AMLO should offer guarantees to Mexican journalists before granting asylum to Assange (NYT)


Journalist and editor Guillermo Osorno published the book: I Have to Die Every Night: A Chronicle of the Eighties, the Underground, and Gay Culture. Osorno wrote this collaboration for The New York Times.

The Mexican president’s offer of political asylum to Julian Assange might seem like a gesture in favor of freedom of expression, except that the country is the most dangerous for practicing journalism in the world.

MEXICO CITY – One of the most unexpected responses to the decision of a British judge not to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States was that of the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador: on the morning of Monday the 4th he declared that could offer you asylum .

Spanish refugees with president Lázaro Cárdenas in Mexico City 1937

On one level, the announcement is justified by the Mexican tradition of political asylum. In the 1930s and 1940s, the country opened its doors to refugees from the Spanish Civil War, and in the 1970s and 1980s, it was a port of destination for many left-wing Latin American intellectuals. It is a tradition that has left indelible marks on the education and culture of Mexico.

But it also opens other fronts: it puts a new obstacle in the relationship with the United States and sheds light on the poor performance of the president in terms of protecting journalists and freedom of expression. The offer sounds less like a humanitarian gesture and more like a message to his fan base. If López Obrador really wanted to guarantee freedom of expression, he should start by first fixing the disorder in the most dangerous country to practice journalism . Since 2000, at least 200 journalists have been killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and about 90 percent of those killings have gone unpunished.

AMLO’s offer puts him on a collision route with the United States. The US intelligence and security apparatus has a keen interest in trying Assange and giving him exemplary punishment. With his offer, López Obrador immersed himself in an issue of US domestic politics.

In 2010, when Biden was vice president, he called Assange a “high-tech terrorist” in connection with the publication of cables classified by the State Department. Assange, who was then at the beginning of a long legal fight, pointed out that the terrorist was the American state for using intimidating methods against freedom of expression.

On the other hand, we must not forget the role of Assange in the US presidential elections in 2016, in which Trump won. WikiLeaks published about 20,000 pages of illegally stolen emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, offering the Republican contender valuable ammunition: it allowed him to tailor his speech against Clinton, his dubious relations with Wall Street, and his links with powerful donors. Members of the Trump campaign contacted Assange seeking more information, according to a report by Robert Mueller , a former special prosecutor on Russian interference in the elections.

López Obrador, Abigail Martínez, host of the Politica 101 analysis podcast, told me , is dynamiting Mexico’s relationship with the United States at one of the most delicate moments in American history, amid the chaotic and unfounded Trumpist battle to ignore the election results, requests from members of the Democratic Party for Trump’s removal, and just days after President-elect Biden takes office.

Almost no one has any hope that the bilateral relationship with the next administration will be smooth. AMLO is just setting the tone for the exchange to come.

It is a more nationalistic attitude that paradoxically reserved until the last days of Trump, one of the biggest spokesmen for anti-Mexican sentiment in the United States and whom he always described as respectful. But with Biden he also has an icy air. This new position speaks to a base of the traditional Mexican left, according to what international affairs expert Mauricio Meschoulam told me. They applauded AMLO’s statement on Assange and defended his belated recognition of Biden.

The offer of the Mexican president to Assange makes us think of the expression that we use frequently in Mexico: “street lamp, darkness of his house (farol de la calle, obscuridad en su casa).” Article 19, an NGO dedicated to protecting freedom of expression in the world and that has collaborated in efforts to prevent Assange from being extradited to the United States, issued a statement celebrating the British judge’s decision. But Leopoldo Maldonado, its regional director for Mexico and Central America, thinks the Mexican government has many internal problems to resolve before offering Assange asylum.

Julian Assange (Archive)

And the thing is that in my country, freedom of the press has many obstacles. Thanks to the denunciation of the defenders of press freedom, we know that during the government of former President Enrique Peña Nieto, several agencies bought an Israeli program to intervene the cell phones of journalists and human rights defenders . Despite AMLO’s promises to punish the culprits, the case remains in limbo and it is unclear whether the government continues to use the technology. In mid-2019, when López Obrador was already president, other Mexican citizens were infected by the same system.

Nor is it trivial that the problem of aggression against journalists continues to worsen. In 2020 alone, nine press workers died. It was the worst year in this terrible story. In an effort to cut government spending, López Obrador disappeared the trust that guaranteed a system of protection for journalists and human rights defenders. And not only that: instead of serving as a guarantor of freedom of expression, in his daily conferences he continues to demonize national and international media and journalists.

In addition, to complicate matters, AMLO announced on Thursday, January 7, that the existence of the so-called autonomous organizations in Mexico, institutions created to counterbalance the executive power, such as the National Institute of Transparency, which plays a role, would be reviewed. fundamental in access to information for journalists and citizens in general.

If López Obrador really wanted to address significant issues of freedom of expression and harassment of journalists, he would not have to go very far: there is the case of Lydia Cacho, the Mexican journalist who has been tortured and threatened with death several times after the Publication of his book The Demons of Eden , on child exploitation.

In January 2019, the Undersecretary for Human Rights of the López Obrador government apologized for the omissions of the Mexican State in relation to the Cacho case. It was an unprecedented act. But forgiveness is insufficient if the facts are repeated and justice is not done. The main persons responsible for the kidnapping and torture of Cacho are still free and in mid-2020 the journalist had to leave Mexico , after being threatened once again.

In a study, Coneval registered people in extreme poverty, which amount to 9.3 million people, equivalent to 7.4% of the 
country’s population (Photo: Archive)

Every proportion saved, if Assange arrives in Mexico, López Obrador would fall into the same contradiction as Rafael Correa: he gave the journalist asylum in his embassy in the United Kingdom, protecting him from a fate behind bars, at the same time that he subjected the press of his country to a regime of censorship and strained relations between Washington and London.

I don’t think AMLO is like Correa. For this reason, it would be better if it dealt with the substantive issues of the bilateral relationship, which is very rich and complex, and that it addressed those of the protection of journalists in the country, as well as justice, reparation and memory for colleagues. victims of violence. This would leave a more significant legacy.

by Guillermo Osorno for The New York Times