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Feature Articles


February 2013
Chayotes: Mexican Drug Cartel Bribery

      By Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus


Mike La Sorte is a professor emeritus (SUNY) and writes extensively on a variety of subjects.

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    A Mexican newspaper reporter is summoned to an appointed meeting at a specified location. He is greeted by several expensively dressed, highly amiable men. Once the greetings are over, they speak, and the tone darkens. We would like you to be considerate of us in your coverage, they say. We are aware of certain articles and news reports that are unfair and, dare we say, displeasing to us. Displeasing. We have our eyes on you. You must consider the consequences of offending us further. We give warnings but we give no quarter. You are dismissed. (An imagined scenario based on fact.)

    Practicing journalism in Mexico has become a hazardous occupation. As many as seventy-two reporters and photographers have been murdered since the year 2000. Mexico ranks at the top of the list in such crimes. There are few official investigations of the killings. Access to files are limited or, most likely, not allowed. There is no freedom of information in Mexico. Since 1977 only three crimes against journalists have gone to trial. And in these the convicted were probably not the actual gunmen but rather stooges who took the fall. Cases are allowed to languish in the government files. The longer they do the more likely they will be forgotten.

    Rather than suffer the wrath of the cartels, it is not surprising that those who feel under threat fall in line and accept the cash envelope. These bribes are known as chayotes or embute (stuffing). Journalists who work in the provinces are poorly paid and no doubt welcome the added stipend. Their professional ethics are shunted aside. The practice of the chayote has had a pre-cartel history in Mexico. Promoted in government circles, it is well institutionalized in the culture. To quote one newspaper executive, “The chayote has been impermeable to all the winds of modernity. Outside of Mexico, few could comprehend the carefree attitude that the chayote bribe is viewed in the media. Whatever you wish to call it, chayobribes, chayotours, chayomeals, it’s all a big joke.”

    There are many contexts where bribery has a function. In the world of journalism, stuffed envelopes are delivered for the purpose of slandering an opponent in print or for a favorable article or for burying white-collar activity. To accept a bribe is playing by the rules; to turn one down is to risk censure and expulsion from the boys’ club. Given the power of the drug cartel and the history of corruption and mal-governing in official circles, the chayote will remain an available bargaining chip.


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