Earlier this month a group of Mexican reporters received Spanish-speaking media's highest journalistic honor for an investigation that uncovered uncomfortable truths about Mexico's university system. Long considered pillars of integrity in a country rife with corruption, investigative reporters revealed that some of those most respected universities were part of an organized money laundering system. About $400 million (U.S.) taxpayer dollars were syphoned into phantom businesses. Now, nearly half that money can't be accounted for.
Miriam Castillo, an investigative reporter with Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity, helped broke the story.
Castillo said there have been suspicions about Mexico's university system since 2002. The nation's auditor's office reported a recurrent and systemic problem in 2010, through a series of open records requests, Castillo and her team were able to compare the auditor's complaints against the state's budgets.
"The system is made of cogs, each with a specific function," she said. "The systemic aspect of it made it easy for all of the involved to funnel the money."
Another thing that made it easy was that those involved operate with impunity. Often, when there is an investigation, the investigators are part of the system.
"When state colleges and universities are audited their impunity is guaranteed," Castillo said. "There's never any punishment."
The public has responded with indignation over this case, but the problem is that the Mexican people are inundated with news about corruption cases. Castillo said there were protests but the lack of consequences for the bad actors meant nothing about the system changed.
"The way the government deals with these stories is that they ignore them," she said. "They never address them. They don't even give the illusion that they are working on a solution."
Even though little has changed as a result of the work Castillo and her team have done she said it is still her responsibility to shed light on these issues.
"We fail if we stay quiet in the face of impunity simply because impunity goes unpunished," she said. "The authority's job is to bring justice. That's not my job."
The systemic corruption in Mexico's government makes democratic change a very slow process. In spite of this, Castillo said many people are invested in changing the system.
"Perhaps, you don't see it yet but I believe we are awakening the consciousness of people," she said. "We may see the system changing with the upcoming presidential elections in Mexico."
Written by Jeremy Steen.