An overwhelming majority of Mexicans believe that former presidents and other ex-officials who committed crimes while in office should face justice, according to a new opinion poll.
A telephone survey conducted by the newspaper El Universal this month found that 95.6% of respondents would like to see former presidents and officials brought to justice for crimes they allegedly committed.
Almost nine in 10 respondents – 89.4% – said that Enrique Peña Nieto, whose 2012-18 administration was plagued by corruption scandals, should face trial for alleged wrongdoings.
Former Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya, currently awaiting trial on corruption charges, has told federal authorities that Peña Nieto and his finance minister, Luis Videgaray, led a bribery scheme that paid off opposition party lawmakers in exchange for support of the previous government’s structural reforms.
Lozoya has also accused former presidents Felipe Calderón and Carlos Salinas of involvement in corruption related to the payment of bribes by the Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht.
The El Universal poll found that 88.5% of respondents think that Salinas, widely considered one of Mexico’s most corrupt presidents, should face trial while 82.1% said the same about Calderón.
President López Obrador claimed earlier this month that Mexico was a narco-state during Calderón’s 2006-12 administration given evidence that has emerged against his security minister Genaro García Luna, who is awaiting trial in the United States on charges he colluded with organized crime.
The poll also found that more than 70% of respondents believe that former presidents Vicente Fox and Ernesto Zedillo should face justice for alleged crimes.
Despite the strong support for the ex-presidents accused by Lozoya to be brought to justice, 53.9% of respondents said that the ex-Pemex chief is not telling the truth.
Almost 87% of those polled believe that he should serve prison time for the crimes he is accused of committing – accepting bribes from Odebrecht and benefiting from the state oil company’s 2015 purchase of a run-down fertilizer plan at an inflated price.
Only 7% of respondents said that he should be spared a prison sentence as a result of his agreement to cooperate with authorities.
The 1,300 people polled were also asked about video footage that shows the president’s brother, Pío López Obrador, receiving large amounts of cash in 2015 from David León, the current government’s former Civil Protection chief.
Three-quarters of respondents said that the ruling Morena party, founded by Andrés Manuel López Obrador in 2014, should be sanctioned if it is proven that the payments constituted illegal funding of the party.
The president said last week he didn’t know whether the money, apparently used for Morena’s campaign at 2015 elections in Chiapas, was registered with authorities.
Speaking at a press conference in Torreón, Coahuila, on Wednesday, López Obrador reiterated his intention to hold a public consultation to decide whether former presidents should be put on trial for alleged corruption and other wrongdoings.
The president said that it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide whether such a consultation is permitted by the Mexican Constitution. But he claimed that it is.
“A consultation is provided for in the Constitution, it’s part of participatory democracy,” López Obrador said, adding that real democracy is not just about voting and then leaving everything up to politicians for the next three or six years.
“Fortunately, progress is being made in participatory democracy so that we can rule by obeying the people; it should always be the people who decide. … So in important matters, such as prosecuting an ex-president or not, all of us should participate,” he said.
The president said that if the Supreme Court rules that holding a consultation on the issue is constitutional, the National Electoral Institute will be in charge of arranging it.
López Obrador said that he would personally vote against prosecuting his predecessors because he favors looking to the future rather than the past.
“I don’t want people to think that I’m an executioner, revenge is not my strong point,” he explained.
Some lawmakers spoke out against the planned consultation, charging that one is not needed in order to prosecute past presidents. Indeed, the federal Attorney General’s Office has the power to investigate and prosecute past presidents if they receive complaints against them that they are able to substantiate.
Juan Carlos Romero Hicks, leader of the National Action Party in the lower house of Congress, said the purpose of the law is to be “applied,” not subjected to consultation. He described the president’s promotion of a public vote as a “smokescreen” to divert attention from his poor management of the coronavirus pandemic.
Manuel Añorve, a senator with the Institutional Revolutionary Party, agreed that the prosecution of former presidents does not require validation from a consultation.
Ex-presidents can be brought to justice using existing laws, he said, adding that it’s “obvious” that López Obrador’s consultation plan is an electoral strategy designed to win votes at the 2021 midterm elections.
Citizens Movement party Senator Juan Zepeda said much the same. “The president wants to have an issue that will pay off politically at the 2021 election in order to retain his majority in Congress,” he said.
According to the Constitution, consultations of national or regional importance can only be held on the first Sunday of August, meaning that a referendum asking citizens whether past presidents should be prosecuted could be held just two months after the midterm elections in early June 2021.
Criminal lawyer Juan Luis Gómez Jardón agreed with the lawmakers that a consultation is not necessary. Former presidents are regular citizens who can be prosecuted for crimes they committed just like any other person, he said.
“They don’t have immunity anymore. … There is no need to consult the people in order to comply with the law,” Gómez said.
“I don’t know what they intend to accuse the most recent ex-presidents of. Above all, who will file the complaint [if a consultation finds majority support to prosecute them]? The auditor’s office? [The tax agency] SAT?”