By RICARDO CASTILLO
The election by a majority vote of the new head of Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights, Rosario Piedra Ibarra, by the Mexican Senate last week, was a dramatic show from beginning to end — a dramatic farce, as I would have called it in my days as a drama critic. Dramatic because choosing a human rights commissioner is a very serious thing, and farce because the senators put on a great clown show!
The new commissioner (there’s no turning back on her appointment now) was voted in on Thursday, Nov. 7. Piedra Ibarra was one of three candidates presented to the senators, and she won the election by a clear majority of 67 votes in a second round of voting.
Immediately after her win, the National Action Party (PAN) minority senators protested the vote and claimed it had been “a fraud.”
At the Mexican Chamber of Senators, there are two types of voting: public and secret. When it’s public, the vote appears with the name of the senator on an electronic board, and when its secret, the name of the candidate is handwritten on a sheet of paper and deposited in a ballot box. The votes are counted by specially appointed scrutinizers who are not senators but trustworthy Senate employees.
To select the human rights commissioner, a secret ballot was approved by all and that would have been it, except for the fact that after the vote, a video was made public on television newscasts by PAN senators of majority whip Ricardo Monreal introducing what appeared to be two sheets of paper into the box. It was an incredibly rapid movement.
The PAN also demanded a new election because, they claimed, there were two votes missing in the final count.
Senator Monreal complained that “the right (PAN)the altered a video that showed me having voted twice … The video had millions of hits and they did to stop to rectify the facts.” Monreal also included an offensive expression that implied that the perpetrators are shameless cynics.
PAN Senator Xóchitl Gálvez responded to Montiel, saying: “I will resign to my Senate seat if that video has been tampered with.”
The discussion went on for days until, finally, on Tuesday, Nov. 12, Monreal accepted a voting repeat. His proposition was voted on first. And, surprise, the senators voted to uphold the Nov. 7 vote as valid. rejecting Monreal’s proposal, with 67 against and 46 in favor. Nine senators abstained.
By the way, there were three more proposals for the new vote, and the Senate voted on all of them, rejecting each and every one. One of the proposals even included having a different trio of candidates.
After nearly eight hours of haggling, Senate President Mónica Fernández summoned winner Piedra Ibarra to be sworn in. The shouting by PAN members doubled and revolted to impede the swearing in ceremony. Members of the majority National Regeneration Movement (Morena) shouted back “sí, se pudo,” (“yes, we could”).
As Piedra Ibarra went to the stage, the opposing PAN members also stepped in to impede her from being sworn in. A rowdy noisy melee followed, and, at one point, Senator Gustavo Madero tried to approach and stop Senator Mónica Fernández, who was to swear Piedra Ibarra in. During the confrontation, Madero either slipped and fell flat on his backside or, as he claims, two women senators shoved him. He was so irritated he looked disoriented, perhaps with passion, anger and/or frustration. But we onlookers got a good laugh out of the incident!
That humorous moment was soon overshadowed by a more sobering one when, asked during her swearing in about the ongoing slaughter of journalists in Mexico, Piedra Ibarra responded ingenuously: “They have killed journalists? That happened in past administrations and it’s something that is terrible.”
Apparently, the new head of Mexico’s Human Rights Commission was oblivious to the fact that in the 11 months of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador´s (AMLO) administration, at least 11 journalists have been murdered — including three in just four days in August — making Mexico the most dangerous country in the world for reporters to ply their trade.
Meanwhile, members of the minority Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) voted against holding a third vote, claiming that neither Mexico nor the victims of human rights violations “deserve that we continue to undermine the legitimacy of this very important organism of the state.”
In the fray, a huge sign reading #PANMIENTE (PAN LIES) appeared in the background.
To close the curtain with a bang, PAN members threatened to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court and even go to international organizations to protest the “fraud.” This seems like a hopeless endeavor because now that Piedra Ibarra is legally the Mexican human rights ombudsperson, the issue might have political resonance, potentially smearing the president’s image. (AMLO congratulated Piedra barra on her winning the election). But taking the cae to the Supreme Court would only serve to create media coverage for a lost cause.
By way of protest, the Mexican chapter of Amnesty International issued a press release protesting not so much Rosario Ibarra Piedra but the “conditions” under which she was elected.
“Given the deep human rights crisis in Mexico, this can only be confronted by an autonomous, independent and legitimate organization that is the counterweight to the state and defends the rights of all persons,” Amnesty International said in a press release.
Many feel that, given the close political relationship between Piedra Ibarra and López Obrador, that he will have a major influence in her performance.
AMLO has said it is neither his business nor in his agenda to meddle in the affairs of the new ombudsperson.
But tell that to PAN members in the Senate, and they’ll just start screaming again.