In less than 24 hours this past Wednesday, big advances for three major pieces of legislation indicated that Mexico -- for 20 years the "model student" of so-called free market policy reforms, and long noted for high levels of government secrecy and corruption -- may be charting a new, more independent course. At a moment when the Bush administration is chilling domestic dissent, restricting the free flow of information and promoting corporate deregulation, Mexico appears poised to do virtually the opposite:
The Mexican House of Representatives unanimously approved a historic new national Public Information Access Law, guaranteeing citizens access to virtually all governmental records and documents, and the Senate is expected to follow suit. Officials who deny or destroy records could be prosecuted. Meanwhile, under Attorney General John Ashcroft, the US administration since September 11 has moved to eviscerate the 1974 Freedom of Information Act, issuing a directive to federal agencies to deny most FOIA requests, and has removed huge amounts of public information from federal agency websites.
Mexico's Senate, in a major blow to president Vicente Fox, overwhelmingly rejected a plan to privatize the country's electrical system, which is in federal hands. The next day, the Supreme Court followed suit and declared the plan unconstitutional. In the US, the Enron collapse and California's energy fiasco demonstrate the disastrous consequences of energy deregulation. Yet the Bush administration, along with the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, continues to promote Enron-style energy privatization and deregulation around the world, often as a condition for debt relief.
Finally, the Mexican Congress took up a bill that would greatly increase regulation of the public airwaves, requiring all broadcasters to dedicate 12.5 percent of their airtime to public interest programming by government agencies, educational institutions, the federal elections institute and civil society organizations like the Mexican Center for Human Rights. The regulations would be enforced by a new federal Radio and TV Council. In the US, meanwhile, the FCC (under Secretary Michael Powell, son of Colin Powell) is on the verge of dismantling the very last restrictions governing media cross-ownership, a move expected to result in a new wave of media mega-mergers, further reducing the diversity of voices on our airwaves.
Mexico's legislature, divided between the three major parties but newly empowered after 71 years of one-party rule, appears to be shaping its own provocative agenda at the domestic level (while also strongly criticizing some of President Fox's foreign policy moves, such as bowing to US pressure to alienate Cuba). These new initiatives offer the rough outlines of a distinct alternative to the Bush agenda of privatization, corporate deregulation, and domestic secrecy, and the electricity vote in particular signals a major break with the neoliberal "Washington Consensus." This emerging vision aims to keep control of vital national services, infrastructure, and information in the public's hands, and parts of it appear likely to become law soon. Critics of US domestic policies and global trade rules should be taking notes.
Dan Jaffee is a researcher and writer on issues of trade and the environment, a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a member of the Madison Fair Trade Action Alliance. He is currently working in Mexico.
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