Mexican columnist and literary critic Guillermo Sheridan. Photo: Google

For Guillermo Sheridan***


The democratic rollback in Mexico is well underway.

Among the most ominous signs, two seem particularly serious to me:

The first is the daily harassment of freedom of expression. Converted into a gigantic propaganda machine, the Mexican presidency not only seeks to impose its own vision of reality, but also condemns anyone who disagrees. The result is visible to the world: exercising criticism and journalism in Mexico has become, like never before, a high-risk endeavor.

The second reason for alarm is the congressional reform of the electoral legislation and the consequent mutilation of the country’s main electoral body, the National Electoral Institute (INE).

We are undoubtedly going through an uncertain and dangerous period in Mexico. But Mexican democracy will survive, not by a miracle, but by an irreversible reality: the awakening of democratic consciousness.

It has been amazing. All our history conspired to keep us asleep. The central elements of our political culture were contrary to the division of powers characteristic of every republic, but it seemed natural to us. Except for the brief parentheses of the Restored Republic and the 15 months of the Maderista government (during the time of Francisco I. Madero, a staunch advocate of democracy and social justice who became Mexico’s 37th president in 1911 but was deposed two years later in a coup), the rule with the executive power was the servility of the legislature and the captivity of the judiciary. There were always margins of respite, but in the mass media, freedom of expression was limited by self-censorship, while that of choice remained kidnapped for 80 years.

Very few saw the anomaly: One or two liberals outside the system (such as the late economist and diplomat Danial Cosío Villegas) or within it (like politician and jurist Jesús Reyes Heroles), the conservative National Action Party (PAN, which “fought forever”) and a few leftist intellectuals (jurist, politican and diplomat Narciso Bassols, engineer and politician Heberto Castillo). Until the mid-1980s, the intellectual and academic class remained fixed on the various paradigms of the socialist revolution, and despised “bourgeois” and “formal” democracy.

At the end of the century, a fortunate convergence of internal and external factors had an impact so that citizens could at last begin to conquer democracy. Mexico modernized and changed its regime. Between 2000 and 2018, the president had to negotiate with Congress and respect the judiciary. The mass media opened up to criticism and even to the satire of power. Radio and journalism used their freedom like never before since the time of Madero. New institutions of surveillance and regulation were born. The pillar of this new democratic order was the Federal Electoral Institute, respected by the citizens who learned to assume, value and care for it.

The new democratic regime did not guarantee that successive governments would be good (they were not). It only ensured the freedom of citizens to criticize them and, where appropriate, change them, within the deadlines and through constitutional rules. With that freedom and protected by that right, the voter narrowly endorsed the PAN in 2006, gave the centralist and formerly long-reigning Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) a new (and last) chance in 2012 and resolutely opted for the leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party in 2018.

Unfortunately, the explicit design of the current government has been to return to a regime that is not only undemocratic, like the previous one, but also a caudillo. The current president does not hide his desire for absolute power and a majority sector of Congress follows him — as in the time of former Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz — “until ignominy.” One by one, all those advances are being reversed.

What will happen to freedom of expression? It would be desirable for those who are affected by presidential attacks to collectively seek the protection of justice. But perhaps the previous chapter is the safeguard of the INE. If, as it seems, Congress will end up endorsing the president’s proposed Plan B, which would severely limit the power of the INE, “without removing a single comma” from his initiative, the responsibility of declaring it unconstitutional will fall on the Mexican Supreme Court (SCJN).

Will the court dare to do this, not only in a substantial way, but in a timely manner? I can only hope.

The Mexican public will be very aware of what happens. It is a very different thing to monitor the vote of hundreds of deputies and senators than that of 11 SCJN justices whose current visibility is enormous.

If the SCJN fails, we will remain: the citizen legion. We will grow to more and more citizens. We will march peacefully, once again. We will not preach hate. We will stick to reason, objective truth and law. We will be accompanied by those newspapers and media that still dare to exercise their freedom. We will be active on social media. We will find an echo in the world media. We will support whoever leads the opposition if they adopt a program of reconstruction and harmony. We will encourage discussion. We will argue our points and perhaps persuade. We will monitor the elections.

Whoever wins, we will not give up democracy. Battered and all, democracy will prevail.

*** Editor’s Note: Guillermo Sheridan is a well-known Mexican journalist and literary critic who, like the author of this column, Enrique Krauze, has been a frequent target of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) brutal verbal attacks on the media and free expression. Late last month, Sheridan was instrumental in the revealing of an alleged act of plagiarism by a Mexican Supreme Court Justice, Yasmín Esquivel, an AMLO appointee who was seeking the post of chief justice. Ultimately, because of the evidence of plagiarism presented by Sheridan (showing that Esquivel’s 1987 professional thesis was an almost verbatim copy of another student’s thesis that had been published a year earlier), Esquivel was unsuccessful in her bid to preside over Mexico’s highest court. However, after Sheridan’s reports were published, an angry López Obrador lashed out verbally against the journalist and intellectual, accusing him of being a “pimp of the conservative regime” and claiming — with no foundation — that Sheridan had received government salaries without working. Sheridan immediately refuted the president’s claims and later reported that he had received threats to his well-being as a result of AMLO’s unfounded allegations. On Thursday, Jan. 5, AMLO announced that he would provide government security to Sheridan so that he would “feel safe.”

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