Civil society organizations and a news website have rejected a claim by President López Obrador that they received funding from foreign foundations to oppose the federal government’s Maya Train railroad project.
López Obrador made the allegation at his morning news conference Friday, where his communications coordinator provided more details about the alleged arrangements.
Jesús Ramírez Cuevas claimed that the Ford, Kellogg, Rockefeller, Climate Works and National Endowment for Democracy foundations, all of which are based in the United States, have provided resources to Mexican organizations to fund critical research and coverage of the Maya Train, the government’s signature infrastructure project which is currently under construction in Mexico’s southeast.
Among the organizations that received funds for that purpose, Ramírez said, are México Evalúa, a public policy think tank; Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI); Indignación, a human rights-focused NGO; the Mexican Center for Environmental Law; the Mexican Civil Council for Sustainable Forestry; the Due Process Foundation; the Indigenous Regional Popular Council of Xpujil (a town in Calakmul, Campeche) and Animal Político, an independent news site.
MCCI responded in a statement that the government’s claim is false.
“MCCI has not received any international funding to criticize the Maya Train. … The research priorities and editorial line that MCCI follows … don’t respond to the interests of national or foreign donors,” the organization said.
“No donation compromises the mission nor the activities of the organization,” MCCI said, adding that it decides its own agenda.
The anti-graft group charged that the use of the “presidential podium” to attempt to discredit civil society organizations amounts to an “abuse of power.”
“Their words [those of López Obrador and Ramírez] are a new attempt to silence critical voices,” the group said.
MCCI has been highly critical of the current government, accusing it of corruption and joining a collective that launched legal action against the Santa Lucía airport project north of Mexico City. It also published a report in May that claimed that the government was underreporting Covid-19 deaths.
The director of México Evalúa also rejected the claim that it received funding to criticize the Maya Train, writing on Twitter that “what was said at the president’s [press] conference is not true.”
Edna Jaime said that México Evalúa has received donations to analyze justice system reforms but not the train.
“We don’t oppose anyone,” she added. “We’re [a] civil society [organization] that thinks, analyzes and builds a better country. At México Evalúa we work with data, evidence, statistics and facts. We don’t oppose – we propose that public money be used honestly.”
Indignación responded to López Obrador’s claim using one of the president’s own favorite catchphrases to reject criticism leveled at his government.
“Mr. President, in response to the comments and opinions you expressed today, this working team would like to inform you that after 30 years walking with the Mayan people of the Yucatán Peninsula, WE HAVE OTHER INFORMATION,” the human rights group said.
The Mexican Center for Environmental Law and the Mexican Civil Council for Sustainable Forestry also rejected the claim that they received international funding to oppose the US $8-billion Maya Train project, which some experts say poses a range of environmental risks in the five states – Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, Quintana Roo and Chiapas – through which it will run.
For his part, the director of Animal Político asserted that the news outlet “doesn’t receive funding conditional on praising or criticizing any public program.”
“We haven’t even published any extensive report about the Maya Train. We deeply regret that the president is insinuating without proof that there is something irregular,” Daniel Moreno said on Twitter.
“We also regret that the president uses his morning press conferences to make accusations without carrying out research beforehand. Those of us who produce Animal Político demand that he clarify this information that damages the journalistic work we’ve been doing for 10 years with the sole objective of serving our readers,” he wrote.
The news website said in a report published Friday that it received funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to carry out a 2017-18 project about racism and inequality, and that it accepted resources from the Ford Foundation between 2016 and 2020.
Animal Político said it signed an agreement with the Ford Foundation to deliver workshops and provide training for journalists working in several states, adding that it used Ford money to develop a journalism manual that has been distributed to hundreds of students and active journalists.
The news outlet said it is currently using a Ford Foundation grant to conduct research and publish articles about impunity, corruption, inequality and climate change.
The Kellogg Foundation also responded to the government’s claim in a statement issued on Friday.
“Well before the Mayan Train project, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has been supporting organizations in southern Mexico that strive to make the communities they work in ones in which all children can thrive. The grants the foundation provides support areas such as health, education, food production and language interpretation for access to justice,” it said.
“They also support work in the defense of human rights, indigenous rights and environmental protection. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation respects its grantees’ active pursuit of these issues, as they determine; but the foundation does not direct the use of funds.”
The foundation said it has been working in Mexico since 1944 and that it now supports more than 100 organizations here including grassroots entities as well as public universities and research centers.
“The foundation’s focus on the Yucatán Peninsula began in 2010 – eight years before public conversations about the Mayan Train project began. All of the work of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Mexico complies with all transparency and other requirements of the governments of both the United States and Mexico. The foundation verifies that all of its grantees do so as well.”