I see Walmart is in the news, with a big bribery scandal surrounding its venture in Mexico. I was stunned. Shocked. Amazed. Since when was bribery a scandal in Mexico? It seemed to be standard fare to me. I don’t know exactly which other companies in Mexico have also  engaged in a little bribery from time to time, but if I had to hazard a guess, I probably say ‘all of them’. Yes, it’d probably be quicker to name the companies that haven’t participated in bribery, or it’s ugly twin sister nepotism. That’s amighty short list. None of whom are probably doing business any more.

I suspect high level bribery and cartels are rampant in most countries, including western ones, albeit to differing degrees. It wasn’t something which ever directly affected me in Mexico though. But low level bribery – la mordida – was pretty common. I had a few encounters. They are usually infuriating. But once the act is done, calm has been restored, and you’re on your way – well, it was a lot more painless that would have been the case for the same legal infraction in the US or UK. You get over it pretty quick.

I did fall victim to one slightly bizarre case of nepotism in Mexico though. I was hired by some university professors – English teachers themselves – to help them with their English proficiency. The big cheese in the university, a stern old lady, caught wind of the scheme and thought it was a great idea. Such a great idea, she decided to sanction the classes and have the university fund the course. I was invited to meet her for an interview/meeting/rubber stamping.

I arrived on time, to discover there was a rival for the job. A Mexican, who ran an English school. He was offering to give the classes himself. I hadn’t been aware there would be a rival. But I did meet with the lady anyway. She was stern. And surprisingly hostile. It ceased to be an interview, and quickly became an exercise in her finding reasons as to why I would be unable to teach this course.

How was my Spanish? Very poor at the time. How can I possibly translate during class then?! She said this with incredulity. I just got irritated. I asked if the other teacher was prepared to translate English to Spanish in class? He was, apparently. I suggested that, with this being a class of near fluent students, any teacher uttering a word of Spanish was clearly incapable and should be fired. Which is true.

She began to explain that sometimes it is necessary, to save time. I countered by pointing out that meanings and contexts need to be explored and answered in English, because this is, well….a proficiency level English class. As advanced a level as you get. And translations can be misleading. She disagreed. I asked her to translate ‘mas o menos’. She replied, smugly, ‘more or less’. Incorrect. It usually doesn’t. Not when used in context. I explained the context. She got irritated, and I a little smug.

To nail home my point, I reeled off a half dozen examples of why a native English speaker is needed at this level. Could my rival explain the context behind ‘bold as brass’? Of course he couldn’t. But of course, he got the job. My rival was, after all, the stern lady’s brother-in-law. The students didn’t take his class though – their level of English was, as they themselves attempted to explain to the stern lady, well ahead of the new ‘teacher’. Perhaps he would pay to be taught by them?

I’m sure my rival pocketed a tidy sum from the short lived and never fulfilled contract. At the taxpayers expense. And the stern lady, I’m equally sure, got a nice little kick back. I had been made aware, minutes before my ‘interview’ of the relationship between the two – and the undoubted outcome. The photo below…I took that from someone near Plaza Santa Domingo, a matter of days before I left Mexico. I shouldn’t think  many Mexicans were surprised that Walmart’s been naughty. I bet there’s a bit of surprise they got caught though.

Viva La Corrupcion


2 thoughts on “Bribery

  1. Kim G says:

    Great post! The New York Times seems to have missed the memo that every business in Mexico must be using bribes. They should have looked into Chedraui, Comercial Mexicana, Soriana, and of course Sanborns. Had they been as diligent in covering them, I think they would likely have found that Wal*Mart was just doing what every other retailer there is doing. Instead, they painted it as Wal*Mart doing something evil to get a special advantage.

    The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was passed in 1977, under Carter. I believe it is one of those do-good acts which is kind of naïve about how the rest of the world really works.

    In Mexico, if you are the only company unwilling to pay bribes, you are likely at a significant disadvantage.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we think The New York Times has it in for Wal*Mart anyway.


    • I’m not a fan of Wal Mart practises in general. Nor am I particularly a ‘hater’. I will shop there. But I’m not going to persecute a company for engaging in normal business practises. This is Mexico’s problem, not Wal Marts.

      There are good reasons for the US to watch over its companies abroad. But I’d prefer to see more attention paid to exploitation, pollution etc…


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