President of Mexico Proposes 20 Constitutional Reforms With Focus on Social Justice and Democracy

Saheli Chowdhury, Orinoco Tribune, Feb 12, 2024 —

The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, announced a package of 20 constitutional reforms, with a focus on social justice, participatory democracy, and combating “white-collar crime.”

The president made the announcement on February 5, during an official event for the celebration of the 107th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of the United Mexican States of 1917, which resulted from the Mexican Revolution and was the first constitution in the world to enact social rights.

Regarding his proposed reforms, AMLO said that they are aimed at “recovering the legacy of the great national leaders” and thus trying to “restore to the Constitution of 1917 all its dignity, its humanism, and its greatness” that were destroyed during the previous 36 years of neoliberal governments.

“My proposal is that our generation honors the legacy of the Constituent Assembly of 1917,” he said. “From it, we received a constitution that, despite the serious alterations it suffered during neoliberalism, has been fundamental for us to recover the country, clean up the rottenness of the institutions, and reorient the state to put it at the service of the people. Thanks to our Constitution of 1917, we have been able to undertake this national feat in a peaceful and democratic manner.”

Reforms for welfare and social justice
AMLO stated that it is essential to legally protect from the ground up the rights to social justice and welfare that have been achieved by the people during his government and to “continue fighting for a better, more just, free, egalitarian and fraternal society.” With this objective, the president presented a reform that would transform into constitutional guarantees the most popular programs of his government, grouped into “Welfare Reforms: Pensions, Scholarships, and Employment Opportunities.” This package includes:

  • senior citizens’ right to a pension starting at age 65,
  • the right to universal pension of persons with disabilities until 64 years of age, and access to rehabilitation therapies with preference to those under 18 years of age,
  • Benito Juárez Welfare Scholarships for students from low-income families to be progressively raised each year,
  • Right to work through the Jóvenes Construyendo el Futuro program, contemplating job training and economic support equivalent to the minimum wage for young people aged 18-29 years who are not studying or working, with priority to those in poverty.

Similarly, Sembrando Vida, the Mexican government’s flagship program for the agricultural sector, has been proposed to convert into a constitutional norm.

The president also proposed to turn into constitutional guarantees the right to a dignified salary and pension for workers of all sectors. Among his proposed reforms in this matter, the most significant point is that the minimum wage of public sector workers cannot be set below inflation. This is a departure from what became the norm in Mexico during the six previous administrations, which AMLO calls the “neo-porfirist era,” equating neoliberalism with the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz.

This year, the National Minimum Wage Commission agreed to a 20% increase in the general and professional minimum wage for the year 2024. According to the Mexican government, this increase will benefit 6.4 million formal workers and will help in the recovery of the purchasing power of the people. The general minimum wage thus rises from 207.44 to 248.93 pesos per day, while in the Northern Border Free Zone, it rises from 312.41 to 374.89 pesos per day.

AMLO also announced that “full-time public-school teachers, police officers, National Guard members, members of the Armed Forces, doctors and nurses will receive a monthly salary not lower than the average salary of workers registered with the Mexican Social Security Institute.”

As for pensions, the president stated that the deterioration of pensions caused by the neoliberal reforms of ex-Presidents Ernesto Zedillo and Felipe Calderón will be annulled. For this purpose, the government will create a Pension Fund for Welfare. In addition, those who have contributed to the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) since 1997 and to the Institute of Security and Social Services for State Workers (ISSSTE) since 2007 will be entitled to have their retirement pension equal to their last salary up to an amount equivalent to the average monthly salary registered with the IMSS.

In December 2021, the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador modified by decree the Social Security Law and an article of the Retirement Savings Systems Law, focusing on increasing employer contributions, reducing the requirement of weeks contributed, raising the amount of the guaranteed pension, and reducing the commissions charged by the Retirement Fund Administrations.

Another important reform focused on social and historical justice, which was in fact the first of the 20 reforms announced by President López Obrador on Monday, is the “recognition of indigenous peoples and communities and Afro-Mexican peoples as subjects of public law, giving them preferential attention because they are the most ancient and most forgotten inhabitants of Mexico.” He specified that their rights to self-determination; the development of their normative systems; to elect their authorities and traditional representatives; to free, prior, and informed consultation; as well as their cultural heritage, traditional medicine, languages, and educational models will be respected within constitutional norms. These reforms were contemplated in the San Andrés Accords signed by the Mexican government and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) on February 16, 1996; however, none of the former presidents of Mexico, starting from signatory Ernesto Zedillo, ever fulfilled the accords. AMLO, on the other hand, has tried to make reparations. In addition to the attention to the indigenous peoples through the government’s social programs, he has visited various communities to present apologies on behalf of the Mexican State for the atrocities committed against them since independence. He also demanded an apology from the royal family of Spain on behalf of the indigenous peoples of Mexico for the crimes committed during the colonial period. The latest announcement of the constitutional reform seems to be a continuation of that policy.

