than to face an angry parent with a bad report card! A “sixer” of Modelo might get you an A+++.

Actually, it’s no laughing matter overall. In the corporate world, millions of pesos can get passed around to secure lucrative contracts.

When the PRI was in government, it generated a lack of oversight of public life. It created a kind of monopolistic network associated with bad government and poor civic life. ” said Irma Sandoval, a political scientist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

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