The Mexican Senate’s Dark Night of Infamy
By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
If it weren’t such a pathetic and shameless assault on Mexico’s last remaining remnants of democracy, it would be funny.
The ludicrous fiasco perpetrated by the majority National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party arm of the Senate on the night of Friday, April 28, was a flagrant violation of every democratic value that Mexicans hold dear — or at least, should hold dear — as well as an assault on the very core of the nation’s constitution.
The scenario, sadly reminiscent of a Monty Python comedy, played out at the National Palace under the dubious stewardship of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), with every Morena senator dutifully falling in line to gratify the authoritarian whims of their leader.
It all started on Thursday, April 27, when a group of opposition and independent senators invaded the San Lázaro Legislative Palace and took over the Senate podium to protest the majority party’s failure to appoint a new commissioner for Mexico’s currently inoperative transparency agency, the National Institute for Transparency, Access to Information and the Protection of Personal Data (INAI).
That act by opposition lawmakers, by the way, might seem extreme until you take into account the fact that, as of Sunday, April 30, the INAI, which is Mexico’s most important guarantor of government transparency, had a backlog of more than 800 unattended requests for public information, a consequence of being unable to convene since the start of April because the institute currently has only four of the seven commissioners it needs to form a quorum and take action.
It should also be noted that the absence of the appointment of a new INAI commission head by the Mexican Congress has come at the behest — and to the delight — of López Obrador, who has never been a great fan of providing clear and vetted data to the Mexican public (although he is a gifted artisan of untrue and distorted “otro datos” of misinformation).
And the fact that any Mexican congressional business that was not resolved by the end of April would be postponed until after the summer break made the resolution of the INAI vote even more imperative.
But back to the saga of Friday night’s Senate buffoonery.
After the opposition legislators, led by conservative National Action Party (PAN) Senator Xóchitl Gálvez, refused to budge until the Morena senators agreed to vote on a new INAI commissioner, things began to get out of hand, with vicious insults flying and physical blows as well, when Morena Senator César Cravioto literally took swings at his opposition counterparts.
Eventually, the irate Morena bloc marched out, and the opposition senators settled in for a group sleepover rather than relinquishing the podium.
That was where things really began to deteriorate.
Ignoring the supposed separation of powers dictated in the Mexican Constitution, López Obrador decided to invite all the Morena and Morena-allied senators from the patsy Labor Party (PT) and (seriously yellowed) Green (PVEM) Parties to the National Palace, where they — without the participation or even the knowledge of any opposition representatives — installed their own kangaroo Senate chamber and then proceeded to fast-track (read, bulldoze) a series of nine (AMLO-dictated) bills through without even bothering to read or analyze them. (After all, they were the brainchilds of the president, so what could possibly go wrong? What, indeed?)
In one fell swoop, the all-Morena, blundering, makeshift Senate gave its slapdash approval and benediction to 20 separate controversial laws, one after another, and without interruption in a marathon session so that they could get priority seating for the Rosalía concert in the Zócalo later that night (the concert, by the way, was a blatant campaign ploy by AMLO’s handpicked successor, Mexico City Governor Claudia Sheinbaum).
Among the laws passed by this alternative, one-party Senate were the formal disappearance of independent institutions, the handing over of the controversial Tren Maya tourist train to the Mexican military, the strengthening of military control over all Mexican airspace and railways, the elimination of the dysfunctional National Institute of Health and Well-being (Insabi, which, by the way, was created by AMLO four years ago to replace the then-functioning Seguro Popular health safety net for Mexico’s uninsured poor), the creation of a military-run commercial airlines, the eradication of the national science institute and the dissolving of the rural financial institute, which provided loans to impoverished farmers.
But the true coup de grâce of Friday’s faux congressional session is that, as it turns out, the so-called “Alternative Senate” voted on all these bills without even having a legal quorum of 65 legislators.
Because Morena Senator Claudia Balderas was in Brussels, Belgium, at the time, the Morena bench and its cohorts decided to induct Tania Carola Viveros from Veracruz into its body as a “temporary substitute” for Balderas.
Understandably, the opposition senators have raised complaints about due process, legality and constitutionality, petty little issues that have never been much of a concern for AMLO and his clan.
With the exception of the approval of one of the bills, Law 3 of 3, which is aimed at trying to curb violence against women, the PAN, Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and Citizens’ Movement Party (MC) party have already said that they intend to challenge the validity of the session, which they have dubbed as the “Dark Night of the Senate,” adding that they will review the entire process with a fine-tooth comb.
They certainly have grounds for their complaints.
But will that deter AMLO and his hoard of zealots from moving ahead with the “approved” bills anyway? That hasn’t been the case in the past, so odds are the new laws will stand, at least unless and until the Mexican Supreme Court (SCJN) steps in to try to impose some semblance of legislative legality.
Democracy and justice are quickly eroding in Mexico, and the Morena pseudo-Senate last Friday night is a prime example of this reality.