Mexican President: Immunity of ex-Presidents Should be Reconsidered

Published: 27 August 2020

former mexico presCarlos Salinas de Gortari, Felipe Calderon and Enrique Pena Nieto. (Photo: Andrés Monroy, World Economic Forum, Presidencia de Mexico, CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Sandrine Gagné-Acoulon

After allegations were made that some of them were involved in a bribery scheme, Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador proposed on Monday that a referendum should decide whether former presidents should continue to be protected from prosecution in corruption cases.

The former head of the state oil company Pemex, Emilio Lozoya has implicated former Mexican presidents Enrique Peña Nieto, Felipe Calderon and Carlos Salinas de Gortari in the infamous billion-dollars “Lava Jato” scheme, operated by Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. 

Lozoya, who was also a close conseiller of Peña Nieto, was recently extradited from Spain to face trial on bribery and money-laundering charges in the Odebrecht case. 

During the first set of hearings, the former official accused Peña Nieto of receiving multimillion dollar bribes, of buying votes of MPs and of illegally financing his political campaigns. He accused the two other former presidents of accepting bribes and of influence peddling regarding Odebrecht contracts. 

Prosecutors have started looking into Peña Nieto following Lozoya’s statements, but even if the former presidents are found responsible, Mexico’s jurisdiction prevents them from facing justice for corruption, serious and electoral crimes. 

"This matter should be reviewed,” Lopéz Obrador said. “What I propose is that at the same time as the Prosecutor's Office and the judiciary are resolving the responsibility of the presidents, a citizen consultation can be conducted so that the people are the ones to decide,” he proposed. 

According to the Constitution, three entities are enabled to request such a consultation, and can only request it between September 1 and September 15 of each year, he said. 

“The President of the Republic, a third of the legislators of one of the two chambers or two percent of the citizens registered on the electoral roll, that is 1,5-1,6 million citizens,” Lopéz Obrador listed. 

He stressed that he favored the third option, which also presents the advantage of not having to be approved by the two chambers of the Parliament. 

"I do not want to be the executioner, revenge is not my strong suit. Let's decide together,” the president said. However, he added that he was not ruling out requesting a referendum himself if the signatures were not gathered before September 15. 

Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador has criticized his predecessors on several occasions for endemic corruption, which he described as “Mexico’s main problem,” and for allowing drug cartels to thrive.   

He suggested the vote could take place at the same time as the next federal elections, in June 2021.