CNDH’s 2020 Recommendations on Human Rights Violations

Logo for Mexico's National Human Rights Commission
Photo: Wikimedia.

01/21/21 (written by kheinle) — Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) issued 90 standard recommendations (recomendaciones) in 2020 against offending institutions and local, state, and federal bodies. The ombudsman generates these formal reports for the government agency against which a complaint (queja) about a human rights violation has been levied. The recommendations are a list of steps that the accused parties need to take in order to repair and remedy the damages caused.

CNDH’s 2020 Recommendations

Of the 90 such recommendations issued in 2020, the most were against Mexico’s Institute of Social Security (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, IMSS), which received 12. This was followed by the Institute for Social Security and Services for State Workers (Instituto de Seguridad y Servicios Sociales de los Trabajadores del Estado, ISSSTE) and its executive leadership (Dirección General del ISSSTE), which had a combined ten. Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM) had six recommendations.

The only other authorities that received more than three recommendations were the Secretary of Security and Civilian Protection (Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana, SSPC), the Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR), and the State Attorney General’s Office of Chiapas (Fiscalía General del Estado de Chiapas), each with four. Below that, four institutions received three recommendations each, and another eight received two each. The remaining 87 bodies all received just one recommendation, the majority of which were municipal governments. These 90 recommendations are categorized differently than CNDH’s general recommendations, recommendations for grave violations, and recommendations based on the national protocol to prevent torture. For more information on CNDH and the recommendation process, check out Justice in Mexico’s special report on human rights violations.

Mexico’s Military and Human Rights

The building headquarters for Mexico's Institute of Social Security located in Mexico City.
Headquarters for Mexico’s Institute of Social Security (IMSS) located in Mexico City. Photo: Wikimedia.

Mexico’s military is among the institutions that regularly receive CNDH recommendations. The military’s presence in the streets increased as former President Felipe Calderón took on Mexico’s brutally violent organized crime groups during his 2006-2012 presidency. As Justice in Mexico reported in its 2012 publication, “Armed with Impunity: Curbing Military Human Rights Abuses in Mexico,” Calderón’s massive deployment of troops increased civilian exposure and vulnerability to abuses by military personnel.

This civil-military relationship in Mexico largely mirrors that of fellow Latin American countries in Central and South America. As Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America wrote in a July 2020 article, “The past decade has already seen a worrying erosion of the region’s transitions from military rule to civilian democracy.” Despite being one of the country’s most trusted institutions, Mexico’s military is notorious for its human rights violations. The CNDH’s recommendations over the years document this civil-military relationship, as discussed below.

Secretary of National Defense

In 2011, Mexico’s Secretary National Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) received 25 recommendations, and another 14 in 2012. That number then dropped to three in 2013 and one in 2014 under the Peña Nieto administration (2012-2018). It has since registered between one and five recommendations per year for the six subsequent years, including three in 2020. This brings SEDENA’s ten-year total since 2011 to 62 such recommendations. SEDENA also was part of two general recommendations (recomendaciones generales) received in 2020, as well as two recommendations involving grave violations of human rights (recomendación por violaciones graves).

SEDENA's director, General Sandoval González, stands in front of a historic painting and the Mexican flag.
General Luis Cresencio Sandoval González, head of SEDENA. Photo: Gobierno de México.

Its most recent recommendation received, Recomendación 78/2020, is a reminder of the slow pace at which human rights violations are often reported, verified, and publicized. Released on December 10, 2020, the CNDH recommendation was directed to General Luis Cresencio Sandoval González, the head of SEDENA. It details the agency’s investigation and findings into the case of the arbitrary detention and torture of a soldier who was unlawfully apprehended in Morelia, Michoacán by members of the then named Judicial Military Police (Policía Judicial Militar). The military police allegedly thought the soldier was a member of a drug cartel, feigning his way a member of the military. After his arrest and subsequent torture, the victim was detained in a prison in Tepic, Nayarit. The incident happened in April 2010; the case was filed in 2017; and nearly three and half years later, CNDH published its findings in 2020.

