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Privatization and corruption — again

17 August 2009

Along with the PEMEX security scandal, caused in large part by privatizing some sectors of the “paraestatal” (state-owned business) another semi-privatized government function has also run into trouble:  the aduana (customs service).

Beginning with the Salinas Administration, management of the customs service was privatized, ostensively to control corruption in the service.  In 2001, the new Fox Administration used an amusing scandal (a circus elephant was smuggled across the border from Texas, without the United States Department of Agriculture noticing him) was used to justify a major overhaul of Aduana personnel.   Once again, the customs service agents are being replaced, but in the meantime, “1000 soldiers are taking over customs duties.

Now, as if the Army doesn’t have enough to do, a thousand soldiers have been assigned to border control posts.  While there is a need to control the illegal arms trafficking entering the country, this is being touted as preventing narcotics from leaving Mexico.

Blogotitlan (my translation) sees the situation this way:

Every customs inspector has been disarmed, decertified and discredited, only to be replaced by soldiers with no experience in customs management, but blindly obedient to their superiors.  The official pretext, as always, is the need to “purify” the Aduana, and stop the flow of contraband and arms into the country.  The problem is that none of those responsible for managing Aduana, least of all the superiors, have been thrown out… Aduanas was made another “private business” –exploited by Marthita Fox and her gang, together with Paco Gil Díaz (then Secretary of the Treasury) and his wife, now a director of Movistar Mexico – as a “fideicomisios privados.”  As usual, when you “combat corruption” in Mexico, you punish the plebians and reward the bosses.

Besides the negative image that comes with putting armed soldiers on the border, there is a secondary problem that — if successful — this won’t mean less narcotics overall, but more narcotics available in the domestic market.

Unless, of course, the smugglers just find another route into their largest market… which is likely.  But they’ll probably be able to stop an elephant.

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