Mexican lawmakers are notorious for acting like they’re above the law. But now Mexican civil society is pushing back against impunity in the form of a citizen-sponsored legislative proposal that promises to keep politicians in check.
The bill, popularly known as 3 de 3 (“three out of three”), aims to oblige all lawmakers and candidates to publicly disclose three declarations:
- Assets: How much money they own, and how it has increased over the years.
- Potential conflict of interest: What jobs they’ve held and what connections they have.
- Tax returns.
The bill was initially conceived as a voluntary measure that aimed to pressure lawmakers and candidates into behaving transparently. It gained nationwide momentum during Mexico’s 2015 midterms, but now proponents of that measure want to give it some teeth by turning it into law. The citizen-proposed bill has now garnered more than 600,000 signatures and is being discussed in the Mexican Senate.
“This is the first anti-corruption initiative proposed by citizens in the history of the country,” Eduardo Bohorquez, director of NGO Transparencia Mexicana and one of the new bill’s leading advocates, told me.
Bohorquez believes 3 de 3 can help usher in a new era of transparency and perhaps change the way lawmakers approach the fight against corruption.
“The government nabs the leader of a corrupt syndicate, and arrests a corrupt governor here and there, but the network remains intact,” Bohorquez says. He compares the strategy to the failed drug war, where authorities kill cartel leaders without dismantling the network or addressing the root causes that allows organized crime to thrive.
Bohorquez says the new bill is not about making an example out of a few corrupt politicians, but changing the rules of the game. He says 3 de 3 can also help combat corruption in the private sector, since it seeks to sanction businessmen who engage in illicit activity.
But it will take more than a new law to undo Mexico’s “culture of corruption”— a term coined to describe the common practice of bribing cops, bureaucrats or just about anyone to avoid fines, skip lines, and basically gain a competitive advantage.
It's so deep-rooted, Mexicans even have a phrase for it: El que no tranza no avanza, meaning “He who doesn’t cheat doesn’t get ahead.” It's not a notion that’s exclusive to the ruling elite. It permeates Mexican society at large.
But that culture is showing some signs of change. Public opinion polls suggest corruption is increasingly perceived as one of the country’s leading problems.
“The worst that can happen to us during a crisis is to stop believing in ourselves,” says Mexican citizen Eduardo Bonilla, a 3 de 3 supporter that resides in California. Bonilla, who spends many hours on social media rallying supporters for the new bill, says 3 de 3 is also about combating indifference.
“There’s so much apathy in Mexico,” he says. “I live in the U.S. but I still want a better Mexico for my children, for the children of my sisters, a Mexico where I can possibly retire.”
“[The initiative] shows that us citizens are not mere passive spectators,” renowned Mexican academic Sergio Lopez Ayllon wrote in daily El Universal. “We can contribute in a serious and effective manner to building an anti-corruption framework.”
The bill still has a long way to go before becoming a law, and resistance is expected. According to Mexican media outlet Animal Politico, ruling party senators are already negotiating the approval of a so-called “light” version that would allow lawmakers to chose if they want to disclose their declarations publicly.
But already the bill seems to be making a distinction between the Mexico that tries to make change, and the Mexico that complains about problems but fails to act.