By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
A six-year term of blatant fiscal corruption and barefaced political abuse may finally be winding down for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN) and his cabinet of cronies, who are due to leave office (not any too soon) at the end of November.
But despite indisputable evidence of financial embezzlement, political malfeasance, shady backroom deals and outright robbery, Peña Nieto’s gang of thugs and swindlers are still manipulating Mexico’s fractured legal system in order to try to shield themselves from a corruption investigation that could potentially land them all in federal prisons for very extended stays.
On Thursday, Oct. 11, Peña Nieto’s legal office filed a motion with the Supreme Court (another band of his appointed cronies), asking for protection for himself and all current federal officials from being charged in criminal proceeding that are now well underway in the northern state of Chihuahua.
That case involved allegations of the misappropriation of government funds to finance the political campaign of Peña Nieto’s now-moribund Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), to which nearly all of the president’s merry band of men and women belong.
To be a little more precise, late last year, Mexican authorities arrested former PRI insider and political wheeler-and-dealer (oh, yeah, and close Peña Nieto buddy) Alejandro Gutierrez on charges of swindling more than $12 million of Chihuahua’s state funds so he could finance the PRI’s not-so-successful bid to keep control over Mexican political affairs.
And it is that brewing legal cyclone that Peña Nieto and his fellow hoodlums are desperately trying to take shelter from by asking for a carte blanche immunity from the Supreme Court.
What this essentially comes down to is Peña Nieto trying to grant himself a preemptive exoneration from his almost-certain involvement in that massive embezzlement scheme.
But the Chihuahua state funds fiasco is not even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to EPN’s long list of prison-worthy crimes against the Mexican state and its people.
For starters, there is that now-infamous payola scandal concerning a $6 million white mansion in Mexico City’s upscale Lomas de Chapultepec, an apparent “token” of appreciation for the signing of a contract with a Chinese tycoon for the exclusive rights to build a multi-million-dollar bullet train between the State of Mexico (Edomex) and the nation’s capital, a project that eventually got deep-sixed because the media found out about it.
And there is that questionable contract with Mexican plutocrat Carlos Slim to build an improbable new airport in the state of Hidalgo using federal funds (minus kickbacks, of course) to finance what would eventually become a private-sector milk cow for the billionaire. (That project is currently on hold, by the way, despite Peña Nieto’s efforts to railroad it through an environmentally fragile ecosystem and Slim’s consorsium being less than 20 percent done with the construction and more than 2000 percent over budget, but, hey, who’s counting?)
Then there is that little matter of the government’s debt, which during Peña Nieto’s six-year term mysteriously doubled from 5 trillion pesos to 10 trillion pesos (again, who’s counting?), and the fact that, as my esteemed Pulse News Mexico colleague Ricardo Castillo astutely pointed out in his Sept. 3 column “Peña Nieto Never Understood that He Didn’t Understand,” the Mexican Treasury’s foreign reserves have plummeted from $199 billion in 2012 to just $173 billion today and still dropping.
Lest we forget Mexico’s skyrocketing murder rate, which last year reached a record level of more than 23,000 violent deaths, according to the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System (SESNSP), or the unprecedented deaths of at least 60 journalists and 27 Catholic priests under Peña Nieto’s watch.
And when the president’s critics warn that they “know where the bodies are buried,” they are not just using a figure of speech. They are referring to the still-not-resolved disappearance of 43 male students from a rural teachers college in the coastal state of Guerrero back in 2014, a crime for which EPN’s alleged complicity was at best a tacit nod of consent and at worst the all-out ordering of the act.
Yup, a free pass for all past and future crimes is certainly a prize that Peña Nieto could savor.
And while Mexico’s historic “Year of Hidalgo” (if you don’t know what that refers to, don’t worry, you will soon enough, when Pena Nieto’s over-cooked books finally get audited come December) is a flagrant example of the country’s notorious corruption, this fat-goose-lame-duck president is the first ever in the nation’s turbulent political history to try to wheedle himself and his accomplices a lifetime get-out-of-jail-free card.
As for Gutierrez, he somehow managed – no doubt with the help of a hefty wallet – to finally get off scot-free from the well-founded charges against him back in September, while his bosom pal and former Chihuahua Governor César Duarte took the more secure path to invulnerability by skipping out of the country – ne’er to be seen again – as soon as the details of his crime began to come to light.
There is little doubt that Peña Nieto and his consociates are likewise hedging their bets with secure exit strategies as Plan B alternatives, just in case the president’s appeal to the Supreme Court doesn’t get approved or is overturned by his political nemesis and the country’s future president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who, by the way, won a landslide victory in July running on a campaign to finally rid Mexico of its endemic corruption.