Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wal-Mart's Alleged Bribery Cover-up - the Mexican Response



In contrast to the outcry in the US over the New York Times’ claims that Wal-Mart’s Mexican branch paid bribes to officials on a large scale, the response south of the border has been muted.


The Wall Street Journal reports that Mexican officials are not planning to open their own investigation into the matter. The newspaper points out that the company would be unlikely to face serious penalties even if there was evidence of wrongdoing, as it would likely fall to each state to investigate payments to local officials, and the statute of limitations might have expired. Various officials responded vaguely to the newspapers' enquiries:
Finance Minister Jose Antonio Meade said there wasn't yet enough information to launch an investigation. Attorney General Marisela Morales said her office didn't have jurisdiction. The Economy Ministry said it was a state and local matter because the alleged bribes weren't at the federal level, although it promised full cooperation with US authorities.
Part of the explanation for this reluctance may lie in Wal-Mart’s importance to Mexico -- as the WSJ points out, it is the biggest private employer in the country, with 209,000 people on its payroll, and is the the second biggest company on the stock exchange.


An opinion piece in the WSJ puts this side of the case, arguing that Wal-Mart has brought benefits to Mexico, from jobs to cheaper goods, and that to achieve this its subsidy (allegedly) had to “play by local rules” and pay bribes, because that was the way to get things done quickly in that country. For the author; “Mexico's failure to provide itself with better governance hardly seems a reason to deprive Mexicans of the benefits of Wal-Mart.”


The Washington Post notes that the news has caused little outrage among ordinary Mexicans, saying that such practices are widespread in the country, where “crowded government offices remain the working grounds of shadowy facilitators known as ‘gestores.’”


The LA Times agrees, saying “greasing the palms of officials is routinely viewed as another cost of doing business by even the most humble street vendor.”


News Briefs
  • Following the outcry over Secret Service agents using prostitutes in Colombia before the Summit of the Americas, a Brazilian sex worker is planning to sue the US embassy over injuries she received last year in a dispute with an embassy staffer and three marines, reports the AP. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is in Brazil as part of his tour of South America, told press that the group had pushed the woman from a car during a dispute over payment. Sources told the AP that the sex worker broke her collarbone in the fall, and that the embassy had contacted her and paid her medical bills. Now, emboldened by the response to the Cartagena scandal, the woman has hired a lawyer.
  • On the case itself, the NYT reports that investigators now believe that, for at least two of the agents involved, the women they brought back to their rooms were not prostitutes. Another seemingly brought back a woman without realizing she was a prostitute, and asked her to leave once she demanded money.
  • The Miami Herald notes that the scandal is rippling wider and wider, and condemns those involved -- “the salaciousness of the details can’t mask the fact that this sex scandal actually represents a huge security breach that could have put the president in grave danger."
    In a view from Colombia, Colombia Reports criticizes the Washington Post andAP coverage of the scandal. It points out that focusing on the "uncontrolled sexuality" of "carnal Cartagena" as William Booth does in a piece titled “Cartagena’s night life spelled trouble for Secret Service” is missing the point. The author notes the levels of poverty driving women in the city into the sex trade, and says; “Let's stop blaming the women and stop blaming Colombia. The US agents slept with prostitutes because they wanted to sleep with prostitutes. End of story.”
  • Brazil has seen a fourth journalist murdered this year, when political reporterDecio Sa was gunned down in a restaurant in Sao Luis, capital of the northeaster state of Maranhao. Colleagues told the AP that he had certainly been killed because of his work -- “But he denounced so many people and so much corruption that it is impossible to say who was behind his murder.”
  • There have been violent clashes between police and protesters in Bolivian capital La Paz,as miners joined teachers demanding higher pay in a two-day strike organized by Bolivian Workers Central, reports the AP. According to the government, demonstrators threw dynamite sticks while trying to break through a police line in the central Plaza de las Armas, injuring five officers.
  • An illicit armed group in Haiti, which is agitating for the reformation of the country’s army, held a press conference to announce that they refused to disband, reports the AP. Armed members of the group disrupted a Congress session last week, after storming in and demanding a halt to plans to expel them from the former military bases they are currently occupying.
  • Guatemala has given new powers to a vice ministry that will focus on fighting drug trafficking, reports Prensa Libre. The body, part of the Interior Ministry, will be charged with targeting the trade, which was previously tackled in a more dispersed way by the police, said the interior minister. It will tighten security at Guatemala’s borders, to stop drugs and precursor chemicals entering.
    After his first 100 days in office, 82 percent of Guatemalans approve of President Otto Perez, according to a poll by Prensa Libre. The move most praised by respondents was having more soldiers and police on the streets, while the most disliked was his attempts to open a debate on drug depenalization. For his part, Perez gave his opening months a score of eight out of ten.
  • Rio Radar has a translation of an O Dia interview with Marcelo Freixo, a Brazilian politician who made his mark fighting the influence of militia groups in Rio de Janeiro, and is now running for mayor of the city. Freixo said that if he does not win he will have to leave Rio and maybe Brazil due to threats from militias. “If I don’t win this election, I will lose my protected status and be vulnerable; I would not be a public figure anymore.” He dismissed allegations that he fled Brazil for Spain last year as a publicity move, “These guys killed a judge with guns and ammunition that came from the police. A month later, I got threats detailing how they were going to kill me.”
  • Brazil’s Congress has delayed a vote on reforms to environmental protection law, which have been strongly opposed by those who say it would be a disaster for the country’s Amazon rainforest. The AP says that lawmakers are expected to pass it with a heavy majority, but that they are currently haggling over its details.
  • The LA Times reports that Argentina’s Congress is likely to approve the expropriation of oil and gas company YPF, with up to 74 percent of the population approving of the mood in a recent poll.
  • Venezuela’s government has accused opposition politicians of taking part in a scheme to launder drug money, reports the AP.
  • Chile plans to open the will of former ruler Augusto Pinochet, against the opposition of his family who have called the move “political persecution,”reports the AP. By law, the contents of the will cannot be made public, but the state may be able to use it to help recover illegally obtained money from the general’s estate.
  • Central American Politics says that reports of kidnappings in Guatemala might have dropped over the last three years not because of the deterrent effect of more cases being brought to trial, as InSight Crime suggested, but because criminals are increasingly relying on extortion rather than kidnapping.