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.
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.
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.
09/22/20 (written by vrice)—While rising feminist protests in Mexico during the early months of 2020 were hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, feminist collectives have begun mobilizing again by occupying two nationally-recognized human rights facilities. Mexico possesses the highest number of femicides per capita in Latin America. In the wake of a 60% uptick in domestic violence cases during the pandemic lockdown, Mexican women’s call for justice has taken on increased urgency.
Occupation of the CNDH
Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH) is headquartered in Mexico City. Since Thursday, September 3, these headquarters have been occupied by feminist collectives Frente Nacional Ni Una Menos (National Front Not One (Woman) Less) and Aequus, Promoción y Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (Equal, Promotion and Defense of Human Rights). Occupiers demand greater government action to protect against and investigate increasing cases of violence against women. The collectives have turned the headquarters into a shelter for those facing gender-based violence, equipped with medical and legal professionals who have served about 100 women in the first week of September.
Occupation of the CODHEM
On September 10, in solidarity with the CNDH occupation, feminist collectives occupied the headquarters of the Human Rights Comission for the State of Mexico (Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Estado de México, CODHEM) in the municipality of Ecatepec. The collectives said that they were given CODHEM’s permission to peacefully occupy the office and cited motives akin to those of occupiers in the CNDH. Mexican state authorities have been accused of excessive force in their removal of occupiers, during which they detained 11 women, two men, and multiple minors. A few hours after the arrestees’ release on September 11, protestors set fire to and spray painted the CODHEM office to rebuke the police’s violent arrest and removal of occupiers.
Responses could suggest growing solidarity
In response to the CNDH occupation, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said that he respects the just demand presented by the collectives. Although, AMLO maintained that he condemns violence and occupiers who spray painted walls and painted on a portrait of Mexican revolutionary and former president Francisco I. Madero. The president denounced the latter acts as vandalism. Akin to AMLO’s call for nonviolence, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum emphasized in a press conference that the fight must be peaceful, citing rights to freedom of expression and to protest. The CNDH has also weighed in, maintaining that the organization has no intention to file charges against occupiers and even offering the feminist collectives a different building from which to continue conducting work to combat gender-based violence. The president of the CNDH, Rosario Piedra Ibarra—whose resignation the collectives have requested—affirmed that she is on the side of victims and that the occupiers are not the enemy that needs to be defeated; rather, she called for dialogue. Yesenia Zamudio, one of the Ni Una Menos collective leaders, expressed to El Universal that government officials were less equipped than occupiers to run the CNDH offices.
Meanwhile, the police removal of the CODHEM office occupiers was denounced via Twitter by the State of Mexico’s Governor, Alfredo Del Mazo Maza. The governor also shared that he instructed two officials (including the State of Mexico’s Secretary of Justice and Human Rights, Rodrigo Espeleta) to support the women and safeguard their rights. The State of Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de Justicia del Estado de México, FGJEM) released a statement denying the use of excessive force and stating that individuals had been detained on charges of illegally occupying a public service building. Similar to the CNDH case, the FGJEM maintained that it will not pursue criminal charges against the occupiers. CODHEM expressed that it was on the side of the feminist movement and stands with victims of violence and femicide, parallel with the sentiments of Pierda regarding the CNDH’s occupation. However, hours later when protestors set fire to the office, CODHEM released a tweet condemning these acts as hindering efforts to protect human rights in the State of Mexico. In a press conference on September 11, AMLO asserted that he had not been briefed on the feminist occupiers’ removal. He then requested that the occurrences be investigated and the women be protected from harm.
Significance of occupation locations and the larger pattern of mobilization
Various catalyzing events for the Mexican feminist movement have taken place in Mexico City (Ciudad de México, CDMX), the nation’s capital. Public demonstrations erupted after the rape of a 17-year-old girl by four police men in a patrol car in 2019 and the murders of 25-year-old Ingrid Escamilla and 7-year-old Fatima Cecelia Aldrighett Anton in 2020. The murders of Escamilla and Aldrighett occurred a few weeks before International Women’s Day on March 8, and led to the greatest turnout in such a march in Mexico’s history.
