(CN) — A group of 10 Democratic senators called on Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday to do something about the violence against journalists in Mexico that has risen sharply during his term.
Senators Bob Menendez and Tim Kaine led eight other Democratic lawmakers in introducing the resolution during López Obrador’s visit to the White House to discuss U.S.-Mexico relations with President Joe Biden.
“In recent years, Mexico has been the most dangerous country in the world outside of a war zone for journalists,” said Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement.
“With 12 Mexican journalists already murdered in the first six months of 2022, urgent action is needed to deter hostility toward a free press, strengthen protection measures for media workers, and end high levels of impunity for violence in Mexico,” he said.
Mentioned by name in the resolution, the 12 journalists killed in Mexico so far this year already outnumber the 10 murdered in all of 2021.
Kaine, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, said that while he welcomed the meeting's potential progress on issues like migration, energy, trade and security, “Equally important will be action on strengthening protections for journalists in Mexico, who continue to confront record levels of violence in the country.”
López Obrador is known for his combative treatment of the press in his daily morning press conferences, a habit which critics say only worsens the dangerous environment for journalists in Mexico.
The senators addressed this treatment in the text of the resolution: “[T]he President of Mexico […] has sometimes demonstrated hostility towards the free press and enabled an unsafe working environment for independent journalists by regularly, publicly disparaging and intimidating journalists who are critical of the policies of or investigate corruption related to associates of his administration.”
The resolution also mentions López Obrador’s cutting of funding for Mexico’s Federal Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, claiming the move undermines its ability to carry out its intended function.
Journalists in Mexico agreed with the sentiment and reasoning behind the resolution, as well as the senators’ authority to issue it, but did not expect it to bring about a significant change in López Obrador’s behavior or policies.
“The climate of violence against the press is an issue that reflects the instability of the country,” said Luis Eduardo Velázquez, editor-in-chief of the news website Capital CDMX.
“The Mexican state, and in particular the executive branch, have the obligation to promote, protect, respect and guarantee freedom of expression,” said Velázquez. “The government of López Obrador does this by means of an ineffective and inefficient mechanism, which is why the number of journalist murders in the country is growing and impunity prevails in these crimes.”
Tuesday’s resolution was not the first time a foreign legislative body has criticized Mexico’s handling of journalist insecurity. The European Parliament issued a similar resolution this past March.
López Obrador responded to that resolution by calling members of the European Parliament “sheep” who had joined the “corrupt group that opposes the Fourth Transformation,” referring to his plan to combat corruption and poverty during his administration.
Velázquez said he expects the Senate resolution to have a similar effect on the Mexican president.
“AMLO will divert attention away from the root of the problem by politicizing the resolution,” he said.
Democrats weren’t the only ones to pressure the Mexican government Tuesday.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, also expressed his intention to introduce a resolution to strengthen U.S.-Mexico relations along with five Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
While the resolution mentions the dangerous climate for journalists in Mexico, its main concern deals with economic and security conditions in the country and urges Biden to take stronger action at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The breakdown of the rule of law across our southern border poses acute national security challenges and dangers to the United States, on issues ranging from counter-narcotics to illegal immigration,” Cruz said in a press release.
“President Lopez Obrador seems intent on making all of these trends worse while stifling any dissent or criticism,” he said. “This resolution demonstrates that Congress will ensure that US policy monitors and addresses these reckless policies. This resolution is a fitting reminder to him […]: we intend to hold him and his administration accountable.”
It was not the first time Cruz had leveled such criticism against Mexico’s president. In February, he made a splash in Mexican media when he tweeted a video of himself censuring López Obrador on the Senate floor.
Mexicans are no strangers to taking flak from American politicians. However, things have changed since former President Donald Trump’s infamous 2015 campaign launch speech in which he assumed there were some good people among what he said were drug dealers and rapists crossing the border.
“Mexico has become an easy target in American politics, and both sides of the aisle are using it as a piñata to score political points,” said Carlos Bravo Regidor, a political analyst and journalism professor at the Mexico City-based think tank CIDE.
“Trumpism has metastasized in this, too. Now it is not only Trump, but both Democrats and Republicans who are instrumentalizing problems in Mexico for their own purposes, however legitimate or spurious,” he said.
With less than four months to go before the midterms, Bravo said, it appears as though both parties are taking advantage of López Obrador’s visit to Washington to score political points.
Still, Mexico cannot claim to be innocent of playing the same game. Despite his own heavy-handedness with criticism of his administration, López Obrador last week called for the dismantling of the Statue of Liberty if the United States extradites Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
“The bilateral agenda has become very ‘intermestic,’ as international relations scholars call it,” said Bravo, referring to the academic portmanteau of “international” and “domestic” used to denote the conflation of the two spheres of policy.
“Both countries are using each other as screens for domestic purposes.”