CNDH included several recommendations for SEDENA, the institution in violation, to move forward in addressing and correcting its mistakes. In addition to “repairing damage caused to the victim,” CNDH also recommended instituting human rights training courses for SEDENA personnel that “focus on eradicating arbitrary detention, illegal holding, preventing and eradicating torture and other cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.”

Secretary of the Navy

Mexico’s Secretary of the Navy (Secretaría de Marina-Armada, SEMAR), meanwhile, had no standard recommendations issued against it in 2020 and just two in 2019. Over the past ten years, SEMAR received 39 recommendations, about a third less than SEDENA’s total since 2011. Its annual recommendations have varied between one and seven per year, with its highest tallies in 2013 and 2016. In 2020, SEMAR also was named in the same two general recommendations issued against SEDENA. SEMAR did, however, receive three separate recommendations involving incidences of grave violations.

SEMAR did take an important step toward protecting human rights when it signed a Collective Agreement to Collaborate (Convenio General de Colaboración) with CNDH in December 2020. Rooted in principles of building a “culture of legality” and “respect for human rights,” the agreement focuses on “preventing, training, and promoting” human rights programs between SEMAR and CNDH. This agreement comes nearly ten years after the last Collective Agreement between the two was signed in March 2011. Since then, SEMAR and CNDH have signed and implemented a number of more specific agreements to develop and execute courses, certifications, and training programs to ground SEMAR’s officers and personnel in protecting human rights. 

Military Training to Protect Human Rights

The cover image of the Falsas Salvaguardas report
Photo: Equis.

Nevertheless, a recent report found serious concerns with the military’s handling of human rights violations. The report, “False Safeguards: Training of the armed forces on human rights and gender (2010-2019),” was published the week before CNDH’s Recomendación 78/2020 against SEDENA. Data Cívica, EQUIS Justicia para las Mujeres, and Intersecta – a mix of several civic institutions and national and international organizations – authored the report.

“False Safeguards”

The ten-year investigation argues that the military has failed to follow through on recommendations and even mandates made by national and international organizations to properly train members of Mexico’s military on human rights protections. This includes failure to comply with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ ruling from a landmark case involving Ines Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú, two indigenous women who were raped by Mexican soldiers in 2002. It also includes the IACHR’s decision in 2018 that found the Mexican officials responsible for the disappearance of three family members in 2009 in Chihuahua: Nitza, José, and Rocío.

SEDENA, SEMAR, and the National Guard Respond

The three branches of the military named in “False Safeguards” – SEDENA, SEMAR, and the National Guard – all pushed back immediately on the report’s finding. For its part, SEDENA argued that is has spent “hundreds of millions of pesos on training activities.” It continued, stating that the report does not consider all of the work that SEDENA has done “to guarantee that the injustices committed against Inés Fernández Ortega, Valentina Rosendo Cantú, Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza, José Ángel Alvarado Herrera, and Rocío Irene Alvarado Reyes don’t happen again.” SEMAR and the National Guard made similar arguments, noting that they either were not required to comply with the IACHR’s ruling or simply did not have the capacity to provide all of the information requested from the report’s authors on their specific human rights training and protocols.

To read the full report, “False Safeguards: Training of the armed forces on human rights and gender (2010-2019)” (“Falsas salvauardas: Las capacitaciones de las fuerzas armadas en derechos humanos y género”), click here.

Sources:

“Great News for Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú!” Amnesty USA. October 6, 2010.

Daly, Catherine et al. “Armed with Impunity: Curbing Military Human Rights Abuses in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. July 2012.

Isacson, Adam. “In Latin America, COVID-19 Risks Permanently Disturbing Civil-Military Relations.” Washington Office on Latin America. July 20, 2020.

“Falsas Salvaguardas: Las capacitaciones de las fuerzas armadas en derechos humanos (2010-2019).” Data Cívica, Equis, Intersecta. December 2020.

Camacho Servin, Fernando. “Comisionado de ONU-DH cuestiona manejo de derechos humanos en México.” La Jornada. December 9, 2020.

