Ministers Arturo Zaldívar and Yasmín Esquivel during an event on November 25, 2021.Rogelio Morales Ponce (Cuartoscuro)
The election of the new president of the Supreme Court, which takes place this Monday at 12 noon, promises to be one of the most tense on record. The vote among ministers follows days of information about the alleged plagiarism of the thesis of Yasmín Esquivel, one of the members of the Court of Justice who is running to succeed Arturo Zaldívar, who is ending his presidency. The scandal occurred on December 21, when information revealed that the paper submitted by Minister Esquivel in 1987 to obtain a law degree was virtually identical to the paper submitted by another student a year earlier. Since that day, Esquivel has defended her honesty, but the information about it did not cloud things and it was not ruled out that the minister would resign from her candidacy. On the contrary, on the night before the end of the year, Esquivel said he had presented evidence at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) demonstrating his academic honesty. If there are no last-minute changes, the minister will go ahead with her plans and subject her colleagues to a hard vote.
Five candidates have run for the presidency of the highest court. Minister Norma Piña and three other colleagues, Alfredo Gutiérrez Ortiz Mena, Javier Laynez and Alberto Pérez Dayán, are also present with Esquivel. Only the 11 ministers who make up the plenary will decide the winner. So if a long vote was expected before the scandal, it’s also now known to be close. The conflict has only increased these days, fueled by political statements made by the President of the Republic, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has said that Esquivel is his candidate for the post. The president has publicly defended them on several occasions, describing the plagiarism as a youth affair that happened “40 years ago.” López Obrador said he trusts the honesty of Esquivel, who had other charges before becoming minister of the court and “never received a complaint”. For the president, the matter is “simple”, it is about “an anti-government coup” that some “corrupt” journalists spread in the days before the election in order to overthrow the minister’s career. The hostility toward Esquivel responded, the president said, to “conservatism’s fear that she might become president because she agrees with the transformation of the country.”
Whether or not there are hidden interests, unseating the minister from the presidential election is something that has remained very much in the background as news of plagiarism spread. It quickly turned out that there were not just two identical theses, but three. And that the director of this work at UNAM, Martha Rodríguez Ortiz, was the tutor of at least six other plagiarized theses between 1986 and 2010. Rodríguez Ortiz, who is now under investigation by the university, was among those defending Esquivel as soon as the news broke.
The snowball grew as the day of the vote drew near and the minister took a bizarre turn by declaring that she was not the plagiarist but the other student, Edgar Ulises Báez Gutiérrez, even though he had submitted his dissertation a year earlier . The entanglement took on humorous overtones. To defend the originality of his work, Esquivel stated that he began writing his dissertation in 1985, believing that Báez has been able to copy it ever since. As this allegation did not seem very credible, the minister tried to deliver a final blow on the night of December 30, when UNAM had already started the investigation. He released a statement assuring that Báez declared before a notary public that he had taken “important parts of her work from 1985-1986,” documents held by tutor Martha Rodríguez Ortiz. “In view of these facts, it is confirmed that the original authorship of the work lies with me,” he concluded. He said he had also submitted some “expert opinions on computer science and documentoscopy” to UNAM as evidence. But he made none of it public.
A few hours later, Báez himself, a previously missing character, gave an interview to Juan Carlos Rodríguez of Eje Central, in which he assured that he had not explained anything to any notary. “Logic dispels everything: the one titled first obviously has the original text,” Báez told the news outlet. “Not wanting to assimilate or understand it is a duck,” Báez added.
On December 26, the conflict was still hot. President López Obrador had no choice but to acknowledge the apparent “coincidences” between the two theses, but he echoed Esquivel’s involvement and called on UNAM to determine who was the plagiarist and who was plagiarized before the day of the vote. The university requested testimony from those allegedly involved on Dec. 28, and Esquivel is said to have presented the evidence in that regard, which he later released to the public in confusing terms. Báez has asserted that no one called him to testify. UNAM has not yet made a judgment.
And the day came. This Monday, the 11 ministers must decide who will be the new president of a court that will pass some of the country’s most important cases, where judgments will be made affecting policy projects in which the government has its greatest interest , but that often the opposition takes them to court. For example, the Court has ruled in favor of decriminalizing abortion in Mexico; also about the legal consumption of marijuana or about the Elektrogesetz.
Some of the issues that will go through the ministers’ vote in the new year are not insignificant and hence derives the importance of today’s election, in which Esquivel presents himself with a battered candidacy and the enormous doubts of citizenship over his honesty .
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