The posters hung throughout the capital in the week are unequivocal in their message: “By judging the authorities of the past, those of this and therefore the future will consider .”
Beneath those words are images of the last five presidents who ruled Mexico from 1988 to 2018: Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, Vicente Fox Quesada, Felipe Calderon Hinojosa and Enrique Pena Nieto.
Each man has his eyes covered with words pertaining to a serious scandal that happened during his administration. Underneath may be a hashtag that reads #JudgementYesImpunityNo.
The posters are a part of a campaign to show out voters on Sunday for a referendum that asks Mexicans whether or not they agree the country should “undertake a process of shedding light on the political decisions made in past years by political actors, aimed toward guaranteeing justice and therefore the rights of potential victims”.
The question is being asked in a politician referendum proposed by the country’s current president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, commonly referred to as AMLO, who cited corruption, human rights violations, impunity and a breakdown within the rule of law as issues that festered under his predecessors.
“In proposing the referendum, AMLO cited the amount of inequality, corruption, and violence in Mexico over the past three decades,” Stephanie Brewer, the Mexico and migrant rights director at the Washington Office on Latin America , told Al Jazeera.
“These problems have had devastating effects on broad sectors of society, so these topics resonate deeply with much of the general public ,” she said.
A rather general proposition, the vote has been colloquially mentioned as “putting ex-presidents on trial”, and aims to make a decision whether the five men depicted on the poster should someday be delivered to trial for crimes against the Mexican people. AMLO has previously said he isn’t in favour of prosecuting ex-presidents but will leave it to the people to make a decision .
The vote is being held in accordance with the Mexican constitution, and 40 percent of the population will got to end up for its results to be considered valid. albeit the bulk vote “yes”, statutes of limitations and other legal hurdles could make actually prosecuting former presidents difficult. But campaigners say asking the question matters.
High costs of corruption
There’s little doubt that accountability is warranted for the violence and corruption of the past 30 years in Mexico.
Mexico ranked 124 out of 180 countries on non-profit Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, and its rating — 31 out of 100 — is below the typical for Latin America and has fallen three points since 2012.
In fact, 44 percent of Mexicans said they thought corruption had increased within the last 12 months, and 34 percent of public service users reported paying a bribe during that very same period, the organisation’s 2020 Global Corruption Barometer found.
The clandestine nature of corruption makes it hard to calculate, but estimates put the value at between 2 and 10 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product, consistent with a 2018 report (PDF) from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.
Corruption also has extensive social costs, not the smallest amount of which is that the stymieing of innovation and opportunity.
“The total economic losses from corruption and violence in Mexico are virtually incalculable,” Brewer said.
Just this month, a world investigation published within the Guardian showed that public funds previously earmarked for purchasing medicine and maintaining firefighting equipment were wont to buy Pegasus spyware manufactured in Israel and employed by officials within the Pena Nieto administration to surveil journalists uncovering government corruption.
The economic impact of violence
The country has also experienced record-breaking levels of violence in recent years, and impunity has made it harder to prosecute crimes. That has also taken an economic toll: the country’s rising levels of violence cost $238bn in 2019, consistent with the non-profit Institute for Economics & Peace’s 2020 Mexico Peace Index.
The tenure of former President Pena Nieto (who was succeeded by AMLO), for instance , is understood together of the foremost deadly, with some 35,964 homicides registered during 2018, his last year in office, consistent with the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI).
That figure translates to the very best rate recorded since INEGI began gathering this information in 1990, and represents significantly more homicides than during the administration of Pena Nieto’s predecessor, Calderon, who spearheaded the bloody “war on drugs” that continues to cost lives within the country.
Since AMLO took office, the homicide rate has changed little. Mexico registered 34,515 homicides in 2020 and 34,648 in 2019. additionally to the high homicide rate, government figures show quite 90,000 people remain missing or disappeared.
“Human rights violations in recent decades have spanned a universe of victims, many well-known: forcibly disappeared people and their families, torture survivors, victims of massacres,” Brewer said.
The “vote yes” campaign has referenced a number of those incidents to drive voters to the polls.
On the posters urging people to choose Sunday’s referendum, for instance , the face of Pena Nieto bears the word “Ayotzinapa,” a regard to the disappearance of 43 children in September 2014. the next government investigation and alleged cover-up of that incident became emblematic of the deep complicity between state officials and armed criminal organisations.
A worthy question
Omar Gonzalez, 33, said he are going to be voting “yes” this Sunday. A farmer from the state of Guerrero, Gonzalez said he was forcibly displaced from his home along side many of his neighbours in November 2018 when an armed criminal gang invaded their village and took it over.
“Political corruption is that the reason i used to be displaced,” Gonzalez told Al Jazeera, pertaining to the well-known pacts between some politicians and organised criminal groups that enable the type of violence and insecurity his community was subjected to.
But what percentage people like Gonzalez will actually show up to vote on Sunday remains to be seen.
Turnout during the recent midterm elections was 52 percent, and therein instance, people were more actively encouraged to vote. it’s also unclear whether a decisive “yes” vote would lead on to opening up judicial investigations against former presidents.
Regardless of the result , international lawyer and transitional justice specialist Jorge Peniche told Al Jazeera that the vote could mark a breakthrough for Mexico, which is crying out for solutions to human rights violations and economic stagnation.
Along with his colleagues at Justicia Transicional MX, a non-profit focused on confronting impunity, Peniche recently brought a challenge to the country’s Supreme Court, which mandated Sunday’s vote, requesting clarification on the scope and material of the referendum question with a view to pushing for a concrete justice initiative if the general public votes “yes”.
For Peniche, the deep social and economic problems that Mexico continues to face are too important to not keep pushing for change through institutions just like the law.
Along with the various other groups fighting for accountability in Mexico, he said, “We’re trying to fill a vacuum that has not been occupied by the state.”