Flores Martínez, Raúl. “Semar y CNDH capacitarán a marinos en protección de DH.” Excelsior. December 10, 2020.

“México no ha cumplido con mandatos de la Corte IDH para capacitar a militares en derechos humanos.” Animal Político. December 10, 2020.

“A 2 años de que la CorteIDH culpó a México de la desaparición de 3, la familia sigue sin justicia.” Sin Embargo. December 21, 2020.

“CNDH emite recomendación a Sedena por caso de integrante del Ejército torturado por militares.” Proceso. December 31, 2020.

Web. “Recomendaciones.” Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. Last accessed January 3, 2021.

Querétaro at the forefront of Mexico’s justice system

Image: Justice in Mexico.

01/02/20 (written by kheinle) – The State of Querétaro appears to be the model in Mexico for implementing the Accusatorial Criminal Justice System (Sistema de Justicia Penal Acusatorial, SJPA), at least according to several research organizations and elected officials. When considering the state’s use of an inter-institutional collaboration system, as well as its efforts to reform its prison systems, Querétaro has been at the forefront.

México Evalúa

One of Mexico’s leading research institutes, México Evalúa, found that Querétaro was the top state for the third consecutive year in a row in terms of its criminal justice proceedings. The findings were published in its annual report, “Hallazgos 2019: Seguimiento y evaluación del sistema de justicia penal en México,” released in October 2020. The report looked at factors including the strength and integration of the SJPA, the technology used, and the state’s unique, institutional coordination. It specifically highlighted Querétaro’s use of the model known as “Cosmos,” or the Commission for the Evaluation of the Operation of the SJPA (Comisión para la Evaluación de la Operación del SJPA). The model focuses on inter-institutional collaboration, which, according to México Evaluá, has expedited the state’s consolidation of the criminal justice system since it went into effect just one year ago (Hallazgos, pg. 30).

Querétaro Governor Domínguez Servién

Querétaro’s governor, Francisco Domínguez Servién, similarly credits his state’s judicial success thanks in large part to the “strong inter-institutional coordination.” Speaking at the second Cosmos session in early December, Domínguez proclaimed that “with the participation of the people of Querétaro, [this state] will be the epicenter of justice in the country.”

Querétaro Governor Domínguez Servién speaking at the second session of Cosmos in December. Photo: El Heraldo de México.

The Governor also emphasized the state’s leading role in protecting human rights within the penitentiary system. “I come back to the fact that the Querétaro State Prison System (Sistema Estatal Penitenciario) has been at the top nationwide for two consecutive years, 2018 and 2019, in terms of respecting human rights, according to the National Commission of Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos,” said Governor Domínguez. The governor spoke at the XLVI Ordinary Session of the National Public Security Council (XLVI Sesión Ordinaria del Consejo Nacional de Seguirdad Pública) in mid-late December 2020.

First International Innovation of Justice Forum

Governor Domínguez’s comments came on the heels of the First International Innovation of Justice Forum (Primer Foro Internacional: La Innovación en la Justicia) held in late November. Mexico’s Secretary of Government, Juan Martín Granados Torres, spoke on two panels at the event: “Innovations in Prisons” and “Innovations, Justice, and Security.” Granados Torres, who is also involved in the coordination and operation of the Accusatorial Justice System, specifically highlighted Querétaro’s success with aligning its prison system with the new model. He focused on the state’s use of the restorative justice model – a key component in the alternative dispute resolution methods introduced in the SJPA. One critical element of the restorative practice is the focus on the offending party’s reinsertion into society in a dignified and structured manner that reduces recidivism. Although the social reintroduction takes time and capacity, noted Granados Torres, the outcomes are worth the efforts.

The event was sponsored by México Evalúa, the German organization Friedrich Naumann Foundation, la Fundación para el Debido Proceso, and la Barra Mexicana de Abogados, among others. More than 60 experts from 19 countries participated in the conference as panelists and keynote presenters, including former Mexican Supreme Court Justice José Ramón Cossio.

