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Hispanic American Historical Review 82.1 (2002) 173-175

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Book Review

Vicios públicos, virtudes privadas: La corrupción en México

Vicios públicos, virtudes privadas: La corrupción en México. Edited by CLAUDIO LOMNITZ. Mexico City: Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS); Grupo Editorial Miguel Ángel Porrúa, 2000 . Bibliographies. 291 pp. Paper.

According to Claudio Lomnitz, the goal of this volume, the product of a 1995 conference, is to "'desnaturalizar' (o sea de-historizar) la categoría misma de la corrupción y el papel social de prácticas corruptas específicas" (p. 7 ). It largely achieves that goal, demonstrating convincingly the constructed nature of its topic. It is not, however, the book spanning the history of corruption in Mexico that one might hope for: only three essays (by Solange Alberro, Linda Arnold, and Enrique Semo) treat the colonial period and nineteenth century, while nine (by Friedrich Katz, Guillermo de la Peña, Daniel Nugent, Luis Alfonso Ramírez, Luis Astorga, Francisco Valdés Ugalde, Stephen D. Morris, Claudio Lomnitz, and Fernando Escalante) deal with the twentieth century. Rather than surveying the historical terrain, this book's contribution is to examine the topic from a number of fascinating angles.

In the opening chapter, Solange Alberro asks if it is even possible to discuss corruption in colonial New Spain. The word corrupción did not exist, and corruption, to the extent that it involves the redirection of public funds into private coffers, was problematic in that there was no clear divide between public and private spheres. Alberro also indicates that practices that we might now label corruption were often expected in a world in which salaries were insufficient and offices sometimes sold.

Guillermo de la Peña's contribution concerns informalidad, defined as "cualquier [End Page 173] situación productiva de bienes y servicios que escapa a las normas oficiales" (p. 114 ). This is a larger concept than the "informal sector," and de la Peña details the informal facets of many economic activities in Guadalajara usually considered to be formal. He argues that these manifestations of informality are naturalized, having developed from a common belief that juridical institutions are not sufficient to "garantizar el bienestar" (p. 123 ). They are also related to efforts on the part of the PRI to reproduce networks of clients.

With an account of how a friend, Neto, evolved from honorable farmer to "cacique-wannabe," Daniel Nugent's essay is an engaging exploration of corruption in Namiquipa, Chihuahua during the 1980 s. Nugent does not chronicle Neto's moral journey. Instead, he describes how Neto became presidente municipal as a compromise candidate and creature of the PRI, and then reacted to pressure from the party and local expectations by deciding he needed to steal quickly while he had the chance. Nugent concludes that Neto's corruption was a symptom of the social disorder produced by the state, not its cause.

One of the most historical contributions to this volume is Luis Astorga's work on drug trafficking. Against the notion that drug runners have corrupted the state in recent years, Astorga argues that ties between traffickers, politicians, and police are hardly new. In fact, he demonstrates that the drug trade was built on such official connections, starting in the 1920 s and 1930 s.

Francisco Valdés Ugalde contends, more broadly, that the relationship between state and bourgeoisie from 1940 to 1994 led to the "interconstrucción de la corrupción en el sistema político y su extensión a la cultura económica de las élites" (p. 195 ). He blames this development on several factors, including the concentration of power in the hands of a president who was above the law and who, acting in concert with a small inner circle, had tremendous discretion in the making of economic policy. Valdés Ugalde believes that between 1940 and 1982 , in a state- run economy, corruption permitted the formation of capital that supported economic growth. During the subsequent neoliberal opening, however, it contributed to institutional...


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pp. 173-175
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