By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Just one day after Mexico’s Senate passed President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) Plan B electoral law, which would essentially dismantle the country’s most important electoral body and make it nearly impossible to conduct free and transparent elections nationwide, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar on Thursday, Feb. 23, gave a speech to members of the U.S. community about the importance of democracy.
Without making any direct mention of the Senate’s passage of the controversial bill — which Mexican opposition leaders and civil organizations have sworn to challenge as unconstitutional before the country’s Supreme Court (SCJN) and which U.S. legislators earlier on Thursday warned “could undermine the ability of Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE) to protect the people’s right to vote” — Salazar, speaking during the 155th annual general meeting of the American Benevolent Society (ABS), said that in a world torn by war in Europe and mounting global instability, basic freedoms and the preservation of democracy are more important than ever.
Pointing to the growing political oppression in Nicaragua, where earlier this month Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez, an outspoken critic of leftist President Daniel Ortega, was sentenced to 26 years in prison, Salazar said that “people there are living in fear,” the consequence of an absence of democracy.
Salazar said that one of the pillars of a true democracy is the assurance that people are allowed to live “free from fear.”
For governments to work for the people, the U.S. envoy said, they must be open and corruption-free.
Turning specifically to U.S.-Mexican relations, Salazar said that, despite occasional political hiccups, the two-way friendship is “a forever relationship” that will always continue to grow and strengthen.
“I cannot stress how confident and optimistic I am about a North American economic powerhouse, a North American cultural powerhouse, a North American clean-energy powerhouse and a North American powerhouse for democracy,” he said, making indirect reference to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which went into effect in July 2020.
He also said that it is important for both the United States and Mexico to proactively work together to resolve issues that affect their common future.
“Immigration, for example, is not a U.S. problem; it is a Mexican problem and a world problem,” he said. “We all need to work together to find solutions.”
Salazar then spoke about George Washington, the first U.S. president and the inspiration for the American Benevolent Society, which was founded in 1868 on the anniversary of his Feb. 22 birthday.
“Some politicians get hold of power and cannot seem to let go,” he said.
But Washington, who was extremely popular among his constituents and who could have continued in power after serving two terms, insisted on stepping down in the interest of democratic values, setting an example for the rest of the world, Salazar said.
Those are the altruistic and idealistic traits embodied in the American Benevolent Society, he said.
After Salazar’s speech, the ABS announced its annual Cherry Pie Award winner, ABS board member Doug Hall, who was recognized for his unselfish efforts to support the American community in Mexico through helping U.S. citizens to register to vote, enlisting new ABS members and volunteers, and promoting numerous social outreach programs.
The American Benevolent Society is a nonprofit organization that provides charitable assistance to both U.S. and Mexican nationals during periods of personal distress or financial need.
It also serves as an umbrella organization for numerous other U.S. altruistic and social entities in Mexico and works closely with the U.S. Embassy and U.S. consular services.
Each year, the ABS holds its annual meeting and cherry pie festival at the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Mexico, generally on or near the anniversary of Washington’s birthday.
Because George Washington, through an unsubstantiated story about his youth has, over the years, become associated with cherries, the ABS’ cherry pie festival serves not only as a celebration for the organization’s anniversary and annual general meeting, but as a palpable reminder of the fundamental ideals and values of the society’s mission.