Secretary of Government Granados Torres speaking at the First International Innovation of Justice Forum in November. Photo: Querétaro Quadratín.

World Justice Project’s “Rule of Law Index”

Looking more broadly at the rule of law across Mexico, Querétaro ranks fifth out of the nation’s 32 state entities in the World Justice Project’s “Rule of Law Index 2019-2020.” It placed behind Yucatán at the top, followed by Aguascalientes, Zacatecas, and Campeche. It was one of only six state entities that did not see a change in their Rule of Law Index score from 2018-2019 to 2019-2020.

Of the World Justice Project’s eight factors taken into consideration to develop the Index, Querétaro scored the highest on Factor 4: Fundamental Rights. This indicator measures absence of discrimination, due process of law, freedom of opinion, freedom of religion, right to privacy, freedom of association, and labor rights. It scored the lowest, however, on Factor 3: Open Government, which measures access to information and citizen participation.

To read World Justice Project’s full report, click here.

Sources:

“Mexico States Rule of Law Index 2019-2020 Insights: Highlights and Data Trends.” World Justice Project. April 2020.

“Hallazgos 2019: seguimiento y evaluación del sistema de justicia penal.” México Evalúa. October 22, 2020.

“Querétaro primer lugar nacional en Justicia Penal por 3er año consecutivo: México Evalúa.” Secretaría de Gobernación de Querétaro. October 22, 2020.

“Querétaro, líder en justicia penal gracias a su capacidad coordinación entre instituciones.” 6 en Punto. November 10, 2020.

Press Release. “Organizaciones convocan al Primer Foro Internacional: La Innovación en la Justicia.” México Evalúa. November 19, 2020.

MC, Andrea. Querétaro será epicentro de la justicia en el país: gobernador.” Update México. December 7, 2020.

“Con la participación ciudadana Querétaro será epicentro de la justicia en el país: Domínguez Servién.” El Heraldo de México. December 8, 2020.

“Querétaro el el único estado con 100% Certificado Único Policial.” Quadratín Querétaro. December 21, 2020.

“Cosmos innova en justicia restaurativa.” Quadratín Querétaro. December 29, 2020.

Former governor assassinated as CJNG continues asserting its power

12/28/20 (written by kheinle) – One of the most high-profile killings in recent years in Mexico occurred on December 18 when Aristóteles Sandoval was shot and killed in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. Sandoval was the former governor of the State of Jalisco from 2013 to 2018. He also served in a top post in the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) until he recently resigned in October 2020, though not without pledging to continue being involved.

Former Jalisco Governor Aristóteles Sandoval was murdered on December 18. Photo: Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco

Sandoval was murdered in the early hours of December 18 in a restaurant bathroom around 1:30am while his security team waited outside. Following a shootout outside the restaurant as the suspect fled, Sandoval was transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. Authorities released a warrant for the arrest of one suspect on December 23 with possible connections to the homicide. The day after, the Jalisco Attorney’s General Office (Fiscalía de Jalisco) announced they had a suspect in custody. Additionally, they had secured some potential critical evidence, including a digital video recording from the restaurant.

The CJNG’s Likely Involvement

Authorities suspect that the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) was involved in Sandoval’s murder. As Reuters reports, CJNG came to power while Sandoval was in office, bringing with it a dramatic rise in violence and threat to public security. That violence has continued through 2020 with the CJNG being one of Mexico’s most publicly violent and dominant cartels, battling primarily with the notorious Sinaloa Cartel formerly headed by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. According to security analyst Eduardo Guerrero from Lantia Consultores, Sandoval’s assassination was likely a message for the current governor of Jalisco, Enrique Alfaro. “The message is: give in or negotiate with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel,” said Guerrero, “or you will have the same fate as Sandoval.”

The State of Jalisco. Photo: Wikipedia.

Violence in Mexico

The CJNG’s presence is felt far outside of just its namesake state of Jalisco. In early December, for example, 19 people were killed in a fight that broke out in Jerez, Zacatecas between the CJNG and the Sinaloa Cartel. A collaborative police/military sting a few days later led Zacatecas authorities to arrest 15 alleged CJNG members residing in a “narco-camp” in Jerez.

