The Mexican president announced plans for a referendum on whether to prosecute his unpopular predecessors, saying he wanted “the people” to give the green light to any legal proceedings against the country’s former presidents.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commonly known as Amlo, presented the Senate with a document on Tuesday calling for a plebiscite on the prosecution of former presidents in the midterm elections on June 6, 2021.
The document describes a litany of grievances in the three decades leading up to López Obrador’s office in December 2018, including privatizations plagued by cronyism, spiraling violence and a growing concentration of wealth.
López Obrador has previously said he opposed the trial of former presidents, saying: “We must not be stuck in the past. But he has a habit of presenting controversial ideas to the “people”.
Plebiscite plans were unveiled as Mexico endures two storms of a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 70,000 people and a struggling economy that recently experienced its worst contraction since the Great Depression.
“It also allows him to keep the flame of grievance alive and to express their frustration, anger and resentment to people, which is very real,” said Carlos Bravo Regidor, political analyst in Mexico City.
The plebiscite will present legal challenges, including the statute of limitations which has expired for conduct under the conditions of all living former presidents except Amlo’s immediate predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto. Mexican law also prohibits the holding of a referendum on the same day as an election in progress.
“Amlo doesn’t think like a lawyer,” said Rodolfo Soriano Núñez, sociologist in Mexico City. “I don’t bet my soul on Amlo to incarcerate people, but we have to tackle these issues.”
The only living president not mentioned by López Obrador is Luis Echeverria, 98 – whom Amlo has never publicly criticized. A specialized prosecution filed a complaint against Echeverria for the Tlatelolco massacre in 1968 (in which police, soldiers and paramilitaries shot dead hundreds of demonstrators), but he was exonerated by a court in 2007.
López Obrador rose to power as an anti-system candidate in an attempt to get rid of corruption in government and overthrow the grip of what he sees as a corrupt political class.
He has drawn into a deep well of disgust for past political corruption scandals and, even after taking office, Amlo continues to speak out against the old regime, often using his daily press conference to reignite past scandals and personal clashes. .
Amlo was quick to repeat the allegations of a former boss of the national oil company, Emilio Lozoya, who told prosecutors he had accepted bribes from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. This money, Lozoya said, funded Peña Nieto’s presidential campaign in 2012 and paid lawmakers to support the opening up of the state-controlled oil industry.
But the president’s own family has also been caught up in corruption allegations. A video from 2015 recently surfaced showing his brother Pío López Obrador accepting cash payments for Amlo’s young political party. Amlo called the money his brother raised as “contributions” and insisted it was unrelated to the Lozoya case.
In recent weeks, Amlo supporters have mobilized to collect the 2 million signatures needed to trigger a plebiscite.
“We are the people, and we pay them, and they started robbing us,” said Ariadna Bahena, a university student involved in the campaign. “Amlo is not getting rich.”