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Opinion Mexico steps up anti-corruption measures and support for Cuba

DAVID RABY looks at recent political initiatives by President Lopez Obrador and their potential impact on Latin America and beyond

AS THINGS stand Mexican ex-presidents have immunity from prosecution, but last year the current president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (Amlo) persuaded Congress and the Supreme Court to authorise a referendum (“consultation”) on changing this so as to end impunity. The vote will take place on Sunday August 1 2021.

The last five presidents at least are suspected of massive corruption and human rights abuses. 

Amlo already ended his own judicial immunity, and it is obviously absurd that former presidents should enjoy a privilege denied to the incumbent.

Actual prosecutions would no doubt still be slow and complex, but the issue has great political significance for Amlo’s “transformation” programme aimed at ending corruption and impunity and ensuring real democratic accountability. 

Not surprisingly, opposition politicians and media tried to prevent the vote from happening, and now it is a reality, they are trying to minimise its importance and discourage people from voting. 

The corrupt INE (National Electoral Institute), which did all it could to hamper the campaign of Amlo’s Morena Party in the recent midterm elections, is now abusing its power to interfere in the referendum. 

It has only authorised one-third of the normal polling booths and is trying to hinder popular campaigning for a Yes vote.

But popular indignation at the repression, corruption, fraud and deceit of former governments is enormous, and spontaneous campaign groups have sprung up all over the country to promote the referendum. 

A massive Yes vote next Sunday will greatly reinforce Amlo’s political position.

It is no accident that the issue going to a referendum is a legal one: reform of the judicial system was one of the major issues in the recent midterm elections, and judicial corruption is one of the biggest obstacles to the country’s transformation. 

Such corruption is notorious in Mexico: time and again judges release notorious criminals on technicalities, and venal officials know they can get away with murder (often literally) by buying impunity. This is beginning to change, but it is a slow process.

At Amlo’s request the Mexican Congress passed a Judicial Reform Bill a few months ago: it includes a massive increase in legal aid funding and hiring of legal aid advisers, democratising recruitment of judges and magistrates, gender parity and human rights training for magistrates and ending political patronage appointments in the judicial system. 

But implementation of this reform depends on determined action by senior judges themselves (only they have the constitutional power to implement the reform), and above all by Amlo’s ally Chief Justice Arturo Zaldivar.

The president has requested a two-year extension of Zaldivar’s mandate (due to end next year) which is crucial to his success.

The importance of Amlo’s programme (and hence of next Sunday’s vote) for Latin America (perhaps not always clear to some left-wing observers) has been dramatically brought home by recent events.

When the recent Washington-orchestrated protests began in Cuba, Amlo immediately (in response to a question at his July 12 press conference) reaffirmed Mexico’s principles of non-intervention and self-determination: “If they want to help Cuba, the first thing to do is suspend the blockade!” and “We express our solidarity with the Cuban people, without hesitation!”

Action followed words as on July 25 Mexico sent two naval vessels with 138 lorry-loads of medical supplies, food and diesel fuel from Veracruz to Havana.

On July 26 Amlo stated that all the nations that voted against the blockade at the UN should likewise take action to end it.

As a local Mexican official declared: “We in Veracruz are almost Cubans” (as well as geographical proximity the port shares Cuba’s African heritage). 

Also on July 24 a carefully staged event in Mexico City celebrated the birthday of Venezuelan Liberator Simon Bolivar in the presence of 31 representatives of Latin American and Caribbean countries. 

Reiterating Bolivar’s call for regional unity, Amlo gave a remarkable speech documenting the history of US intervention in the region and calling for the defence of sovereignty.

Cuba, he said, is the one exception and its 62 years of resistance constitute an exceptional achievement: the Cuban people deserve an award for dignity and the country should be declared part of the World Heritage. 

Amlo stated that the model of domination imposed by the Monroe Doctrine (1823) has no future, and called on the US to accept a new relationship based on respect and equality, with no more interventions, sanctions or blockades.

The meteoric rise of China, he declared, is a direct challenge to US hegemony, but what is needed is dialogue, negotiation and equilibrium without domination by any great power.

With such a bold statement in defence of Latin American and Caribbean unity and sovereignty, the Mexican president has staked out a claim to regional leadership which is a direct challenge to Washington’s hegemonic stance.

All the more reason to hope for a Yes vote next Sunday to consolidate his power at home and abroad.

David Raby is a retired academic and independent researcher on Latin America. He can be reached at david.raby@hotmail.com and on Twitter @DLRaby.

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