Violence in Mexico continues to soar. On December 18, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador gave updated statistics on the nation’s levels of crime and violence. Writes The New York Times, “More than 31,000 murders were recorded in Mexico this year as of November, the latest month for which government statistics are available, a figure roughly on pace with 2019.”

To read more about organized crime and violence in Mexico, check out Justice in Mexico’s annual reports here.

Sources:

Valadez Rodríguez, Alfredo. “Deja 19 muertos violencia en Zacatecas detienen a 15 miembros de CJNG.” La Jornada. December 9, 2020.

Bravo, Tomas. “Ex-governor of cartel-ravaged Mexican state gunned down in beach resort.” Reuters. December 18, 2020.

Lopez, Oscar. “An Ex-Governor Is Gunned Down, Punctuating a Deadly Year for Mexico.” The New York Times. December 18, 2020.

Rodríguez, Rey. “Giran órdenes de aprehensión por asesinato del exgobernador Aristóteles Sandoval.” CNN Español. December 23, 2020.

“Reporta fiscalía captura de persona y nueva evidencia en asesinato de Aristóteles Sandoval | Video.” Aristegui Noticias. December 24, 2020.

Webpage. “Perfil: Eduardo Guerrero Gutiérrez.” Lantia Consultores. Last visited December 27, 2020.

Two Former High-ranking Federal and State Officials Face Charges of Corruption

11/10/20 (written by kheinle) — The López Obrador administration’s efforts to root out corruption continue, this time with two officials at the federal and state level facing charges.

Corruption at the Federal Level

Luis Videgaray, the former Secretary of Finance and Public Credit (Secretaría de Hacienda y Credito Público, SHCP) during the Peña Nieto administration (2012-2018), is being investigated for alleged acts of corruption, electoral crimes, and possibly even treason. He allegedly received millions of dollars through the Brazilian-based business Odebrecht, the high-profile case of corruption that the López Obrador administration is working to untangle. A judge initially blocked the warrant for Videgaray’s arrest. Prosecutors are now working to “perfect” the language and justification for the warrant before resubmitting the request.  

Luis Videgaray. Photo: Cuartoscuro, Animal Politico.

Former CEO of PEMEX (Petróleo Mexicano), Emilio Lozoya, named Videgaray in the case. Lozoya, who is currently facing charges of corruption, tax fraud, bribery, and money laundering, is cooperating with officials as his case unfolds. Videgaray is one of a handful of high-profile persons that Lozoya has accused of corruption. This includes former Presidents Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) and Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994), and even President Enrique Peña Nieto under whom he served. In August 2020, according to Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero, Lozoya named Peña Nieto and Videgaray in the Odebrecht scandal, saying that he handled millions of dollars’ worth of bribes on both of their behalf, reported the Washington Post.

The targeting of former presidents in alleged criminal acts while in office compliments President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s strategy. The current president has pushed forward a referendum to address past cases of criminal conduct, specifically that of corruption and ties to organized crime. Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies approved the initiative on October 22 with a vote of 272 in favor and 116 against. Having now passed through Mexico’s Congress and with the backing of the Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN), the Mexican people will vote on the plebiscite in June 2021.

Corruption in the Capital

In addition to federal level cases of corruption, the López Obrador administration is also targeting state- and local-level actors, like Raymundo Collins Flores who is accused of misdirecting public funds for personal gains and abuse of public office. As El Universal describes, Collins held a number of high-ranking positions in Mexico City. This included the former Under-secretary of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP) in 2002, the former director of the Housing Institute (Instituto de Vivienda, INVI) from 2012 to 2018, and the former Secretary of Public Security in 2018.

Raymundo Collins Flores, seen left, and the 41 classic, high-end vehicles found on his property in Morelos. Photo: La Jornada.

