Threats to transparency and election integrity in Mexico threaten democratic stability in the Americas

Imagine if senators were refusing to vote on a deputy attorney’s nomination, blocking the administration of the Freedom of Information Act at the Justice Department. Imagine if President Biden then proposed defunding the Office of Information Policy. Now, imagine if OIP didn’t just offer guidance and generated reports on FOIA but combined the functions of the National Archives, Justice Department, Congress & judicial ethics offices into one transparency institution that oversees all three branches of a federal constitutional republic under a strong freedom of information law.

Bienvenidos a Mexico. This is exactly what’s happening in Mexico right now as the AP reported on April 30.

This threat to freedom of information and public knowledge is not happening in isolation, either.

In February, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador proposed budget and staff cuts at Mexico’s independent electoral agency.

Now, President Obrador is now calling for USAID to defund Article 19.

Public accountability and privacy have been under threat in Mexico since 2021, but the growing risk has been under the radar in the USA. More recently, it has been obscured by rancor and fear regarding immigration at the southern border after Title 42 ended.

That’s a mistake: both Congress and news media should be focusing on what the changes to good governance in election systems, open government agencies, & chilling of NGOs would mean to Mexico, especially when combined with ongoing threats to journalists and activists from cartels, organized crime, & corrupted police.

The destabilization of Mexican democracy would represent a huge diplomatic, economic, and security challenge for the USA which must neither be ignored nor neglected.

What happens there will affect more than our politics, especially if conditions at the border deteriorate after a major natural disaster, from supply chains to labor supplies.

The looming challenges of migration from destabilized states should be driving comprehensive immigration reform, with investments in human capacity, courts, and services that would all increase resilience against the escalating stress that millions of people seeking asylum and economic opportunity in the USA will place on our own systems, as we are seeing today across the southern border of our union.

The renewed efforts to eliminate this transparency institution are a dagger of Damocles dangling over the heart of a still-young democracy whose stability and development are critical to American national security, public health, and public safety.

An assault on any one of institutions that provides checks and balances in a nation destabilizes the whole, from an independent judiciary to a free press to nonpartisan electoral administration.

An assault on all of them at once is a flashing WARNING sign that should be provoking an “all hands on deck response from the United States.

The long arc of our nation’s history with Mexico suggests to me that honesty, humility, and humanity from our nation’s leaders will be more effective here than bullying, bluster, or blunt demands or threats that would further fuel toxic headwinds.

In a different timeline, the President, Congress, and Supreme Court might be issuing a joint statement encouraging the Government of Mexico to invest in the laws, institutions, and people that are at the heart of a thriving democracy, reminding them that to allow any one party or politician to corrupt one organ risks killing the entire body politic.

In the world we have, such a public alignment between the leases of our own government seems inconceivable. It should be possible for the US government to speak as one to our neighbor in a new clear, stunning statement offering a hand in friendship to our neighbor partner to build more healthy democratic states together that center human rights, human dignity, and human potential.

Until that happens, it’s crucial for everyone else to call on Mexico’s leaders to uphold the public right to know and election integrity.

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