The CNDH headquarters are located in Mexico City. In 2019, Mexico City saw the greatest number of registered sex crimes for any city across Mexico with 6,507—nearly 13% of the national total. This type of crime includes but is not limited to sexual abuse, rape, and varying forms of sexual assault. In the same year, the city also registered the nation’s third highest number of femicides at 71. The CODHEM office, meanwhile, is located in the State of Mexico, which also saw 123 cases of femicide in 2019. These rates make it the state with the second highest cases in all of Mexico. Moreover, in 2019, Ecatepec the municipality where the CODHEM office is located, registered the highest number of cases of intentional injury (5,392), the most cases of extortion (296), and the second most robberies (25,168) in the country. The threatening environments for women in CDMX and Ecatepec may explain parallel demands of CNDH and CODHEM occupiers for the government to more actively address gender-based violence.
The CNDH and CODHEM occupations are not isolated incidents. In fact, over the last two weeks in solidarity with Ni Una Más, feminist collectives have also symbolically occupied local human rights commissions in Aguascalientes, Michoacán, Puebla, Tabasco, and Veracruz. The violent removal of occupiers in Ecatepec is part of a pattern of police behavior in which feminist demonstrations are met with violence. For example, police violently ended a march in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua against police brutality last week and arrested 28 women. Furthermore, an August manifestation against sexual assault in León, Guanajuato ended in the arrests of various women, who reported sexual assault against the officers who detained them.
Feminists have grown increasingly aggravated as the threat of gender-based violence continues to rise in Mexico. Data from the Mexican National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) shows 2019 was the most violent year on record for women, and just this August the country registered the highest monthly total for femicides in Mexican history. Statistics from El Sol Mexico estimated that two-thirds of women over 15 years of age in Mexico would be forced to quarantine with a violent partner due to the coronavirus outbreak. Moreover, during the first three weeks after stay at home orders were issued at the end of March, violence against women surged by 30-100%, according to approximates by Mexican authorities. For more resources and statistics, visit Justice in Mexico’s recent blog post examining violence against women during the COVID-19 lockdown here.
09/15/20 (written by kheinle) — Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (Instituto Nacional Electoral, INE) made waves in early September when it denied the formation of a new political party. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) and his wife, Margarita Zavala, had applied to the INE to launch México Libre (or Free Mexico). The INE rejected the application four votes in favor and seven against.
The timing of the INE’s ruling is part of the reason this story has made headlines, not just because of the party’s high-profile leaders. With Mexico’s 2021 mid-term elections less than one year away, the ruling could jeopardize México Libre’s ability to participate. As such, Zavala and Calderón said that they would immediately contest the INE’s decision, elevating their case to the Federal Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial de la Federación, TEPJF).
Reactions to the INE’s Decision
INE President Lorenzo Córdova explained the decision, saying that there were concerns about México Libre’s funding. He specifically pointed to 8.2% of the proposed party’s reported resources, calling it “opaque money.” The INE had previously fined México Libre 2.7 million pesos for what they found to be financial irregularities pertaining to donations received.
Former President Calderón and his partner, Zavala, however, immediately rejected the INE’s decision “You’re lying, Lorenzo Córdova,” tweeted Calderón. “Each and every one of our donors is perfectly identified. You know it, you hid it. It’s a day of shame for you, for INE and for the memory of Arnaldo, who would be ashamed of your decision,” he wrote (translation by Mexico Daily News). Arnaldo is a reference to Córdova’s late father, a well-known academic and former politician. Calderón and Zavala, the latter of whom is actually the leader of México Libre and is also a politician, also clarified that all of México Libre’s donors were identified. This included the individuals in question who collectively donated just over one million pesos to México Libre through the internet platform Clip.
Still, current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (2018-2024) applauded the decision, saying it was a “win” for the Mexican people. He also took a jab at Calderón, with whom he has publicly quarreled since being rival presidential candidates in 2006. López Obrador suggested the former president should appeal the INE’s ruling to “his friends” in Washington D.C., a reference to the Organization of American States. He continued, saying that Calderón should lean on those who helped him “steal” the presidency if he wants to do it again. Zavala fired back, saying “With you [as president], democracy loses [and] Mexico loses.”