An order for Collins’ arrest was issued in December 2019, but subsequently blocked by a judge. A second order was released in September 2020. On October 30, Mexican officials raided Collins’ property in the State of Morelos where they found over 40 high-end classic cars and expensive works of art, among other items. The day after the raid, Mexican officials requested that the United States extradite Collins back to Mexico to stand trial. He had fled while the investigations against him were unfolding. Although he has been located in the United States at the time of this writing, it is not clear if U.S. officials have yet complied with the extradition request.

Corruption within the AMLO Administration

Despite President López Obrador’s efforts to address corruption, his administration is not immune. According to the Secretary of Public Administration (Secretaría de la Función Pública, SFP), more than 500 complaints of wrongdoing were filed against the Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) since the president took office in December 2018. They include allegations of corruption, bribery, embezzlement, illegal use of public office, and other internal irregularities.

Over 75% of the complaints (296 of 388) registered from December 2018 through June 2020 were against the Institute of Security and State Workers Social Services (Instituto de Seguridad y Servicios Sociales de los Trabajadores del Estado, ISSSTE). Another 125 complaints against all offices were registered from late June to the end of October 2020, showing a noticeable increase in pace from the previous 18 months. Of the more than 500 cases in total during President López Obrador’s time in office, the Secretary of Public Administration noted that not one has been brought before the federal courts

It is encouraging to see the progress being made against former high-level officials like Videgaray and Collins involved in cases of corruption. Yet the results of the SFP’s investigation ought to be a reminder to the López Obrador administration to not lose sight of its own workers in the here and now.

Sources:

Alarcón, Juan Carlos. “Raymundo Collins no extorsionó a empresarios; denuncias pesan contra excolaboradores.” MVS Noticias. January 6, 2020.

López Obrador administration secures two high-profile cases of corruption.” Justice in Mexico. July 14, 2020.

Sheridan, Mary Beth. “Former aide ties Mexican ex-president Peña Nieto to millions in bribes.” Washington Post. August 11, 2020.

Fuentes, David. “Dictan segunda orden de aprehensión contra Raymundo Collins, extitular del Invi.” El Universal. September 8, 2020.

“President López Obrador Targets His Predecessors with a Referendum on Corruption.” Justice in Mexico. October 20, 2020.

Jimenez, Horacio. “Diputados avalan consulta de AMLO para enjuiciar a expresidentes.” El Universal. October 22, 2020.

“Quién es Raymundo Collins, exfuncionario al que le aseguararon 41 autos clásicos.” El Universal. October 30, 2020.

Ruiz, Kevin. “Catean domicile de Raymundo Collins en Tequesquitengo; aseguran 41 autos clásicos.El Universal. October 30, 2020.

Quintero M., Josefina. “Fiscalía solicita a Estados Unidos la extradición de Raymundo Collins.” La Jornada. November 1, 2020.

Lastiri, Diana. “Realizan 500 denuncias por corrupción, pero ninguna llega ante jueces.” El Universal. November 2, 2020.

“FGR sobre Videgaray: no nos han negado orden de aprehensión y reunimos más pruebas.” Animal Político. November 3, 2020.

Reuters. “AMLO confirma que juez negó orden de aprehensión contra Videgaray solicitada por la FGR.” El Economista. November 3, 2020.

President López Obrador Targets His Predecessors with a Referendum on Corruption

10/20/20 (written by kheinle) – President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is throwing the weight of the Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de México, SCJN) behind a referendum to address past cases of criminal conduct, specifically that of corruption and ties to organized crime. In a move that is politically charged and controversial, the president’s referendum seeks to allow for former Mexican presidents to be investigated and held accountable for potential criminal acts conducted while in office.

President Andrés Manual López Obrador at a press briefing in July 2020. Photo: Marco Ugarte, The Associated Press.

The Referendum’s Target

The referendum specifically looks at the administrations from the last three decades, including former Presidents Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994), Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León (1994-2000), Vicente Fox Quesada (2000-2006), Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006-2012), and Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). There is only one other former Mexican president still alive, Luis Echeverría, but President López Obrador did not name him in the proceedings. Those that were named, however, are accused of being involved in “privatizations rife with cronyism, spiraling violence, and an increasing concentration of wealth,” writes The Guardian.

