Zedillo lawsuit lacks clear backers

The identity of the plaintiffs in the case against former Mexican president and Yale professor Ernesto Zedillo, pictured above, remains unclear, but rumors are swirling that the suit could be funded by a prominent Mexican politician.
The identity of the plaintiffs in the case against former Mexican president and Yale professor Ernesto Zedillo, pictured above, remains unclear, but rumors are swirling that the suit could be funded by a prominent Mexican politician. Photo by Grace Patuwo.

One month after 10 anonymous plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Yale professor and former president of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo GRD ’81 for war crimes, it remains unclear who is actually behind the case.

Though Roger Kobert, the prosecution’s attorney, has claimed attorney-client privilege and refused to say whether he is being paid, he told the News that his clients do not have the means to afford his firm’s services. Without clients capable of providing payment, three legal experts said that Kobert has three other options for funding his services: working pro bono, for commission or for payment from a third party. The questionable funding in an already murky case against Zedillo has led to further speculation by the Mexican press that the lawsuit is motivated by politics rather than justice for the victims of the Acteal Massacre, in which 45 civilians, members of the Mexican civil society Las Abejas, were killed in the village of Acteal, Mexico.

Las Abejas, of which the plaintiffs claim to be members, first raised the question of Kobert’s pay in a Sept. 22 statement on the group’s blog.

“It is evident that neither Las Abejas nor any other Tzotzil indigenous person has the money to pay the enormous costs that such legal defense would imply,” the group wrote.

Kobert, who works for the Miami, Fla., law firm Rafferty, Kobert, Tenenholtz, Bounds & Hess, would not comment on whether he has taken the case pro bono.

Zedillo’s attorney, Jonathan Freiman LAW ’98, said it would be unusual for Kobert to take a case pro bono without disclosing the decision.

“I have no idea what’s happening there, but usually when firms do pro bono work, they’re quick to admit it,” Freiman said.

If Kobert is not working pro bono, one way that he could be paid is through commission, said Stanford Law School professor Jenny Martinez ’93. Attorneys who work for commission take a portion of the money if the plaintiffs win, but go unpaid if the plaintiffs lose, Martinez said.

The lack of a clear financier for the prosecution has fueled allegations among those involved and local media that the case is politically motivated.

Neither Freiman nor Zedillo would speculate on who might be behind the case, but Freiman said the lawsuit was “clearly political.” Las Abejas wrote on their blog that the case was motivated more by politics and money than by justice.

Amidst those vague claims of political motivations for the case, one Spanish-language newspaper, Acento Veintiuno, published an article on Oct. 3 speculating that Zedillo’s presidential predecessor and political rival, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, is behind the case.

“You can be sure Salinas is behind the mess with Zedillo because it’s unlikely that the natives were aware that he lives in Connecticut,” the paper said.

Salinas was president of Mexico from 1988–’94, and Zedillo was president from 1994–2000. Both were members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Rob Varenik, programs director for the Open Society Justice Initiative, a human rights group with an office in Mexico City, said that the Mexican press often suspects political motives. Varenik said if Salinas were behind the case, his involvement would likely be a matter of personal rather than party politics.

“Carlos Salinas’ name comes up in some of my conversations as somehow behind the case,” Varenik said. “Perhaps that is because its been written elsewhere, or because there is a long history of Salinas and Zedillo.”

The lawsuit against Zedillo was filed on Sept. 19 in United States District Court, District of Connecticut.

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