When Hugo Cerón saw the police lights flashing in his rearview mirror, he knew what was about to happen. It was the “bite.” The police officer walked up and informed Cerón that he was getting tickets for illegally talking on a cellphone while driving and for not wearing a seat belt. “The ticket was 500 pesos ($46), but he offered to let me be on my way for 100 pesos ($9.25),” Cerón said. Like thousands of Mexicans every day, Cerón paid up.
In Mexico, they call these little bribes mordidas, or “bites”–the payoffs and kickbacks that people give to cops, teachers and bureaucrats just to get on with their lives. It’s a culture of corruption that many experts fear is eating away at Mexico’s efforts to modernize, strengthen the rule of law and democracy, and attract foreign investment. Civic groups have launched ad campaigns urging people to denounce corruption, some Mexican states are overhauling their legal systems to eliminate the bureaucracy that leads to bribery, and schools are trying to teach children not to offer bribes. Still, the “bite” continues because many prefer this deep-rooted, traditional way of getting around the system.