As Mexico’s opposition mired in scandal, AMLO eyes an opportunity

. Sep 01, 2020
scandal pemex mexico amlo Pump in Tampico, Mexico. Photo: Hayden Dunsel/Shutterstock

A growing scandal within Mexico’s state-owned oil company Pemex (Petroleos Mexicanos) is swallowing up key opposition political figures and could be a blessing in disguise for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Emilio Lozoya, former chief executive of the oil giant that represents 6.6 percent of Mexico’s GDP, issued a declaration to the attorney general’s office that implicates three former presidents in a sprawling bribery scheme, along with a slew of other important political figures.

</p> <p>Arrested in Spain in January and extradited to Mexico as a protected witness, Mr. Lozoya is accused of receiving USD 10.5 million in bribes from Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht — the company behind a veritable <a href="">avalanche of corruption</a> in Latin America — between his 2012-2016 term, in exchange for contracts. </p> <p>Denying the accusations, the businessman agreed to cooperate with the courts, pointing the finger at former Presidents Enrique Peña Nieto, Felipe Calderón, and Carlos Salinas, as well as many other high-ranking politicians in prior administrations. Mr. Lozoya confessed that Odebrecht distributed the money to several representatives during Mr. Peña Nieto’s term, seeking a legal and administrative modification in the country to allow the participation of private companies in the exploration of Mexican oil.&nbsp;</p> <p>The attorney general&#8217;s office stated that the former Pemex chief met “constantly” with Luis Alberto de Meneses Weyll, then-head of Odebrecht in Mexico. In 2016, Odebrecht executives admitted in a plea-bargain agreement that Mexico was one of the 12 countries involved in its bribery schemes.&nbsp;</p> <p>While the brunt of Mr. Lozoya&#8217;s accusations are leveled at the Peña Nieto government, the 60-page statement expresses that Felipe Calderón also established a “solid scheme of corruption” with Odebrecht during his 2006-2012 presidential term. Carlos Salinas, in turn, had allegedly used his lobby influence as president from 1988 to 1994 to benefit his son Juan Cristóban Salinas, who is linked to a company that held business with Pemex.&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Adolfo Laborde Carranco, an International Relations Professor at Anahuac University in Mexico, though the Pemex case is not the first corruption scandal involving major political figures, the sheer amount of former head honchos means any decision made will cause “many controversies and discrepancies.”</p> <p>“There is a constitutional vacuum and multiple interpretations [about whether these authorities could end up in prison]. The president says yes, the opposition says no. Therefore, it is possible that, when these cases go ahead in the court, they end up being discussed in Congress or even in public consultations to understand the view of Mexican society toward it,” Mr. Laborde tells <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.&nbsp;</p> <p>But the possibility of seeing justice done depends on Mexico&#8217;s porous court system. A 2020 report by the University of the Américas Puebla (UDLAP) indicated Mexico as having among the highest rates of impunity in the world, ranking the 10th out of 69. In the Americas, only Honduras, Paraguay, and Guyana are classified as worse in this regard.&nbsp;</p> <p>For some skeptics, there is more chance of Pemex striking more oil than influential politicians being sent to jail by the scandal. “At least this will guide public opinion,” the professor added.&nbsp;</p> <h2>An opening for AMLO?</h2> <p>All of the politicians mentioned by Mr. Lozoya are members of either the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) or the National Action Party (PAN), the two establishment cornerstones in the country which also form the opposition to President López Obrador. Until 2018, when AMLO was elected, the PRI-PAN hegemony ruled Mexico for more than 90 years, from 1920 onwards.&nbsp;</p> <p>So, the revelations could serve as an opportunity for the president in what has been a tricky period.</p> <p>As <a href=""><strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> showed</a> in March, the Mexican president has been criticized for some of his lax attitudes towards Covid-19. Also, months before completing two years in office, AMLO’s administration has seen an increase in drug cartel violence: in 2019, the country had increased homicide rates, jumping 2.5 percent from 2018.&nbsp;</p> <p>And last but not least, the Covid-19 crisis will put Mexico into its most severe economic crisis since 1929. The <a href="">International Monetary Fund</a> slashed its predictions in July, forecasting that Mexican GDP will fall 10.5 percent in 2020.&nbsp;</p> <p>But seeing his rivals in the courts&#8217; crosshairs is set to be a boon for AMLO, says Mr. Laborde.</p> <p>“It is a fact that AMLO will capitalize on this event. The scandal will also benefit the government in a strategic moment: in July 2021, Mexico will have legislative and regional elections, which will choose governments in 15 states.”

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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