The president further proposed to turn into constitutional guarantees the right to health and the right to housing. “The State will guarantee comprehensive, universal, and free healthcare, including medical tests, surgical interventions, and necessary medicine,” the reform on healthcare states. He also announced that the Institute of National Fund for Workers’ Housing will construct social housing units, which working people can access at reduced costs.

Expanding participatory democracy, reforming the judiciary
President AMLO has said on numerous occasions that Mexico needs “profound reforms” of the judiciary and the electoral system, and tried to bring about some reforms during the course of his presidency, but most of them were discarded either in Congress where his party, Movement for National Regeneration (MORENA), does not have qualified majority, or by different courts and tribunals. On Monday, AMLO proposed numerous reforms on these issues, focused on expanding participatory democracy and based on his government’s “republican austerity” policy, which is austerity “for the government, not the people.”

The proposed judicial reforms include AMLO’s ambitious project of modifying the selection methods for judges and magistrates so that they “respond to the interests of the people and not of the oligarchy.” For this AMLO has proposed “election by the popular vote of ministers of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation, circuit magistrates, district judges, electoral magistrates, and members of a new body called the Court of Judicial Discipline.” All these posts are to be elected by the people through a special election scheduled for 2025. Among other significant proposals of judicial reform is defining time limits of a maximum of six months for resolving fiscal cases and one year for criminal cases. If these limits are extended, the judges will have to justify the delay.

The proposed electoral reforms focus on reducing the size and cost of the electoral and legislative bureaucracy and expanding the scope of the popular vote. The most significant proposal—and the one most contested by the opposition—is the elimination of the plurinominal congressmembers and senators. Currently, political parties that cross a given threshold of votes get a quota of candidates that they can select for the parliament without being voted directly by the electorate. Throughout his term, AMLO has expressed his opposition to this system. Certain political sectors are also opposed to it, especially because politicians with criminal records take advantage of this system to become parliamentarians and thus achieve immunity from legal proceedings. Now, through a constitutional reform, the president is trying to eliminate this selection mechanism. In this way, the number of Congress members would be reduced from 500 to 300, while the number of senators would drop from 128 to 96. The number of legislators for state congresses would be similarly reduced. Moreover, the government funding of political parties and electoral campaigns will be reduced to half of the current amount.

Another reform proposes substituting the current National Electoral Institute (INE) with the National Institute of Elections and Consultations (INEC) which will conduct the federal elections and referendums as well as the state-level electoral processes, thus disappearing the electoral entities of the states. Similarly, the Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judicial Power (TEPJF) has been proposed to absorb the functions of the local electoral tribunals. The number of electoral institute members will be reduced from 11 to seven, and their terms will be reduced from nine to six years. The terms of the electoral tribunal magistrates will be similarly reduced from nine to six years. All these members will be elected directly by the popular vote. These reforms would reduce the costs of maintaining the electoral apparatus by approximately 24 billion Mexican pesos.

The president has also proposed to lower the percentage of turnout for popular referendums to be binding, from 40% to 30%, and allowing the revocation of mandate in the mid-term election.

As part of the republican austerity policy, which the president has proposed to enshrine constitutionally, it is also recommended to eliminate the so-called “autonomous bodies” and “institutions with the duplicity of functions” and to absorb them into existing secretariats and undersecretariats, “while respecting the rights of the workers” who are employed in said bodies. These institutions include:

  • National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information, and Protection of Personal Data (INAI)
  • Federal Commission on Economic Competition (COFECE)
  • Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT)
  • Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE)
  • National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH)
  • National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL)
  • National Commission for the Continuous Improvement of Education (MEJOREDU)

All these institutions are plagued by corruption and facilitated the privatization and de-nationalization of economic and industrial sectors, including strategic sectors such as petroleum and telecommunications. They have also served as revolving doors for government officials and multinational corporations that are keen on owning natural resources in Mexico. The opposition, however, has condemned this reform as “authoritarian.”

Protection of animals and the environment
Environmental conservation and protection of animals are included in the reform package on the “Protection of animals and natural resources.” Considering the rights of animals as a matter of “public interest,” AMLO announced that a constitutional reform will prohibit the mistreatment of animals and “guarantee their protection, adequate treatment, and conservation by the State.”

Another proposed reform seeks to protect corn, the staple food of the Mexican diet and a symbol of Mexican national identity. The reform would constitutionally prohibit the use of genetically modified corn for human consumption. In 2022, the Mexican president issued a decree banning the cultivation of GM corn in Mexico and the use of GM corn in the preparation of tortillas and other corn-based food items. This has created tensions between Mexico and the United States, which filed a case against Mexico before the United States-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement (USMCA) tribunal, claiming that the presidential decree violates multiple norms of the agreement. Mexico, despite having the largest biodiversity of corn species, imports large quantities of corn from the US—all of which are genetically modified—to cover the domestic demand. However, the Mexican government’s Inter-secretarial Commission for the Biosecurity of Genetically Modified Organisms (CIBIOGEM) is carrying out research on increasing productivity of Mexican corn varieties as well as protecting its diversity which is threatened by the cultivation of GM corn in Mexico—now illegal, but which took place since the term of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) who gave concessions to companies like Monsanto and Dow to plant GM corn, soy, and cotton in Mexican territory. If AMLO’s proposed constitutional reform is approved, there will be serious disagreements with the US government and the Big Ag lobby.

