For a moment, let us leave the dead from the pandemic and the violence in Mexico in peace. There will be time to speak about them. Let's focus, as Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wants, on the corruption and frauds that have plagued the most recent presidential administrations.
His diagnosis is correct: corruption corrodes democracy, stops economic growth and increases social inequalities. And it seems extraordinary to me that a president is finally ready to do something about it. So let's talk about all the videos.
At the end, I'll talk about the one with the president's brother.
One video posted clandestinely on YouTube – and shown by AMLO during one of his morning news conferences – shows two former Senate staffers who worked for representatives from the Partido Acción Nacional receiving millions of pesos in bundles of cash. The money, which arrived in suitcases, was alleged payment for the senators to vote in favor of a controversial energy sector reform approved during the previous presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto. “It's pretty strong,” the president said when he played the video. “It shows the filth of the system of corruption.”
The video is striking because of the normalcy with which the two men count the money – as though it was an every day thing – and for how easy it was to record the whole process.
They never realized they were being filmed?
There's no way to know whether that video was part of the materials that the former director of Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), Emilio Lozoya, handed over to the federal Attorney General's office. Lozoya was recently extradited to Mexico. In a sworn declaration, leaked to the news media, Lozoya alleges corruption and influence peddling by 16 politicians and officials – including three former presidents –once considered untouchable.
Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero said recently that – based on Lozoya's declarations – about $18 million from the Odebrecht company was distributed as bribes to Mexican senators and congress members to buy their votes, and another $4.5 million was spent on the 2012 electoral campaign that put Peña Nieto in the presidency.
This is extremely important. Never in the history of Mexico has a former president been put on trial or jailed for corruption and electoral fraud. Never. And we've had many frauds.
López Obrador is convinced he lost the 2012 and 2006 presidential elections because of two significant electoral frauds. I was able to interview him after both elections.
What was the fraud that made him lose against Felipe Calderón, I asked him just weeks after the 2006 vote. “We can speak about two moments,” he explained. First was “everything that resulted from the lack of equality before the election – the inequitable handling of radio and television spaces, the use of money … the meddling by the president (Vicente Fox), the dirty war.”
And later, he added, the fraud. “The fraud was in the falsification of the records. There is a known number of records that have been falsified, with more votes counted than ballots … One and a half million (ballots). Proven.”
And what was the fraud in 2012, when he lost to Peña Nieto, I asked him in 2017. “They bought votes,” he told me. “Five million votes. They forced him in. The publicity was not enough. Because they were inflating Peña Nieto. It's a media phenomenon that has cost the country a lot. An empty suit. They sold him in the market like one sells a cheap product.
And if López Obrador wants to investigate the frauds that blocked him from the presidency in 2006 and 2012, it wouldn't be bad if he also reviewed the monumental fraud in 1988 that gave the presidency to the PRI's Carlos Salinas de Gortari. “Ninety nine percent of Mexicans are convinced there was fraud in 1988,” the candidate who was denied the presidency, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, told me shortly after the vote.
López Obrador could simply ask Manuel Bartlett, one of his key collaborators, who was in charge of that election as Secretary of the Interior and has been accused of being responsible for the famous “crash” of the election system. It is totally incongruous for the president to complain about electoral fraud, and at the same time have Bartlett in his cabinet.
It would also be good if the president investigated the videos, made public by Latinus, a Web page run by journalist Carlos Loret de Mola, that show his brother, Pío López Obrador, receiving paper bags of cash in 2015. The president said Friday that “people were cooperating with resources” to help his political movement, even though Morena was already a political party at the time.
AMLO said he did not know specifically who donated that money or whether it was reported to the National Electoral Institute. Well, to be truthful, and fair to all, the president should investigate and report that. He cannot talk about the video with the suitcases of cash and forget the videos with the paper bags.
Clearing up the principal crimes and frauds of the past are fundamental to the survival of all democracies. Mexico cannot continue being the country of impunity. Nothing happens to the guy who robs a citizen on a truck at gunpoint, or to the small groups of politicians, business and media people who have stolen presidential elections.
We urgently need a truth and history commission, transparent, effective and non-partisan. But, more than anything, we need an independent system of justice that can be trusted. The crimes and irregularities suggested by the videos and the Lozoya declarations must still be proven.
Handing over money in suitcases and paper bags is not normal. If López Obrador truly wants to fight against corruption, this is an extraordinary opportunity to prove it. Hopefully, he will not fall short. Hopefully, he will be even handed. Hopefully, he will not fail us.