Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has an ambiguous relationship with the law. “If you have to choose between law and justice, don’t think it too much”, he said in 2019. “Side with justice”.
When he was an opposition leader, AMLO was tireless in warning of the alleged “lack of legality” of the Mexican governments of the time. Yet, he did not mind breaking the law by blockading Mexico City’s Reforma Avenue for 48 days after losing the Presidential election in 2006. In that instance, justice mattered more than legality. As President, AMLO only cares about achieving his goals, not how.
Today, AMLO has all the power. Due to lack of expertise, haste, or disregard for legality, many of AMLO’s government measures are legally questionable. He can change the laws as he wishes, but there is a Constitution that he must abide by.
AMLO’s most recent illegal maneuver involved the change in rules on how private renewables companies connect to Mexico’s electric grid. AMLO boasted later: “No contract is canceled. There are no expropriations. There is no ‘statism’. There is no nationalization of the electricity industry”. However, canceling the rules agreed by private renewables companies when they won tenders -organized by Mexico’s own state-owned electric utility (CFE)- is equivalent to expropriation.
The list of recent government decisions that presumably could be in violation of Mexican laws or of the Constitution itself is long. There are countless Constitutional controversies and ongoing injunctions in the Mexican courts.
The Mexican Supreme Court scored a great victory with its unanimous decision regarding the unconstitutionality of the so-called Bonilla Law through which the Baja California’s Governor attempted to extend his term in office. The Supreme Court showed its independence vis-à-vis the executive branch and its respect for Mexico’s Constitutional framework.
However, the Supreme Court’s list of pending issues is long and includes fundamental questions for the future of AMLO’s political project: the self-proclaimed Fourth Transformation. If these pending issues are decided in accordance with Mexican laws, one can expect they will draw sparks.
Mexican historian Héctor Aguilar Camín made a list of issues and laws pending to be judged by the courts: the Government’s Salaries Law, the Austerity Law, the Public Administration Law, the National Domain Extinction Law, the National Guard and Use of Public Force Law, the General Education Law, legal reforms in matters of fiscal crimes and preventive detention, the controversies surrounding the federal government’s 2019 and 2020 budgets, AMLO’s cancellation of child care programs. This, in addition to all the injunctions on other issues like the cancellation of the Texcoco Airport (NAIM) and the construction of three of AMLO’s signature projects (the new Santa Lucía Airport, the Dos Bocas oil refinery and the Mayan Train).
When a company or an individual files for injunction -alleging a violation of his rights- Mexican courts must decide, from the outset, whether an authority’s action is to be suspended or continued. Suspension is first temporary and, if applicable, it becomes final. If a suspension is granted, the plaintiff will not be affected while the Mexican Judiciary issues a decision on the merits, a path that is usually long. If a Mexican court does not grant an injunction, the plaintiff may be impacted so much by the authority’s act, that it usually no longer matters to him if in a couple of years, the Judiciary finally agrees with him. He has already lost. If a suspension is not granted right away, the very fact of not deciding expeditiously is an implicit, convenient, and perverse way of deciding in favor of the government.
This is the hour of Mexico’s Judiciary. Its formal head, the President of the Supreme Court, must move forward in addressing those matters pending to be decided. Justice delayed is a mere declaration of good intentions.
* Carlos Elizondo Mayer-Serra is professor at the School of Government and Public Transformation at Tec de Monterrey, in Mexico City. A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @carloselizondom