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Mexico City Targets Bad Drivers, Police Corruption


Mexico has long been vexed by official corruption, which enables drug traffickers to flourish and ordinary citizens to avoid fines for minor infractions. The authorities are trying to fight corruption at all levels, but as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Mexico City, many citizens remain skeptical about the ultimate success of efforts at reform.

In recent weeks, there have been moves on both the federal and local level in Mexico to fight corruption and reinforce the rule of law. President Felipe Calderon last month removed 284 of his top federal police officials because they were suspected of corruption. He has made the fight against corruption and organized crime one of his top priorities.

In Mexico City the focus has been on the lowest level of corruption, that of the so-called "mordida" or bite. This is Spanish slang for a bribe paid to a street cop in order to avoid a ticket for a minor infraction.

Under new rules announced by Head of Government Marcelo Ebrard last week, motorists are discouraged from offering bribes and police are rewarded for reporting those who offer them bribes. The once common illegal practices of driving in the bus lane, failure to wear a seat belt, speeding and running red lights are now targeted by the new laws.

Ebrard says the main goal is public safety. He says the fundamental reason for the new regulations is the need to reduce accidents, which cause deaths and injuries.

But critics, including many city motorists, are skeptical. Arturo is one of them. He says the new laws will only hurt those who have to drive and will do little to protect the public.

He also sees it as a way for the local government of the Federal District, which comprises Mexico City, to take in more revenue. The Federal District is controlled by the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD. Its opponents see the new laws, with their stiff fines, as a way for the PRD to gain more money for its political agenda.

That view is based, to some extent, on actions taken by the city government last year in support of PRD militants who blocked major avenues in the city center to protest alleged election fraud. They claimed Calderon had won his narrow victory over PRD candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador through vote manipulation and corruption in the Federal Electoral Institute. Instead of enforcing the law and preventing the demonstrators from blocking streets, the city government accommodated them and spent public funds in support of their encampment that lasted for several weeks.

City officials, however, defend the new rules, most of which will take effect in September. They note that past campaigns against drunk driving have been ineffective because they were not strictly enforced. This time, they say, police will enforce traffic laws, turn down bribe offers and, in general, support public safety.

Monica Flores, a city resident who does not own a car, backs the new law. She says many drivers are irresponsible and they should obey laws in order to protect the public and themselves from accidents. She also believes the new effort to stop corruption will work, because the police, whom she describes as super-corrupt, will stop demanding bribes if citizens stop giving them.

Taxi driver Enrique, however, disagrees. He says the police will remain corrupt as long as they lack education and a decent salary. He says the government's failure to pay them adequately is partly to blame for the problem. He also blames the culture of corruption that has been part of life here for centuries.

Police officers are not saying much about the new law, but spokesmen for the city police forces express optimism that it will work to reduce corruption and traffic accidents in the city.