Last week, this Global Integrity Commons post described a Mexican minister’s statements on the role of drug money in Mexican politics. Here, Global Integrity’s Renato Busquets goes deeper, walks through the context of this debate and suggests a possible solution.
Last week, the Mexican Secretary of the Interior, Juan Camilo Mouriño, addressed the Mexican Congress; he admitted that drug trafficking has infiltrated the police forces. And as the Financial Times article quotes he said that “The risk of drug Money in campaigns is, of course, a latent risk.” But this statement may be misinterpreted if taken out of context.
Mouriño proposed the creation of mechanisms that stem from Congress to avoid political candidates linked financially to drug traffickers. But there has not been any hard evidence of the influence of drug traffickers in the political campaigns in Mexico by admission of Mouriño himself.
A House Full of Money. But Whose Money?
In 2007 Mexican police seized $207 million in cash found in Chinese businessman Zhenli Ye Gon’s house. According to the Mexican authorities, the money came from the illegal import of PSE, a precursor of methamphetamine, from Asia to Mexico.
Ye Gon was arrested near Washington, DC shortly after the bust. He claimed that the money was part of an illegal “slush fund” gathered together by the current Mexican President’s political party intended to finance his 2006 presidential campaign; Ye Gon alleged he was forced to safeguard this cash. No evidence was found to back these allegations; President Calderon called them “pure fiction”. Hence there is still no proof that drug money has influenced Mexican elections.
A Possible Solution
Back in 2003 when I was working at CIDE, a research center based in Mexico City, I had an informal conversation with Luis Carlos Ugalde, a scholar who specialized on corruption and election issues and at the time was a researcher at this center. I remember he staunchly believed that public funding had to be the core of the financing of political parties and campaigns in Mexico; a political system like the U.S. that was driven by private contributions was deemed inappropriate by him. His argument was that Mexico was a country vulnerable to drug trafficking, and private contributions to political parties provide an excellent opportunity for drug cartels to promote local politicians especially in poor areas of the country.
This may be why Colombia, another country that is also at risk of being influenced by drug trafficking, has public funding as a central aspect in financing political parties and campaigns. A few moths later after our talk, Ugalde was appointed president of the Mexican Federal Electoral Institute a position he held until last year. He is now the Robert F. Kennedy Visiting Professor of Latin American Studies at Harvard University.
— Renato Busquets