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How Internal Corruption Prevents the Economic Development of Indigenous Peoples

Apr 15, 2008
Visualize being in the indigenous Third World.

Imagine an indigenous populist political candidate from a populist political party running for mayor. This candidate campaigns throughout the countryside blaming the current local political administration of being corrupt, leaving the municipality in debt and not doing anything for "the people".

As a reformer this populist candidate goes to rural areas and promises new roads, community centers, jobs, schools, assistance for farmers and small businesses, health clinics and so on.

He promises the urban electorate road repairs, improved garbage service, new sewer lines and new culverts to prevent flooding during heavy rains and so on.

To put it bluntly, this whole region of about 60,000 people needed just about everything.

As one of the poorest regions in Mexico this area was economically depressed with an eroding agricultural base causing many locals to leave the area in search of work. And greater than 90% of the population was indigenous Maya.

The party in power had been in power for many decades and had made an "institution" out of corruption. This corruption pervaded every aspect of government and nothing happened of a local political nature unless it happened through this systemic corruption.

The new populist candidate railed on this corruption at the federal, state and of course local government levels. Tired of corrupt government abusing the electorate, the electorate voted for the candidate of "change" who won in a landslide. The local political "revolution" had started.

Fast forward this scene to three years later.

The city is on the verge of bankruptcy. The municipal debt has soared in the past few years some 2,000 percent placing almost all city services on the edge of collapse. Municipal workers are on strike demanding back wages which had been promised by the populist party's candidate.

In three years almost no local streets were maintained except of course in the neighborhood where the populist revolutionary lived. During the rainy season many of the local streets flood and are impassable.

The local city hall building needs painting and is beginning to look abandoned.

The local populist meanwhile has done rather well. Reportedly his family has been able to take trips to Europe and expand their cultural awareness. His children now drive fast sports cars improving their self-esteem so they won't feel so "Indian".

The revolutionary also managed to make a number of improvements on his ranch.

Things were good for the new political boss of this small city of indigenous people because he reportedly paid himself a salary greater than the salary of the President of Mexico. Or as they used to say in the old days; "nice work if you can get it."

As the populist mayor's term came to an end, the protests began to heat up. The farmers wanted to know why the mayor kept none of the promises he made to them. The local housewives wanted to know why the streets in their neighborhoods had been neglected while the streets in the mayor's neighborhood were all repaired.

The local business people wondered what services would be cut back and how that would hurt their businesses. The vendors at the local market wondered how long they could sell food with the stench of sewage filling the air.

They also wondered why the Mayor arranged to sell city property to a big box chain competitor planning to locate just a few blocks from the "peoples" market.

The new incoming mayor from a different party said times would not only be austere but in fact many city services would be curtailed or possibly eliminated. He also indicated that many financial records were not complete and that would be how his administration would start his term.

Impossible fancy? Hardly. It happens all over the developing world with indigenous peoples. The ex-mayor in question is from Quintana Roo, Mexico; the same rapidly developing state as Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and Tulum.

As the Governor stood by the new mayor promised he would work hard to confront local problems but the coming years will most certainly be austere and the local populace will have to expect cuts and reductions in service. By working together there is hope, the new chief says reassuringly.

Folks always need hope. But just what hope can realistically be expected from a corrupt system? Unfortunately the only realistic expectation is that like history a corrupt system repeats itself; it's the nature of the system.

So in the end it is largely an indigenous thing; a version of the theme "we have met the enemy and they are us". But you have to admit it's nice work if you can get it.
About the Author
Jack Deal is the owner of JD Deal Business Consulting, Salinas and Santa Cruz, CA and a part time resident of Quintana Roo, Mexico. Related articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com/blog/economic_development http://www.freeandinquiringmind.typepad.com
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