In a letter sent to the US Secretary of State, they ask the Biden administration to raise their concerns directly with their Mexican counterparts.
Democrats in Congress are sounding the alarm over what they say is mounting evidence that Mexico’s chief prosecutor- a vital partner in U.S. law enforcement – is attacking the independent judiciary of the nation and selectively targeting the persecution of opponents of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
In a letter, sent on Wednesday, April 6th, to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Attorney General Merrick Garland, Sen. Bob Menendez, the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and three colleagues ask the Biden administration to raise its concerns. directly to their Mexican counterparts.
“López Obrador’s tenure has been characterized by a growing pattern of seemingly selective prosecutions that disproportionately target government critics,” according to the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. “President López Obrador’s efforts to advance legitimate accountability initiatives must strengthen, not dismantle, democratic institutions and the rule of law.”
The letter, which is expected to arouse the ire of López Obrador and his allies, focuses on a series of questionable actions and what they consider “personal vendettas” carried out by Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero.
The top prosecutor, a close ally of the leftist president, first came to the attention of US officials after the Donald Trump administration abandoned criminal drug-trafficking moves against former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos and returned him to Mexico with the promise that he would be investigated in his country.
But the investigation against Cienfuegos was quickly closed, and Gertz Manero later threatened to bring his own charges against US prosecutors used to work hand-in-hand with Mexican law enforcement to dismantle the country’s powerful cartels.
“We urge you to seriously consider the risk of a weakened and politicized justice system in Mexico,” according to the letter, whose signatories include Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the appropriations committee, and Senators Benjamin Cardin of Maryland. and Jeffrey Merkley of Oregon.
López Obrador was elected in 2018 on a promise to sweep away notoriously corrupt politics from Mexico and likes to trumpet his commitment to austerity by taking commercial flights and living in a modest apartment instead of the lavish presidential residence.
But critics say such moves are populist stunts and distract from a worrying buildup of power, failure to deliver on campaign promises, and repeated attacks on opponents that undermine the rule of law in America’s No. 2 trading partner. On Sunday, April 10, his supporters are expected to give him another boost as they head to the polls for a first-of-its-kind referendum on whether he should be allowed to finish his six-year term, something that has never been in doubt and that many see as a sideshow.
In their letter, the Democrats criticize López Obrador for publicly attacking a judge who ruled against his energy policies, for promoting an apparently unconstitutional plan to extend the term of a Supreme Court president close to him, and for calling for the resignation of the highest electoral court in Mexico.
The criminal charges brought against Ricardo Anaya, a prominent conservative opponent of López Obrador, have also been raised.
Anaya, who came second in the 2018 presidential election, was charged last year with money laundering in connection with an alleged bribe he received in exchange for his support of an energy reform bill. The charges are based on the testimony of the former head of Mexico’s state oil company, Emilio Lozoya, who claims that, on the instructions of the former president, Enrique Peña Nieto, López Obrador’s predecessor, he paid lawmakers, including Anaya $525,000, to vote in favor of the reform.
Some have questioned the strength of the evidence, given that the alleged bribe was paid months after the reform was approved when Anaya had already left office. Anaya has fled Mexico and lives in the United States.
López Obrador has branded as “lies” and “falsehoods” promoted by opponents to weaken his government the claims of reckoning in the Anaya case and in other cases.
Neither his office nor the attorney general’s office responded when the Associated Press sent them a copy of the letter.
Under the direction of Gertz Manero, the Mexican prosecutor’s office has also failed to seriously investigate the president’s allies, according to the letter. This includes accusations of money laundering and finance law violations against the president’s brother, who was caught on video receiving cash from a campaign supporter. López Obrador has defended the contributions as legitimate.
Democrats also accuse Gertz Manero of pressing personal issues while in office.
Among them, was the attempt to lock up 31 Mexican scientists in a maximum-security prison because, according to him, they improperly received some 2.5 million US dollars in government funding years ago. Laws at the time allowed for such funding, and investigators say it was not improperly spent. Critics say the charges are revenge for investigators’ refusal to acknowledge Gertz Manero’s own academic credentials.
The attorney general can also be heard in a recently leaked recording of a conversation with a colleague insulting a Supreme Court justice. In the recording, Gertz Manero affirms that the judge does not pay attention to requests that the highest court keeps a niece in prison whom he blames for the death of her older brother (who died at age 82, from a terminal illness), while he was in her charge.
Gertz Manero has acknowledged obtaining an advance copy of a proposed Supreme Court ruling recommending the relative’s release, which many viewed as a potential conflict of interest.
But he says he received the court ruling because he was acting in the case as a relative of the deceased, not as attorney general.