The controversial consultation promoted by López Obrador in order to investigate his predecessors is finalized in the Senate and debated in the street
The Mexican Senate has been pondering 25 words for several weeks. Two sentences that form the question with which the president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, wants “the people” to decide whether or not to try the ex-presidents in case they have broken the law. An unprecedented initiative and a blow to the waterline of the rule of law. The draft finalized by the two Houses, Senate and Congress, has a single question: “Do you agree that the administrations of the former presidents of the Republic be reviewed and investigated, in order to delineate criminal and administrative responsibilities?”
That is the consultation that the two Chambers have most advanced and that will finish being debated this week when the deadline for its presentation ends. López Obrador wants the question to hit the streets within nine months, the same day in June that the country will go to the polls to elect 15 governors, 500 deputies, 30 local congresses and almost 2,000 mayors.
Those 25 words are the ones that monopolize the spotlight and the legislative effort of a new commission in which more than a dozen people have participated.
The law indicates that there are three ways to obtain a popular consultation. One is through the legislative channel, through the vote of 42 senators or 165 deputies, 33% of the Chamber. The second, which is also underway, is the collection of 1,800,000 signatures, 2% of the electoral roll, and the third, by presidential initiative. The first two are advanced and the president has hinted that, if not achieved, he would take the step. The Supreme Court will be, however, who has the last word on the conduct of the controversial consultation.
Among the legislators consulted there is the belief that it is difficult for the high court to approve a question that seems designed to achieve yes in the street and no in Court. The question comes surrounded by controversy since many experts believe that it has no legal basis and is considered a distracting maneuver that the president enjoys since the State has the ability to judge a former president in case he breaches the law. López Obrador, however, has been flirting with this initiative since the beginning of his term, while repeating that he is not in favor of judging his predecessors, arguing that with him in power things have changed.
The president has delegated this mission to his senators, but last Monday the 10 outlines of the question were presented to him in his office, as this newspaper was able to learn from Senate sources. López Obrador gave the go-ahead to their approach and asked for a final version that was not “loaded” anywhere.
In the draft of 25 pages to which EL PAÍS had access and which will reach the Court, none of the former presidents who are in the spotlight are named: Carlos Salinas, Felipe Calderón, and Enrique Peña Nieto. In addition, most of the space is dedicated to arguing that the fight against corruption is the priority of the current Morena government. Among other sources, the senators incorporate data from the World Bank and the United Nations to recall that the cost of corruption in Mexico is around 2.6 trillion dollars, which is equivalent to 5% of the country’s GDP.
The senators also include a fragment of a speech by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, in which he says that “corruption is the root of political and social dysfunction” and a survey by the newspaper El Universal, published on August 27, according to which nine out of 10 Mexicans want former presidents to be tried. In it, Peña Nieto was the former president that the population most wanted to see on the dock, with 89.4%, followed by Salinas with 88.5% and Calderón with 82.1%.
The chosen question was the result of putting in a shaker all the proposals received from the senators. The 25 words that are finalized are the consequence of a political, legal, and linguistic debate that has reflected the struggle between currents that these days dispute the direction of Morena. Minerva Citlalli Hernández, from the group led by Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, was the one who has pushed the most for the Senate to join in promoting the consultation against a sector of the party that is committed to distancing the legislative work from what happens in the National Palace and that believes that the collection of signatures is enough to keep López Obrador’s wishes alive.
Among the salad of proposals, Salomón Jara, for example, changed “competent authorities” to “State” in the section on who should judge the ex-presidents. Alejandro Peña included the term “due process” and Lucía Trasviña wanted voters to know that it is a consultation for “the correct administration of justice without exception and equal treatment before the law.” Senator Minerva Citlalli was more ambitious and asked that the former presidents be tried “in national or foreign courts.”
In parallel, thousands of people have joined a street collection of signatures in which the population asks for the trial of former presidents “who have caused serious damage or damage to the country.”
In any case, according to the jurists consulted, the question faces the more than possible rejection of the Supreme Court, in an attempt to avoid a Roman circus of justice where the future of the leaders is decided by a show of hands, as the political scientist pointed out. José Woldenberg in a recent interview with this newspaper. The three former presidents do not have open legal proceedings, they do not have an investigation underway by the Prosecutor’s Office and the alleged crimes that López Obrador imputes to them are not related to each other. The opposition interprets the consultation as an electoral maneuver and a strategy of permanent tension to maintain its high level of approval until the June elections, which is around 65%, and divert its gaze from other cases of corruption that affect their family environment.
The right question
The question, however, has brought the debate to the streets on the subjects that can be consulted. This week dozens of human rights associations, academics, groups of the disappeared or associations that promote transitional justice projects jointly released a letter requesting a popular consultation “but with the right question.” And they proposed the following: “Do you agree that the President of the Republic activates the necessary mechanisms, within his powers, so that, with the help of the UN, those responsible for the atrocious crimes perpetrated against the people of Mexico at the same time as the creation of a great truth commission? ”.
The problem with turning public consultations in serious corruption cases into a show is that “bringing a popular mandate to justice – in addition to being unconstitutional – can produce unpredictable results,” argue human rights groups. “One would not go against the right of the thousands of victims to obtain justice, truth, memory, reparation, guarantees of non-repetition. A yes would violate due process, distancing the perpetrators from justice ”, they warn of a possible“ violation of due process ”of those indicated.
In front of the civil society groups that have protested, the senators consulted admit in a low voice that there is “controversy” and it is better “to act prudently so as not to generate false expectations.” In the document, however, they left in writing that the consultation is a “popular demand and a social demand.”