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Drug and Human Trafficking: Bribery Risk Rises in US and Mexico

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Sylvia Longmire IHSBy Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security

Bribery is on the rise across the globe, according to TRACE International, an anti-bribery compliance solutions company. On Dec. 1, it published a study it produced in conjunction with the RAND Corporation that ranks 199 countries based on their overall risk for graft. Both the United States and Mexico dropped in the rankings between 2014 and 2016, and experts say bribery is key in facilitating both drug trafficking and human trafficking.

The Statistics Tell the Story

Overall, some 60 percent of countries have an increased bribery risk compared with the 2014 study, while only 32 percent have a decreased bribery risk. Foreign Policy magazine explained the U.S. went from a score of 27 (ranked 10th) in 2014 to a score of 34 in 2016 (ranked 20th).  The U.S. improved anti-bribery laws, according to the study, but saw its score rise because of increased business-to-government interactions and a slight backslide in civil society oversight of bribery.

Mexico is a country notorious for its high levels of government corruption and bribery. In 2014, Mexico had a bribery risk index of 54 and was ranked 88th overall out of 199 countries. In 2016, its risk score increased to 59 while its overall global ranking dropped to 103. It’s in slightly better shape than neighbors Honduras and El Salvador, but is lagging behind Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Combating the Bribery in Mexico

Alexandra Wrage, president and founder of the anti-bribery organization TRACE International, told Foreign Policy, “You can’t have narco-trafficking without bribery, human trafficking without bribery, or even terrorism without bribery.” However, she believes corporate behavior is getting more legal scrutiny around the world. And if bribery scores are high now, it may be because bribery was simply more difficult to track in the past. “It’s not that there’s more bribery, it’s that it’s more visible,” she said.

Bribery in Mexico has always been a major concern because it’s one of the primary tools drug cartels use to control government officials and the police. While paying bribes is distasteful, the difference between bribery in the U.S. and in Mexico is that, generally speaking, in Latin America it’s more socially acceptable than it is north of the border. It’s not right, but it is also expected, both by the officers accepting the bribes and the citizens needing to pay them just to get things done in a timely manner.

Drug Trafficking: The Multi-billion Dollar Business

Increasing corruption levels among U.S. law-enforcement agencies along the US-Mexico border, as evidenced by rising numbers of internal investigations, are also a major concern. There have been several legal cases of note where American officers have taken bribes from drug traffickers to allow vehicles to pass through checkpoints, and officers who actively participated in drug trafficking and even kidnapping activities on behalf of Mexican criminal groups. Given that cross-border drug trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar business, the money involved is a huge temptation for some officers regardless of nationality.

Breaking the cycle and habit of bribery comes with different challenges on either side of the border. In Mexico, disclosing bribery can be met with retaliation in the form of threats or even assassination. In the U.S., agencies are more transparent about investigating corruption than in Mexico. However, organizational culture sometimes fosters the idea that snitching against fellow officers is a shameful practice that can be met with its own kind of internal retaliation. Either way, it is disheartening to see that both countries are sliding in the global rankings for bribery risk, and hopefully large-scale actions will be taken to improve the rankings in 2017.

About the Author
Sylvia Longmire is a former officer and Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and worked for four years as a Senior Intelligence Analyst for the California State Threat Assessment Center, specializing in southwest border violence and Mexico’s drug war. She received her Master’s degree from the University of South Florida in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and she is an award-winning writer and contributing editor for various media outlets.

Ms. Longmire has consulted for the producers of the History Channel and National Geographic Channel, and is regularly interviewed by national, international, and local media outlets – including CNN, Fox News, and NBC – for her knowledge and expertise on drug war and border security issues. She is the author of Cartel and Border Insecurity, both nominated for literary awards, and she has written for numerous peer-reviewed academic journals and online publications.

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