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Why did AMLO accuse USAID of a "coup towards Mexico"?

An expert's point of view on a current event.

June 5, 2021, 1:52 p.m.

"It's not like USAID is intruding on anyone," Gayle Smith, Obama-era chief executive of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) told the New York Times in April.

The Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is apparently not so sure.

US organizations such as USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Ford Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation have long had funding agreements with civil society organizations in Mexico – a feature of bilateral relations for around 60 years. Major civil society efforts in Mexico to promote freedom of the press, access to justice, government transparency, corporate responsibility and freedom from gender-based violence are supported in whole or in part by such funding initiatives. And they have been for some time.

As long as these partnerships may be, López Obrador recently railed against foreign sources of funding for civil society organizations, claiming that Mexico's sovereignty was in jeopardy. The president's longstanding allegations that various foreign authorities are trying to undermine his government culminated in a diplomatic note sent to the US embassy in Mexico in May. At a press conference, López Obrador blamed the US government for "an act of interventionism that violates our sovereignty".

The alleged "act of interventionism" is the allocation of funds by USAID to the non-profit organization Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI). In 2018, MCCI received a three-year grant of $ 2.3 million from the agency's designated funding to support anti-corruption activities in Mexico. López Obrador also criticized Article 19, a non-governmental organization that defends freedom of expression, the work of which was quoted by the US State Department in its annual human rights report.

López Obrador's public allegations have a political purpose. The president seems to be confronting his critics in civil society in part by capitalizing on Mexicans' resentment about their country's unequal ties with the United States. Opinion polls suggest it might work. Mexico is voting this weekend, and López Obrador's party, Morena, looks likely to win more state governors, more mayor offices and more MPs in the national congress. Still, it may not be the overwhelming power that the president needs to achieve his far-reaching ambitions. López Obrador wants to further reduce government spending, increase fossil fuel consumption and expand the role of the armed forces. Some speculate that he launched attacks on the United States too, hoping to gain the ground he needs.

López Obrador's statements about USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a US government-funded nonprofit, also draw on public anger over US intervention in Latin America. While USAID may not "intrude" on someone, there is no doubt that the agency has been criticized for supporting the goals of the US military. As an exercise of soft power, US government funding, particularly through USAID, has been embroiled in attempts in recent years to overthrow the Venezuelan and Cuban governments.

The president's latest rhetoric comes as the government changes its political stance on the United States as well. In January, López Obrador signed a law passed by the National Congress to restrict the activity of "foreign agents" on Mexican soil, stating that Mexico would not cooperate in cross-border drug-related investigations "without respect for our sovereignty" arresting General Salvador Cienfuegos on drug and money laundering allegations in the United States. Cienfuegos was later returned to Mexico, where he was acquitted of the charges, much to the displeasure of US prosecutors. Meanwhile, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai recently filed a U.S. energy industry complaint with Mexico's Secretary of Commerce after companies said recent changes to Mexico's electricity and hydrocarbon laws – changes suspended by Mexico's courts – were creating trouble for the industry have led.

Aside from seeking political points by offensive against the United States, the characteristics of López Obrador's discourse – state sponsored suppression of independent journalism and widespread misinformation campaigns – make its claim to protect the country from destabilization by outside forces, null.

In the case of MCCI, the diplomatic note sent on May 6 was allegedly triggered by an article in Contralínea magazine that reported that MCCI is partially funded by USAID and the NED. The article also stated that from 2019-2020, MCCI was headed by Claudio X González Guajardo, a businessman from a political family who also heads a coalition of organizations known as Sí por México that is strongly opposed to López Obrador.

