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Mexico: New president thinks corruption is nation’s biggest problem

Mexican President-Elect Andres Manuel López ObradorMexico held a groundbreaking presidential election on July 1 in which Andres Manuel López Obrador, the leader of a wide ranging coalition called the National Regeneration Movement, swept to victory with 53 percent of the votes.

The National Regeneration Movement and its allies also secured majorities in the congress (61 percent) and the senate (53 percent), and won control of half the state legislatures in the country.

These results give the new president, whose name is often abbreviated as AMLO, the majorities needed to change laws and policy direction in a single-handedly way no president has been able to since the 1980s, when Mexico was under a de facto one party rule.

AMLO ran his single-theme campaign about fighting corruption. His speeches have centered on corruption is the root of all problems of the country, and that he alone can be the antidote for corruption. In his own words, “If the president is honest the rest of the administration will be honest” and “Corruption will be eradicated as stairs are swept, from the top down.”

AMLO also intends to find savings of approximately $25 billion per year from preventing corruption. He said he’ll use the money to fund his ambitious social spending program, so fighting corruption is also at the core of enabling his government to meet social policy expenditures and expectations.

I don’t doubt AMLO’s idealism or genuineness of intentions and I sincerely wish him success for the greater good of the country. But in a post for the FCPA Blog called Relying on ‘political will’ to fight corruption is magical thinking, Michael Johnston explained that “even if an anti-corruption ‘champion’ produces positive results, what happens when she or he leaves the building?”

I agree with Professor Johnston that capacity-building and sustained political demand from citizens may well be a better and more lasting source of support for corruption control than political will. However, without political will there is no way to advance a national agenda to fight corruption and AMLO campaigned his way into the presidency vowing to do exactly that.

Mexico has a long transition period between the election and the inauguration of the new president on December 1. What happens during this period is key to a successful start of the new administration. The first messages from the economic side of AMLO’s team have been reasonable and reassuring. Markets are giving him the benefit of the doubt, as evidenced by a stable currency exchange of the peso against the U.S. dollar.

AMLO has proved to be a pragmatist at heart. During the next few months, we should hear concrete proposals from AMLO and his team about how they intend to improve the rule of law, strengthen the institutional capabilities of the Mexican state to address corruption, and also the names of the persons to be proposed as candidates to be the next General Prosecutor of the country and the Chief Anticorruption Prosecutor.

The continued participation of citizens is necessary for the government’s success in fighting corruption. A good working relationship between the new government and NGOs is another key to strengthening and validating the work of Mexico’s National Anticorruption System.

We should expect the topic of corruption to remain at the top of the national agenda. This means that companies operating in Mexico must bolster their compliance programs and capabilities.

I am confident about the future of Mexico and its efforts to strengthen its rule of law and institutions to fight corruption. But it’s fair to say that the battle has just begun.


Luis Dantón Martínez Corres is a partner leading the corporate governance and compliance practice of the Mexico-based law firm, Ritch Mueller. He previously served as head of legal and trustee services of Nacional Financiera, S.N.C., a leading Mexican development bank. He’s also admitted to practice in New York. He can be contacted here.

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  1. And yet, there are no clear plans as to how he intends to combat corruption. He hasn’t even responded whether he is going to prosecute all those pending cases realted to fraud as Odebrecht, Estafa Maestra, etc.

  2. The president has correctly identified 'the problem'. That said, however, is whether Mexico has the institutions that could stand up to entrenched corruption These are not limited to the legal frameworks and the administration of justice itself but the quality of investigations and the tools available to the investigators. It needs a very carefully planned strategy and a persistent follow-up of evidence and witnesses and herein lies the kernel of the issue. Will the electorate have the will and patience to support the president?

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