MEXICO CITY (CN) — Fearing a future of even more opacity within Mexico’s federal government, journalists and civil society groups Friday demanded that Congress bring the country’s transparency agency back to working order.
Responsible for fulfilling public information requests, Mexico’s transparency agency INAI has not been able to legally function since early April, after the Senate failed to fill three of the seven seats on the agency’s board of commissioners. Law requires a quorum of five sitting commissioners for the agency to perform its duties.
Over 185 journalists and 80 organizations signed a letter published Friday calling the situation “unacceptable in a democratic regime that has placed as its axis the narrative of transformation of public affairs, but which contradicts itself by sending a forceful message in favor of opacity.”
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has claimed to be ushering in a new, more equitable Mexico, a process he has dubbed the Fourth Transformation. His office did not respond to a request for comment.
In late April, López Obrador asked senators to eliminate the INAI and allow other departments to absorb its functions.
This request and the Senate’s failure to appoint commissioners “violates the right of society to be informed,” the journalists’ letter states.
INAI Chief Commissioner Blanca Lilia Ibarra declined a request for interview, but referred to statements she made at a press conference this week.
Highlighting the advances in government transparency since the formation of the INAI in the early 2000s, Ibarra said the actions of the executive and legislative branches threaten that progress, and thus Mexican society itself.
“Without transparency, of course, there is no democracy,” she said. “Without transparency, investigative journalism and media outlets’ ability to know and disseminate the truth will be restricted.”
Such restrictions come at a critical time for Mexican journalists, who have come increasingly under threat in recent years.
But the consequences of closing the INAI would extend beyond that demographic, according to Mexico City-based environmental journalist Verónica Santamaría.
“We’re not just talking about transparency, about the right to access public information, but also the defense of those who are land defenders,” said Santamaría.
She pointed to a report published this week by the Mexican Environmental Law Center (CEMDA) that found 2022 to be the most violent year for environmental activists since the center began collecting such data nearly a decade ago.
The study found a total of 582 attacks on land defenders in 2022, including everything from intimidation and threats to kidnappings and murder. Twenty-four of those attacks proved fatal.
Access to information is one of the pillars of protecting land defenders, CEMDA states, pointing to a regional international treaty signed by Mexico known as the Escazú Agreement as a means for guaranteeing access to public information and keeping activists safe.
“The Escazú Agreement expressly and clearly links the worlds of human and environmental rights, which seems obvious but isn’t always the case,” said Juan Carlos Carrillo, a senior attorney at CEMDA.
As with a number of laws and international treaties Mexico has scribbled signatures on, however, the problem arises from lack of enforcement. Mexico's law imposing mandatory pretrial detention, for example, violates the American Convention on Human Rights, according to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Defending human rights is a form of democratic participation, Carrillo said, and citizens must be well informed in order to participate in a responsible way that protects them and benefits society.
“Ideally, the government should do its job in a manner that makes the INAI unnecessary,” he said. “But now the agency isn’t even guaranteeing access to information that other government departments refuse to give, and that’s really a frightening thing.”
The INAI’s dismantlement has also received criticism from beyond Mexico’s borders.
In late April, the International Conference of Information Commissioners (ICIC), of which Mexico and Mexico City are members, sent a letter to the Senate imploring it to fill the vacant seats and let the INAI do its job.
“[T]he ICIC views this as a grave threat to the security of the public’s right to access information that is guaranteed by international and national instruments,” the letter read.
Signed by information commissioners from Bermuda, Kenya and South Africa, the letter also notified senators that putting the INAI back to work is also necessary for Mexico to fulfill its international obligations required by its membership in the conference.Follow @@copycopeland
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