Nevertheless, none of the five former presidents named in the referendum have any open criminal cases against them. Rather, this referendum would simply allow for the possibility that they – and future presidents – be investigated and prosecuted for alleged crimes committed in office. Article 108 of the Mexican Constitution protects sitting presidents from being charged while serving, unless the wrongdoings pertain to treason and serious crimes against the common good (“por traición a la patria y delitos graves del orden común”). President López Obrador’s referendum would simply open the door for action to be taken after the president leaves office.

The Supreme Court’s Involvement

In September 2020, President López Obrador presented the referendum along with 2.5 million signatures in support to Congress. Mexico’s National Election Institute is currently verifying the signatures on the petition to ensure the validity of the registered voters. They have a 30-day window allotted from the time the document was submitted to complete their check.

The Supreme Court holds a virtual hearing on October 1, 2020. Photo: JusticiaTV, Vivo.

In the meantime, the referendum proceeded to the Supreme Court in early October, which ruled in a vote of 6 to 5 that the referendum was constitutional and could proceed. Notably, however, the Court modified the verbiage in an 8 to 3 vote to read that investigations could be brought against “political actors,” not “ex-presidents. The judges voted to “neutralize and simplify” the wording, writes Animal Político. The language specifically changed from President López Obrador’s version, which read:

“Está de acuerdo o no con que las autoridades competentes con apego a las leyes y procedimientos aplicables, investiguen y en su caso sancionen la presunta comisión de delitos por parte de los expresidentes Carlos Salinas, Ernesto Zedillo, Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón y Enrique Peña Nieto, antes, durante y después de sus respectivas gestiones.”

The version approved by the SCJN now reads:

“Estás de acuerdo o no en que se lleven a cabo las acciones pertinentes con apego al marco constitucional y legal para emprender un proceso de esclarecimiento de las decisiones políticas tomadas en los años pasados por los actores políticos encaminado a garantizar la justicia y los derechos de las posibles víctimas”

The final step in the referendum’s approval process will be held in June 2021 when the plebiscite, as it is technically called, will be put before the public for a vote. This will coincide with the midterm congressional elections. Writes The Guardian, President López Obrador “wants ‘the people’ to give the green light to any legal proceedings against the country’s former presidents.”

AMLO’s Progress on Corruption

President López Obrador made combatting and uprooting corruption in Mexico one of his major political platforms and election promises. His first year in office was rather quiet in terms of concrete action against corruption. In December 2019, however, one of the first big cases of corruption was unveiled with the arrest and extradition of former Secretary of Public Security Genaro García Luna in December 2019. García Luna faces four counts of conspiracy to traffic cocaine and making false statements, charges that he pleaded not guilty to in October 2020.

Then, in July 2020, two more high-profile cases of corruption came to fruition. This includes a case of corruption, embezzlement, and financial irregularities against the former governor of the State of Chihuahua, César Duarte. Additionally, the former CEO of Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), Emilio Lozoya, was also extradited to Mexico from Spain to face similar charges of corruption, tax fraud, bribery, and money laundering.

In September 2020, another case broke involving seven government officials who are accused of accepting bribes from federal police officers. The accusations allege that more than 2.5 million pesos were illegally diverted from federal funds through money laundering between 2013 and 2017.

Then, on October 16, 2020, Mexican were again reminded of the systemic corruption ingrained in their government when the former head of the Secretary of Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA), Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, was arrested in Los Angeles. He faces charges in Mexico of ties to organized crime and drug trafficking. Read more about that story here.

Sources:

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“López Obrador administration secures two high-profile cases of corruption.” Justice in Mexico. July 14, 2020.

Agren, David. “Mexico’s Amlo proposes referendum on prosecuting country’s ex-presidents.” The Guardian. September 15, 2020.

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“Corte aprueba consulta ciudadana pero saca a expresidentes de la boleta.” Animal Político. October 1, 2020.

Marín, Carlos. “Fallo y reacción incomprensibles.” Milenio. October 5, 2020.

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