By ALEJANDRO ENVILA FISHER
It’s a well-known fact of life: What starts out badly inevitably ends up worse.
In the case of Mexico’s now-globally spotlighted Foreign Relations Secretariat (SRE), it all began on Saturday, Aug. 7, with the abrupt and unjustified dismissal of renowned author and historian Jorge F. Hernández from his post as the cultural attaché of Mexico’s embassy in Spain.
Hernández was dismissed for speaking out against the stupidity of a statement made by a third-level Mexican government official.
The third-level official in question was one Marx Arriaga Navarro, the head of educational materials for Mexico’s Public Education Secretariat (SEP), who had quipped that nonessential reading was essentially a waste of time, particularly is the topic being read does not fall into the category of government spiel.
Hernández contradicted Arriaga Navarro and defended the act of reading as a valid source of entertainment, even if the material being read does not coincide with the views of the government.
Arriaga Navarro’s feelings were hurt and his formal complaint against Hernández set in motion what would become an ugly trans-Atlantic scandal.
The diplomatic fiasco continued to snowball, eventually leading to the resignation of the “censor,” SRE’s cultural diplomacy director, the poet Enrique Márquez, after he appointed novelist Brenda Lozano to replace Hernández, which in turn led to a string of attacks on social media against Lozano.
Lozano, it seems, had also committed the unforgiveable act of having criticized the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).
(It should be noted that all accusations against both Hernández and Lozano came from avid supporters of AMLO’s so-called Fourth Transformation, or 4T.)
Things only got worse with the intervention of AMLO himself, who, in a morning conference, announced the dismissal of Lozano so she could be replaced by an “indigenous, Mexica, Nahuatl writer,” who would “better represent” Mexico’s “native great cultures” (cultures which, incidentally, were essentially annihilated 500 years ago and which practiced the tender art of human sacrifice).
Besides underscoring his own cultural shortcomings, AMLO’s intervention into the matter confirmed indisputably that government censorship and discrimination persist in Mexico today, where dissidents are now marginalized for their way of thinking.
The dismissal of Hernández as cultural attaché in Spain is a sad testimony that any tolerance for divergent views within the Fourth Transformation has long since vanished.
Censorship, manifested through insults, degradations and even threats against Mexican writers and journalists, has been the daily bread under the country’s current government, as in previous ones, albeit more blatant and often more aggressive today.
Nearly every Mexican reporter has, at one time or another, suffered the intended intimidation of government officials warning them that “I am a friend of the owner of your newspaper or radio station” and/or demands to reveal their sources “or face the consequences.”
The “friendships” between politicians and media owners were — and still are — very real.
The list of journalists dismissed from their duties in Mexico for “displeasing a source” is seemingly endless.
Likewise, there are countless examples of reporters who will bend over backwards to “defend” an official who has been accused — rightly or wrongly — of misconduct.
“A government official in an embassy should not go around writing articles in the press against another government official.,” tweeted alleged journalist Hernán Gómez Bruera, who is a self-proclaimed “Quiote” for the 4T.
“Consequently, the dismissal of Jorge Hernández was justified.”
Gómez Bruera’s statement, defending a blatant act of government censorship, confirms not only his own cultural ignorance, but also underscores the ethical poverty the current government’s pseudo-intellectuals.
There was a time — several decades ago — when Mexican journalists were forbidden to bad-mouth government officials.
But in the 1980s, Mexican reporters and officials regained their voices and critical objectivity, questioning both the president and the country’s political system in general, from within the government and his party, giving birth to a new, alternative national project.
As a consequence, many important things happened in Mexico: political reforms, the citizenship of electoral bodies, multi-partyism, free trade agreements, the arrival of conventionality, federal and local alternations, the emergence of autonomous constitutional bodies, the international elevation of human rights and much more, including the establishment of an aspiring pro-government intellectual class which gained credibility debating the issues of the times and of the state party system.
Freedom of expression belongs to those who fight for it, but its core values in Mexico are threatened enough by politicians who do not believe in it, and by organized crime groups.
It should not be silenced by the government.
Public servants are also entitled to express their opinions. They are not expected to be exclusively mouthpieces for the government.
In the end, Hernández’s defense of literature led to a diplomatic embarrassment not only for Mexico’s chancellery, but for the government as a whole.
One has to wonder if soothing Arriaga Navarro’s bruised ego was really worth all that?
ALEJANDRO ENVILA FISHER is a lawyer and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s (UNAM) School of Law. He directed the political magazine Cambio and Radio Capital for 15 years. He also founded and directed GreenTV, a cable television channel specializing in sustainability and the environment, for five years. He has been a commentator and host for various radio and television shows and has written political columns for the newspapers El Día and Unomásuno, in addition to publishing articles in more than 20 regional newspapers in Mexico since 1995. He is the author of the books “One Hundred Names of the Mexican Transition,” “Chimalhuacán, the Empire of La Loba” and “Chimalhuacán, from Lost City to Model Municipality.”