The Beginnings of México Libre
Zavala initially proposed México Libre’s creation back in January 2019 with the intent of it being a centrist right party. She stressed that it would not be a rebranding of the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN), the party under which former President Calderón was elected. Rather, México Libre would be a party for the people, for the everyday Mexican – a party that is not an “extreme.” Writes Mexico News Daily, partially quoting Zavala’s explanation, “México Libre is intended to generate political participation and provide an alternative for like-minded individuals to organize, deliberate, and give themselves heart and soul to the reconstruction of Mexico.”
Mexico’s Political System
Mexico’s democracy has quite a few political parties, though it is largely dominated by four: the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional , PRI), the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN), the Democratic Revolution Party (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD), and the National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, MORENA). Adding another party, México Libre, to the mix would seemingly add another option to represent the political will of Mexicans. However, democracies are built on far more than just the number of parties in the system. Considering other factors and variables that make up democratic systems, like rule of law, judicial systems, and elections, Mexico is a “flawed democracy,” according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
A “Flawed Democracy”
The EIU’s annual Democracy Index that was released in January 2020 looked at the state of democracies worldwide in 2019. The report focused on 165 independent states and two territories, categorizing them on their electoral process and pluralism, functioning of the government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties. The EIU determined that Mexico ranked 73rd on the list of 167 countries with an overall score of 6.09 out of 10.00 (with 10.00 being the ideal democracy). Only three countries – Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong, and Singapore – separated Mexico from being deemed a “hybrid regime.” Mexico’s overall score has steadily declined year after year since 2010, dropping from 6.93 in 2010 to 6.09 in 2019.
The report defined “flawed democracies” as countries that “have free and fair elections and, even if there are problems…, basic liberties are respected. However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.” This aligns with the results of the indicators, which showed Mexico scoring the highest on electoral process and pluralism (7.83 out of 10.00) and the lowest on political culture (3.13 out of 10.00).
Democracy in Latin America
Latin America as a whole did not fare much better than Mexico in 2019. “Latin America was the worst-performing region in 2019,” the EIU reports, “recording a fall of 0.11 points in its average regional score compared with 2018, to 6.13.” Mexico ranked 16th lowest out of 23 countries in the region, scoring only higher than Honduras (5.42 overall score), Guatemala (5.26), Bolivia (4.84), Haiti (4.57), Nicaragua (3.55), Venezuela (2.88), and Cuba (2.84). Only three nations in the region were considered “full democracies” (Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Chile), whereas the majority of the region’s 23 countries are considered “flawed democracies.”
For more information on the Democracy Index, check out the report here.
08/31/20 (written by kheinle) — Femicides continue to increase in Mexico, registering their highest monthly total on record. According to data from Mexico’s National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP), 101 cases were reported in June. This brought the total for the first six months of the year to 566. This comes on the heels of a 130% increase in cases of femicides documented from 2015 to 2019.
Mexico has long grappled with the problem of targeted killings of women. Nearly half (45%) of all women in Mexico reported being victims of violence at the hands of their partner, according to a 2018 survey by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía e Informática, INEGI). More recently, another 18% specified that they were victims of physical abuse. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the National Network of Shelters, a group that supports at risk women and children, reported an 80% increase in calls and a 50% increase in the number of women and children to their shelters.
The Government’s Mixed Response
With the rise in femicide cases, there has been increased attention from national and international critics imploring the Mexican government to step up its efforts. However, the reaction from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his administration is mixed.
The Right to Demonstrate
On the one hand, the administration is at least superficially backing women’s rights and the public’s constitutional right to protest in support of protections for women. For example, following several demonstrations in Mexico City and León, Guanajuato in August, the president used his platform to denounce efforts to silence the public. He vocally supported the protestors’ right to protest, but urged them to do so peacefully. “We have to respect the right to dissent and the freedom to protest, to respect and to be tolerant, but more than anything to respect [the right],” he said. “There should not have to be repression.” [Author’s translation]. He then stressed upon demonstrators to protest and gather non-violently, drawing on non-violent icons like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. to drive home his point.
An Insufficient Response
Yet President López Obrador has also come under fire for what protestors have long argued has been his insufficient response to the inequities that women face. In 2020, there have been numerous public protests denouncing the government’s ineffective and inadequate response to femicides. Critics argue that the president is dismissive of both the femicides and protests that have ensued this past year. He often undermines the severity of the issue, attributing the violence to a loss of values and morality, notes media reports. In fact, he recently claimed that “Mexican women have never been as protected as now,” a point against which demonstrators continue to push back.
