‘Corruptionary’ Provides a Guide to Mexico’s Vocabulary of Corruption

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Activists in Mexico have created the world’s first “Corruptionary,” a wry collection of Mexican lexicon regarding graft that carries a serious message about just how deeply ingrained corruption and crime have become in Mexican society.

Ask most Mexicans what a “trámite” is and they will describe the bureaucratic procedures every citizen has to go through to get by in civic life. However, the team behind the “Corrupcionario Mexicano,” or Mexican Corruptionary, has a more colorful definition.

For the authors, a trámite is an “obligatory and often free procedure that the offices of government try to pass off as a favor to the taxpayer. They take away your time, your hope that you’ll be able to fix the problem that is concerning you, your money and, on top of it all, they will attend to you with the slothfulness of a bear a long way from the springtime.”

The Corruptionary is the work of anti-corruption organization Opciona. According to the authors, the purpose of the book is to shine a light on the numerous ways corruption has taken hold of Mexican society and to challenge its social normalization.

“We have compiled these words associated with a phenomena that is as internalized in our society as corruption in order to put a first and last name to these terrible situations, people and actions, which, disguised by their daily occurrence, seem normal to us,” they state.

The definition of corruption used in the Corruptionary is broad, covering not only actual acts but also the broader corruption of Mexican society, values and attitudes caused by the corrosive influence of organized crime, graft and weak state institutions. It covers three broad areas, which it defines as “corruption of us, corruption of them and corruption of everyone.”

Many terms describe the everyday corrupt acts of the sort many common citizens will encounter, such as paying a “brinco” to avoid paperwork and regulations in public procedures. Others refer to the corrupt practices that plague civic life, such as the vote-buying technique of the “carrusel,” where voters hand over their blank ballots to a vote buyer, who then hands them back the pre-marked vote of another person to place in the ballot box.

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In addition to the corruption slang, Opciona also uses its definitions to take political jabs at institutions, public figures and attitudes in Mexico.

Some definitions target scandal-plagued politicians and their inner circles. One example is Mexico’s first lady Angélica Rivera, who became embroiled in a scandal over the purchase of luxury properties. Under the term “Casa Blanca” (White House), the deeply sarcastic definition reads, “Imposing ex-mansion of the first lady, who, with the sweat of her brow, saved millions of pesos for decades so that one day she could unquestionably proclaim herself “The Owner.” 

The collection also include concepts such as “Justice” (Justicia), which is describe as a “nonexistent social construct in Mexico. Period.” The entry for “Justice by your own hand” (Justicia por mano propia) meanwhile, references Mexico’s vigilante-militia movement and offers the definition, “Given the absence of an effective — don’t even talk about trustworthy — justice system, this describes an empirical method based on the old adage ‘an eye for an eye.'”

The project is indicative of just how much crime, corruption and violence have become normalized in Mexico.

Other targets for the Corruptionary’s satirical definitions include state institutions such as Congress, which is described as “a space of simulated popular representation financed by taxpayers so that deputies and senators can sporadically come and take ‘selfies’ in the house.”

Some of the definitions also challenge some of the social attitudes that have become common in a country plagued by criminality. It does this through phrases such as “he must have been involved in something,” which it defines as “the prejudiced conviction that we usually say with alarming lightness when we find out about the violent death of someone (almost always a youth)” in Mexico.

“Do you think it’s funny?” the definition adds.

InSight Crime Analysis

All across Latin America, countries have seen how the nature of organized crime and corruption lends itself to the sort of linguistic creativity highlighted in the Corruptionary. To have such a broad and commonly used lexicon is often an indicator that a culture of criminality has taken hold.

In some cases, the rich and varied vocabulary of organized crime has been subsumed into local slang employed in daily use. One of the most evident examples of this is Medellín, Colombia, where drug trafficking has been a cultural force since the era of Pablo Escobar and the cocaine boom years. In Medellin, narco-slang has been encompassed into the regional vernacular — known as Parlache — and even two decades after Escobar’s death, people commonly use terms first coined by 1980s gangsters.

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However, beyond the linguistic curiosities and amusing definitions, there is, as Opciona points out, a more serious point to the Corruptionary. The project is indicative of just how much crime, corruption and violence have become normalized in Mexico. 

New entries in any dictionary only come when the words or phrases are widely used and commonly understood. To have a lexicon for such a range of criminal and corrupt acts suggests a society where these have become not only common but also largely accepted, even if they are not condoned.

However, the message of the Corruptionary does not end with its specialist vocabulary. The ironic definitions for terms that essentially represent the functions of the state are indicative not only of a state that is failing in its duties, but of one that in many cases performs the opposite of its designated role: the corrupt judges releasing drug traffickers, or police officers involved in kidnapping.

In addition, the descriptions of certain attitudes currently prevalent, like the belief that any murder victim must have been up to no good, are also testament to the corrosive social influence of crime and corruption and the hardening of a long-suffering population to its effects.

While the Corruptionary finds something to laugh about in Mexico’s dark underbelly, its underlying message is stark; the ability to fill a book with terms describing these actions and attitudes is a damning statement on the health of Mexican society. 

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