Corruption: The Ally of Violence in Mexico

While many studies suggest that corruption generates higher levels of violence, understanding the relationship between the two variables is not a simple task. According to the World Bank (2016), corruption is the offer, delivery, reception or solicitation, directly or indirectly, of anything of value in order to influence inappropriately the actions of another party. This paper would like to suggest that corruption follows two avenues through which violence is generated. On the one hand, there are those who claim that corruption allows the development of organized crime activities; Robles, Calderón and Magaloni argue, “Corrupt law enforcement, and collapsing policing and justice systems favor the diversification of drug cartels’ criminal activity.” (2013, p.5). Thus, the spread of organized crime, through links between criminals and corrupt public officials, increases insecurity, since the former usually resort to violence in order to (Lessing, 2013):

  • Intimidate their opponents
  • Force the State to open a dialogue and a negotiation table
  • Send signs of strength or leadership
  • Express to their competitors the power they have for the place

On the other hand, studies are based on the assumption that criminals make decisions based on the probability of being punished and the size of punishment (criminological theory of deterrence). In this theory, corruption is considered as a central variable, since this type of act by those who persecute and punish crime influence the levels of impunity.

Based on the principles of the criminological theory of deterrence, the incentives to commit crimes in Mexico were high, since the probability of being punished is low.

In its 2016 edition, the Mexico Peace Index pointed out that impunity has increased in recent years. In 2007, four out of five homicides were condemned, while in 2013 this rate was only one in five. Based on the principles of the criminological theory of deterrence, the incentives to commit crimes in Mexico were high, since the probability of being punished is low. While levels of impunity are the result of multiple factors, data suggests a close relationship between impunity and corruption. According to the United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) Comparative Study on Prison Population in Mexico, 66% of the inmates interviewed stated that if they had had enough money to pay a bribe, they could have avoided detention and prosecution. It is also mentioned that 10% of crimes committed by prisoners involved some authority (police, military, prosecutor or judge) (UNDP, 2013).

According to data from the National Survey on Quality and Government Impact (ENCIG), citizens’ perceptions about corruption and the rate of users who experienced an act of corruption when performing a procedure or receiving a public service have increased.


It should be noted that the worst evaluated institutions are those in charge of prosecuting crime, as well as the administration of justice. For example, 9 out of 10 people over the age of 18 believe that corruption in police forces is frequent, or very frequent. The perception of Public Ministries or Judges and Magistrates is also discouraging (ENCIG, 2015).


The figures and data presented so far suggest that corruption and violence are closely related variables. In this sense, it is no coincidence that governments with high levels of violence show multiple cases of corruption. The levels of corruption in Mexico have put us in the spotlight of national and international reflectors. Its impact on variables such as investment, growth, the fight against poverty and, above all, public safety, has stimulated numerous debates on how to effectively combat this burden. In this context, the National Anticorruption System (SNA) has emerged, which seeks to overcome the weaknesses that has been presented for years by institutions responsible for preventing, detecting, investigating and punishing this type of act (Secretariat of Public Service, Superior Audit of the Federation (ASF), Federal Court of Administrative Justice and Federal Judicial Council). In addition, the SNA proposes the creation of the Specialized Prosecutor's Office to Combat Corruption and a Citizen Participation Committee (CPC) as the nodal figure of the System. The creation of the SNA has meant other changes in anti-corruption policy, some of the most important are:

  • The Federal Criminal Code – The amendments to the Federal Criminal Code establish new corruption offenses and penalties for public servants and private parties.
  • The new General Law on Audit and Accountability empowers the ASF to conduct real-time audits and oversee federal contributions. With this, the ASF will be able to audit the exercise and performance of all the resources that the federation transfers to the states and municipalities, which on average represent 86% of what is exercised at the subnational level.
  • Previously, officials were the sole creditors to sanctions for acts of corruption, the SNA opens the possibility of punishing also individuals.
  • It establishes the creation of the National Digital Platform with information relevant to the fight against corruption (patrimonial declarations, fiscal and interests of officials and a list of sanctioned public officials).
  • A more effective monitoring of the local police is proposed through the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office in the Fight against Corruption. Collusion of local police with organized crime groups is currently punishable by the Federal Criminal Code, so that public prosecutors can receive complaints and investigate them.
  • It is mandatory to ensure that, within a period of no more than one year after the publication of the General Law of the SNA, states create their local anti-corruption systems with the minimum standards established at the federal level.

A central component of the SNA is citizen participation, which is not limited to the formation of the CPC or the representation of civil society in collegiate organs of the SNA as the Coordinating Committee. The creation of the SNA opens a window of opportunity so that, through greater social participation, they can reduce the levels of corruption and impunity that are experienced in the country. On the one hand, the SNA provides citizens with tools, such as complaint systems, to make visible the corruption that affects the citizen in their day to day. In the most optimistic scenario, if the citizen complaint is translated into concrete actions by the government, a virtuous circle will be detonated that will not only reduce the levels of corruption and impunity, but also increase confidence in institutions.

In addition to taking advantage of the institutional mechanisms or information generated by the SNA for the common citizen to participate in the fight against corruption, the role played by organized civil society is fundamental. For example, translating the legal framework of the system into a simple language to encourage citizen participation, promoting the culture of legality, or monitoring the design and implementation of local anti-corruption systems, are tasks that must be promoted by civil society to ensure greater Impact of SNA.

In recent years, insecurity has generated significant human costs and has implied a decline in the quality of life of Mexicans. Considering that violence is a multi-causal phenomenon, policies to combat it must cover different areas, such as corruption in public security and justice institutions. In addition, the fight against corruption should not be seen as an exclusive task of the government, the contribution of civil society is fundamental to breaking the vicious cycle of corruption, violence and impunity, and the SNA provides an opportunity for it.

Authored by Dalia Toledo & Jonathan Jiménez.

Banco Mundial. (2016). What is Fraud and Corruption?
INEGI. (2013 y 2015). ENCIG.
Lessing, B. (2013). The Logic of Violence in Criminal War. Dissertation.
PNUD. (2013). Seguridad Ciudadana Con Rostro Humano: diagnóstico y propuestas para América Latina.
Robles, G., Calderón, G., & Magaloni, B. (2013). Las Consecuencias Económicas de la Violencia del Narcotráfico en México . BID. Stanford University.