The Oaxaca Group: Eight Years Later

17 February 2010

By Lilia Saúl Rodríguez (liliasaul@gmail.com)
Translated by Jesse Franzblau

(Disponible en español)

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On October 11th, 2001, the Oaxaca Group (an alliance of academics and journalists) presented the Federal Access to Information Law (Ley Federal de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información) to the Commission on Governance and Public Security in Mexico’s House of Representatives.

In the new documentary, called “Grupo Oaxaca,” one can observe then-congressional representative for the PAN, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, today president of Mexico, as well as a congressional representative from the PRI, Beatriz Paredes Rangel, today president of her political party.

The representatives look content, hugging the academics and journalists who at that time represented the transparency movement in their country. Years later, however, these politicians would attack the same movement that they helped create with the Oaxaca group when they made the Transparency Law a reality.

Today, both political parties have attempted to weaken and hinder the right-to-know movement that has made important achievements since the days of the Oaxaca group.

The Head of State, through the Attorney General’s Office (PGR), has clearly demonstrated that he does not represent a pro-FOI agenda. The leader of the PRI party also appears willing to challenge the information law. It was legislators from this party who recently modified a law in the state of Campeche that has opened the doors for public officials who do not wish to abide by the federal transparency guidelines, to challenge the decisions of the local access to information commission.

Social organizations, along with Federal Access to Information oversight body (IFAI), are deeply concerned.

During the last weeks, the federal government has proposed reforms to supposedly strengthen the Transparency Law. The existence of these proposals that in practice would weaken the law has been denied by the secretary of the Ministry of Interior (Gobernación), nevertheless, they keep on appearing.

For this reason, on February 9, the National University’s Institute for Legal Investigations (Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas) of the National University (UNAM) presented a documentary on the eight years that have passed since the creation of the Oaxaca Group.

The pretext for the event—the current challenges threatening the Transparency Law—provided a forum for experts to exchange various points of view on the issue.

The documentary, which lasted approximately 20 minutes and was transmitted by the congressional channel, demonstrated the level of expertise of the various men and woman activists who were involved in the group.

The Oaxaca group had to carry out marathon meetings, drafting up a law that included a substantive legal and practical foundation to create a final, precise law that would allow for access to information without limitations.

Some the individuals, from journalism and academia , who appear in this documentary are Benjamín Fernández Pichardo, Luis Ernesto Salomón, Juan Francisco Escobedo, Luis Javier Solana, Sergio Elías Gutiérrez, Issa Luna Pla, Juan Pérez Audelo, Ernesto Villanueva, Jorge Islas, Jenaro Villamil and Roberto Rock.

The documentary shows the moment when then-president Vicente Fox Quesada agreed to discuss the proposal set forth by civil society and the event months later, on July 11, 2002, when Fox signed the Transparency Law into action.

We interviewed Eleael Acevedo, commissioner of the Access to Information Institute of the state of Morelos, who told us that after eight years with a law, the importance given to the topic is diminishing. “It is due to the fact that the law is already institutionalized, but in reality, there still exist ongoing challenges that threaten to weaken the transparency movement.”

Among those challenges (in addition to the attempts to modify the Law to add another level of review to IFAI decisions or restrict the revision of the solicited documents) an investigator from UNAM, Jorge Islas, commented on the following:

“It’s disappointing that federal agencies within the government are looking for a loophole in the Law in order to avoid turning over requested information. It’s disappointing because it restricts the right-to-know and inhibits a culture of access-to-information.”

Ernesto Villanueva, investigator for the UNAM law institute, further explained the history behind the FOI setback that occurred in Campeche:

“A group of representatives objected to two issues. One, the most well known, is the issue of the oversight body, which will now pass to the state’s Administrative Tribunal (Sala Administrativa del Tribunal Superior de Justicia). The second, and most serious issue, was the elimination of direct consultation of requested records, which they argued was unconstitutional.

For this reason the PGR has argued that the law that has been modified by members of the PRI does not violate any legal principles and for this reason they are asking to reject the objection of unconstitutionality provided by their colleagues in the PAN party. They are using this as a ‘pilot program’ to see if it works.”

The reform of the Transparency Law is still pending, but now there is a tendency to move backwards on open government, and make it more difficult to access information. The law is taking drastic turn.

This event was also attended by Juan Francisco Escobedo, Issa Luna Pla, Luis Raúl González Pérez, the General Counsel for UNAM, and the academic Héctor Fix-Fierro, Director of the Institute for Legal Investigations.

Due to the ongoing concern by the FOI experts, there will be another event held in February, relating to this issue.

During this event, they will discuss the need to work on progressing access-to-information, but also reinforce the challenges at hand. The invitees to this event include Fernando Gómez Mont, secretary of Gobernación, who will address the widespread concern that there exist concerted efforts by the federal government to hinder the authority of IFAI.

The event will be on February 18th, in the Institute for Legal and Judicial Investigations (Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídica) and will be entitled “Challenges to Access to Information.”

Originally published in Spanish for El Universal Blogs, México Infórmate.

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