Other proposed reforms on environmental issues seek to guarantee people’s right to water and prohibit open-pit mining and fracking.

Other reforms
Among the proposed constitutional reforms are banning vapers and illegal use of fentanyl. However, none of the reforms intend to criminalize individual users of the substances; the target, instead, is the companies that produce them. “Tax crimes committed by companies engaged in invoicing simulated operations, extortion, and the production, distribution, and sale of toxic substances, chemical precursors, and synthetic drugs not legally authorized, such as the illicit use of fentanyl, are incorporated in the catalog of crimes that merit preventive imprisonment,” reads the reform in this matter. It also proposes to prohibit the production, distribution, and commercialization of electronic cigarettes, which are increasingly considered hazardous to public health in many countries.

AMLO’s other proposed reforms include the “operational and administrative assignment of the National Guard to the Secretariat of National Defense,” and allowing it to collaborate in investigations under the command of the Attorney General’s Office or the offices of the state attorneys. According to the president, this will prevent the National Guard from becoming corrupt, as what happened with the former Federal Police which was even infiltrated by organized crime. However, this proposal, which has been promoted by President López Obrador for years, has been branded as “militarization” of the country by the opposition and sectors of the civil society.

The president further announced that the railway system will be declared “a priority sector for national development,” with preference for passenger transportation, thus underlining the importance of the public transport system in Mexico, a sector that was decimated by the previous governments that even privatized the railways. The president also forwarded an electricity reform, one of the significant promises of his government, which intends to reverse the privatization of the electricity generation and supply system, and reinstall the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) in its rightful place, fulfilling the State’s obligation to “guarantee energy security and self-sufficiency” and “to comply with its social responsibility, without profit purposes.” The proposal states that “neither the national electric system nor the public internet service provided by the State constitute monopolies and will prevail over private companies.”

What comes next
President López Obrador called on the current legislature—or the next one—to analyze, debate and, if necessary, approve the proposed reforms for the benefit of the majority of the people. “The essence of these norms is to put public life back on the path of freedom, justice, and democracy, as our ancestors and our self-sacrificing leaders demanded and urged with their struggles.”

He pointed out that his proposals “are clearly different and opposed to the reforms that were approved during the entire neoliberal period, when never, in the 36 years of that dark period, were reforms considered for benefiting the people, but fundamentally for adjusting the legal framework to facilitate plunder, corruption, and the handing over of the assets of the people and of the nation to a minority.”

With only eight months remaining before the end of his six-year term, AMLO highlighted the need to continue fighting for humanism, the ideals and causes that have accompanied the country’s great transformations, and not to give up on the effort to recover the social sense of public action. “It would be a mistake to miss this historic opportunity to do everything in our power to strengthen the values, ideals and reinstate the democratic and, above all, the eminently social character of the Constitution,” he said.

However, he added that the success of the ongoing transformation does not depend exclusively on constitutional reforms and laws because the fundamental element is the change in the mentality of the people, “which will prevent any anti-people backtracking in the future.”

This comment possibly derives from the fact that the approval of the reforms will not be easy, and likely all the reforms would not be approved during the remainder of AMLO’s term, at least due to his party’s lack of a qualified majority in Congress. The government’s proposed electricity reform, for example, was discarded by Congress last year in a process openly plagued by lobbying from multinational corporations such as the Spanish electricity giant Iberdrola as well as several US-based companies. Currently, the Mexican state electricity corporation CFE holds less than 40% of the market. AMLO did not propose to nationalize the electricity industry but simply to raise CFE’s participation to 54%, yet that modest reform was not approved. This time also, opposition politicians have declared that they would not support the electricity reform.

Similarly, the electoral reform proposals, especially those associated with replacing the INE, have been severely contested by the opposition, which claims that the president wants to disappear the electoral institute and appropriate electoral powers. Last year, the opposition parties took out a march in the capital, with the slogan “INE no se toca” (INE cannot be touched).

The proposed judicial reforms, particularly the election of judges and magistrates by the people, are considered to be the most “controversial” among all of AMLO’s proposals to date, although he has been raising this issue throughout his term. The opposition parties, as well as many intellectuals, deride this reform as “populist.” Some judges have even claimed that this proposal violates their human rights, disregarding the fact that human rights must be the same for everyone. However, Arturo Zaldívar, former magistrate of the Supreme Court who resigned from his position in December 2023, opines that it is “absolutely possible” and recommendable to elect judges by the popular vote because the judiciary “needs to be closer to the people.” In his opinion, the courts must be “independent from political parties and the powers that be,” and that election by popular vote would go a long way in “improving the justice system in Mexico.”

Taking all this into consideration, AMLO’s proposals appear to define a route map for the next government.

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