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Mexico's business elite speak out against corruption in an extremely polite protest

Accompanied by tranquil elevator music, suited members of a major national business group were keen to show their unprecedented gathering was no ordinary protest.
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The Angel of Independence monument in the heart of Mexico City is often overrun by protesters seeking to highlight the grievances that abound in a country with 50 percent poverty and acute inequality.

The demonstrators who took over the landmark this Thursday came from rather different stock.

Instead of stopping traffic, the men and women in suits walked across the street in groups with the help of a traffic officer. Rather than shouting slogans, they played tranquil elevator music out of a PA system. They didn't hold signs scrawled with insults in black marker. They did spell out their concern with large gold balloons held by younger staff — also in suits.


The balloons said "MX without corruption."

"This is the first time that business owners have met up at the Angel of Independence," said Gustavo de Hoyos Walther, the National President of COPARMEX, a business group which claims to represent more than 30 percent of Mexico's GDP and nearly 5 million jobs. "We have come to say with one voice that we want to eradicate corruption from Mexico."

The demonstration came two days after the senate approved a watered down version of an anti-corruption bill that had emerged from an unusual alliance between business owners and usually left-leaning NGOs. The weakened bill is now heading to the lower house for a second reading.

Mexicans have long recognized corruption as one of the country's main problems, but the issue took center stage after a journalistic investigation, revealed in 2014, that a favored government contractor had built a mansion for the presidential family.

The scandal faded after President Enrique Peña Nieto promised to enact far more stringent controls to prevent corruption, though many were still upset that a government investigation headed by an official he appointed cleared him of any wrongdoing.

Soon after, civil society groups managed to get the hundreds of thousands of signatures necessary to introduce a bill to the senate. It proposed obliging officials to provide and make public information about their assets, their tax returns, and their potential conflicts of interests. In the early morning vote this Tuesday, senators removed the requirement to make these declarations public.


Gold balloons spelt out 'MX without corruption' on the steps of the Angel to the Independence monument in Mexico City. (Photo by Nathaniel Janowitz/VICE News)

"Corruption is the main evil that affects Mexicans," said De Hoyos. "We would not be here if the senate had respected the original spirit of the initiative."

The men and women in suits, however, stopped short of calling their presence at the Angel "a protest."

In fact they were keen to underline that it could never be compared to the demonstrations that regularly spill off the monument and create traffic chaos. A different concept altogether from striking rural teachers who are currently occupying a large plaza in the downtown historic center and protesting daily to clog major roads in and out of Mexico City.

"Before being businessmen, all of us are citizens," said De Hoyos. "Let's go together towards a Mexico without corruption, Viva México!"

After a round of applause, the President of COPARMEX led his associates, and some of the assembled reporters, in a spirited rendition of the national anthem. Then he and the other members went to the shade of a nearby Sheraton hotel.

Members of COPARMEX sing the Mexican national anthem. (Photo by Nathaniel Janowitz/VICE News)

Related: Mexico's ruling party cries 'witch hunt' at landmark anti-corruption bill

Follow Nathaniel Janowitz on Twitter: @ngjanowitz