Reports also show the López Obrador administration proposing to cut funding to women’s shelters in July of this year, the same shelters that support the women facing femicide, domestic violence, and other targeted violence. As The Guardian reports, in early July, “the government approved a 65% budget cut for the federal women’s institute, and the president has also proposed to withdraw state funding for women’s shelters operated by NGOs, suggesting that women fleeing violence could instead be given a cash payment.”
07/14/20 (written by kheinle) – In the first week of July, the López Obrador administration netted two high-profile cases of corruption. One case includes the former governor of Chihuahua, César Duarte. The other involves the former CEO of Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex). Both suspects will be extradited back to Mexico where they face charges of corruption, among other counts.
Former Governor Duarte was arrested in Miami, Florida on Wednesday, July 8. The Mexican government sought his extradition on corruption charges stemming from an audit of the Duarte administration’s finances. The audit led officials to question “the possible diversion of the equivalent of about $320 million [USD] in government funds in 2016, when Duarte was governor,” writes The Associated Press. According to official documents, there was “significant irregularities” in the administration’s spending. Along with the help of some of his staff, Duarte “embezzled state funds for the benefit of himself and his associates,” the court filings read. He also faces charges of illegal campaign financing. He served as governor of Chihuahua from 2010 to 2016.
Chihuahua Judge María Alejandra Ramos Durán ordered Duarte’s arrest in October 2019 to face said charges. Previous requests had also been made, the first one coming in March 2017 from Chihuahua’s District Attorney. Animal Político writes that since the initial request, Duarte was considered a fugitive and placed on Interpol’s radar. At that time, Duarte was already residing in the United States, where he had swiftly relocated in November 2016 following his time in office. He then proceeded to overstay his temporary six-month visa in the United States. According to Chihuahua Governor Javier Corral Jurado, in the past five years, Duarte amassed more than 50 properties in Florida, New Mexico, and Texas, among others.
The U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Marshals led the effort to capture Duarte. Following the arrest, Santiago Nieto, the director of Mexico’s Treasury’s Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera, UFI), commented, “No one is above the law.” Duarte was arraigned in U.S. court on July 10.
Former Head of PEMEX
One week prior to Governor Duarte’s arrest, Spain approved the extradition of Emilio Lozoya. the former CEO of Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). Lozoya ran Pemez – Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company – from 2012 to 2016. The suit against Lozoya, which was opened in May 2019, was the first high-profile case of corruption that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador launched after taking office six-months prior. Spanish officials arrested Lozoya in southern Spain in February 2020.
The former CEO faces charges of corruption, tax fraud, bribery, and money laundering. Some of his alleged crimes tie in with the corruption scandal that unfolded with Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. According to the Associated Press, “The court documents say Oderbrecht allegedly offered [Lozoya] $6 million [USD] in bribes to get a contract for renovating an old oil refinery. The Brazilian firm allegedly wound up paying him $5 million.” However, the amount received may be significantly higher, according to conflicting media reports. Some sources say that Lozoya “allegedly took more than $10 [million] in bribes from Odebrecht starting in March 2012.” There are also allegations that Lozoya participated in bribery and money laundering with a Mexican fertilizer plant that Pemex purchased at a rate higher than market value.
Although he continues to deny wrongdoing, Lozoya did agree to cooperate with Mexican officials in the investigation. This does not come as a surprise to some, notesThe Associated Press. “…Many in Mexico had expected Lozoya might implicate others in the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI, perhaps including former [P]resident Enrique Peña Nieto…” Lozoya had a close working relationship with President Peña Nieto (2012-2018), who himself had faced serious criticism for his administration’s fledgling efforts to curtail corruption.
Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index 2020
Duarte’s and Lozoya’s arrests come on the heels of a report co-published in June by the Americas Society / Council of the Americas and the consultancy firm, Control Risks. The report, “The Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index 2020,” looks at Latin American countries’ capacity and capability to ‘detect, punish, and prevent corruption.’” The authors criticize President López Obrador for failing combat corruption despite campaign promises to do so. Read more about that report and its critical findings here.
Still, the recent arrests and agreed upon extraditions in July 2020 are two important victories for the López Obrador administration.