López Obrador's note reads: "Members of (MCCI), such as Claudio X. González, have spoken out against the Mexican government in their political militancy." The letter asked the embassy to confirm whether it supported the MCCI , and if necessary urged them to “suspend” the funds in a spirit of mutual respect and non-interference. At his daily press conference on May 7th, López Obrador said the United States was "promoting a coup" by donating funds to MCCI. “That is why we ask for clarification. No foreign government can give money to political groups in any other country. ”(In a statement posted on Twitter, MCCI said,“ We ​​strongly oppose the use of concepts such as meddling, interventionism or attempted coups that have been used to disqualify our work . ")

USAID programs in recent years have been devoted to "(assisting) Mexico's efforts to address key citizen security challenges" to "help communities resist the effects of crime and violence" and "protect citizens' rights." to protect". With a new presidential administration in Washington, there will inevitably be discussions about the allocation of USAID funds. Several days after López Obrador's announcement, Mexican media reported that Bruce Abrams, USAID's Mission Director in Mexico, said in an inter-agency meeting organized by the Mexican State Department that “a civilian organization opposed to the government or the private sector. is not the long-term answer for Mexico, "saying the agency is" reassessing its priorities "as a new cross-border relationship emerges under US President Joe Biden. It is unclear whether it referred to any particular organization or initiative. USAID was contacted for comment.

López Obrador's allegations of the coup d'état are not confined to the MCCI. The president has made similar statements over the past 12 months about Article 19 and groups opposing his Tren Maya mega-project. At the end of March, López Obrador claimed that Article 19, which advocates the safety of reporters in the world's deadliest country for journalists, was "supported by foreigners" and was "linked to the conservative movement opposed to" his government. In particular, he hit back on the US State Department's 2020 country report on Mexico, which criticized the country for its rule of law problems; It is estimated that 94 percent of crimes in 2020 were either not reported or not investigated. The State Department document specifically cited an Article 19 report in which the organization saw a 45 percent increase in aggression against journalists compared to 2019.

Article 19, in turn, stated that in 2020 there were coordinated attacks by public officials on social media against former employees of the state-funded news agency Notimex and against current employees who were on strike at the time. The staff union and many journalists covering the issue alleged that some staff had been unjustifiably dismissed or harassed by the management appointed by López Obrador. Article 19 criticizes López Obrador for refusing to condemn the attacks and for supporting Sanjuana Martínez, the agency's anti-union director. Article 19 researchers also claimed the editor-in-chief had influenced the work of the news agency, writing, "Martínez has undermined Notimex's editorial independence and instructed journalists not to avoid reporting on certain topics, including public institutions and Mexican officials."

López Obrador's hostility had consequences. The ramifications of the president's March comments on Article 19 and freedom of expression were grave, said Paula Saucedo, an Article 19 protection and defense officer, said a growing percentage of the organization's documented aggression against journalists "is committed by individuals". in society – people who happen to come up to reporters on the street and say: 'Why are you against my president, why are you against the development of the country? ""

Like most civil society organizations in Mexico, Article 19 has funding relationships with numerous international organizations including USAID, the Ford Foundation, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and Google, as well as several other foreign governments such as Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands. Inti Cordera, managing director of the international documentary film festival DOCSMX, said such arrangements are simply pragmatic. "We found NED because we were looking for funding and they had funding," said Cordera. "We found that there was a correspondence with our values, which should also promote democracy." There is no other particular agenda in the NED-DOCSMX relationship, he added.

López Obrador's rhetoric against foreign sources of funding for civil society organizations in Mexico also raises the question of where else money for these efforts could come from. In the first year of his tenure, López Obrador cut funding for social programs and made thousands of civil society organizations seek funding for their work in health, women's rights, human rights, indigenous advocacy, social welfare, science and culture, which resulted in many looked for funding from outside Mexico to keep operations going.

"There has definitely been a move away from public funding for this work, even though the constitution makes a tacit promise to the Mexican people to develop the culture," said Cordera, adding that civil society would ideally have more money from Mexico . Cordera also sees room for building a "donor culture," where crowdfunding and dollar-for-dollar fundraising (where the government offsets donations from individuals) will become more common. As a sector that promotes democracy and transparency and works for social justice, "civil society is the Mexican government's greatest ally" by supporting the population where the state cannot or cannot.

López Obrador may not see it that way. But civil society organizations in Mexico remain unaffected by the president's criticism. “We're not going to stop because the president is doing what he's doing,” Saucedo said. "On the contrary – we will continue to do our job in defense of freedom of expression and the right to information."

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