Spanish – By Yoelí Ramírez:
Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Ernesto Zedillo, Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón, and Enrique Peña Nieto are cornered and will continue to be so for months, perhaps years, by the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
The Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) declared that the Mexican president’s proposed referendum was constitutional after modifying the question that originally raised the possibility of investigating and bringing these five former presidents to trial.
President Lopez Obrador accuses them of alleged cases of privatization, indebtedness, crimes against humanity, diversion of resources, and corruption.
And who wouldn’t want to see an investigation and, if necessary, the punishment of former officials accused of corruption in a country so damaged by this scourge? However, in Mexico, there is still a pact of impunity woven by government after government.
The ruling party and opposition politicians, constitutionalists, and intellectuals were divided because the law envisages investigating and prosecuting former presidents, and whoever is found guilty of several crimes, including corruption, and it does not require spending millions on citizen referendums to do so. But so far, this has not been done.
The key to the debate is whether the president has overstepped the bounds of his office; whether he has not respected the independence of the powers by putting the court on the line; whether he is even prosecuting what many call a political vendetta against his predecessors and, in any case, whether he will play the political game to prosecute members of the PRI or the PAN, or any opposition movement, during next year’s elections, which will be the biggest in history or the presidential elections of 2024. The question is whether a process of dismantling the Mexican rule of law and institutional framework has begun under the disguise of participatory democracy.
Former President Vicente Fox himself criticized the court’s decision. He said on Twitter: “What an example for the judges all over the country. Now the president has really messed up!”
Que ejemplo para los Jueces de todo el pais.
Ahora si que la rego el presidente!!!
— Vicente Fox Quesada (@VicenteFoxQue) October 2, 2020
And indeed, if the Mexican Supreme Court did not say no to the referendum, now any former president or official could face the bench. The court set a precedent. The challenge is that justice does not continue to be selective and that it is not politicized, that the pact of impunity is broken in all powers and at all levels, that in truth, the Mexican judicial system has initiated a transition to combat corruption and impunity, which would strengthen the rule of law.
Odebrecht, the acid test
Lopez Obrador immediately has the litmus test with the Odebrecht case. In Latin American countries, it led to the dismissal of presidents and judicial maxi-processes that billed entire government cabinets, as well as businessmen. The Mexican state and politicians from various parties were identified in the international corruption scheme, but the files were buried in the well-oiled web of corruption and impunity.
Today, the plot thickens as the former Pemex head, Emilio Lozoya, has already caused a political earthquake but has not set foot in jail. Although he could be instrumental in the investigation and determine how the network, which allegedly includes former presidents, former government secretaries, and legislators, operated, nothing has happened so far in judicial terms, other than a series of leaks that did put the Mexican political class in the spotlight.
Judicialization of politics
Sadly, we could see the flow of information from this judicial process and others no less serious, at the beginning of next year when the race to renew governorships and the Mexican legislative apparatus that today heavily favors President López Obrador begins.
Sadly, politics is being judicialized. And those who warn of this risk are right because the economic crisis, unemployment, the wave of violence and murder, the handling of the coronavirus pandemic that already leaves nearly 80,000 dead, and the social crisis could take votes away from the president’s party, MORENA, and that would be the perfect time to remind Mexicans that in the last presidential election they voted for change, for leaving behind that political class marked by serious crimes, including economic plundering and corruption.
The question approved by the court and that cannot be modified for any reason is: “Do you agree or not that pertinent actions should be taken with adherence to the constitutional and applicable law to start a process of clarifying political decisions taken by political actors in past years with the aim to ensure justice and rights of possible victims?”
Former presidents cornered in an election year
The Board of Directors of the Senate will receive the resolution of the SCJN on the request for a popular referendum and the question. Each chamber will debate the proposal and vote on it. Once the petition is approved, Congress will issue the call for the popular referendum through a decree, notify the National Electoral Institute, and order its publication in the Official Gazette.
The referendum will take place in 2021, I reiterate, in an electoral year. And from now until that date, at least, the former presidents are cornered. But most importantly, the Mexican State and the strength of its institutions are also being tested. Let’s hope that the discourse on the fight against corruption does not end up pulverizing the opposition, the counterweights, and democracy.
Yoelí Ramírez is a Mexican journalist with national and international experience. She is a news coordinator at Meganoticias TVC. She has contributed as a journalist, editorialist, and analyst at El Heraldo de México, Milenio TV, Excélsior television, Tv Azteca, France 24, and NTN24.