Saturday, June 15, 2024

Culture Ministry budget cut by 50% since 2017

As Mexico has pushed austerity measures under President López Obrador, public funding to the Ministry of Culture has been reduced 50%, a budget review conducted by the news outlet Animal Político shows.

Álvaro Octavio García, an employee of the Baluarte de Santiago Museum in Veracruz, told Animal Político how he and other colleagues have had to personally pay expenses to make ends meet at the museum. He said they have had to buy cleaning products, gasoline for lawn mowers and even light bulbs to light the museum’s entrance — all using their own money.

Similar difficulties have been seen across the country and at all levels within the Ministry of Culture — from the lack of printing paper to obsolete computer systems to lack of gasoline and vehicles to transport architects to archaeological sites, the austerity policy has been hard on both employees and cultural institutions.

“It’s very nice to show up and talk about the importance of Mexico’s heritage, but unfortunately that talk is not reflected in concrete actions,” Luis Ojeda, head of the national union for Culture Ministry architects, told Animal Político.

Convent in Tepoztlán
An INAH restorationist at work at an ancient convent in Tepoztlán, Morelos. As part of the Culture Ministry, INAH has also suffered from the budget cuts.Photo credit: José Morales

Ojeda stressed the sense of responsibility that Culture Ministry employees feel for their work, saying that if he and his colleagues did not properly care for Mexican monuments and historical areas, they “would be facilitating the displacement of historical memory, cultural heritage and elements of identity.”

With no budget for gasoline and transportation units to go to the communities, architects have had to use their own vehicles to meet the requirements of the job, Ojeda said.

In addition to a lack of supplies, lack of staff is also a recurring problem: There are currently only 192 architects responsible for ensuring the conservation of 60 areas of historical monuments and 106,000 historical monuments throughout the country.

Jose Enrique Vidal Dzul, chief of the National Ministry of Culture Workers Union, said that the situation Ministry employees find themselves in is “heartbreaking” because they deeply trusted AMLO’s government to have a more social and cultural vision. “Unfortunately, there is a very cruel disappointment,” he said.

Since 2020, the Bosque de Chapultepec’s Nature and Culture project, in México City — set to become one of the largest spaces for cultural recreation and social integration in the world, according to UNESCO — receives the largest share of the Ministry’s overall funding.

Tatiana Huezo, the director and screenwriter of the winning film 'Prayers for the Stolen,' speaks at this year's Ariel Awards.
Tatiana Huezo, the director and screenwriter of the winning film ‘Prayers for the Stolen,’ won at this years Ariel Awards (“the Mexican Oscars”). But the 2023 Ariel awards will not take place, due to dwindling federal support for cultural events. Facebook @academiacinemx

Prioritizing the project was the subject of constant debate when Culture Minister Alejandra Frausto appeared before Congress in late November. Defending the austerity policy of López Obrador, she said that “republican austerity consists of eliminating superfluous expenses.”

However, Animal Político confirmed that budget cuts and the current austerity agenda have directly affected research and cultural conservation projects, as well the daily performance of staff and the public services the Ministry offers.

Public figures like filmmaker Guillermo del Toro have also lamented the government cuts expenditures, which have affected the Mexican film industry.

Moreover, suppliers to different federal government entities have complained about late payments, as is the case of the National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature (INBAL). El País newspaper reported in November that INBAL was four months behind in payment to the company that manages security in museums.

In an interview granted to El País before the INBAL’s debt went public, the Culture Minister said that under her administration, the funds for museums in the public system had been reinforced. However, as newspaper puts it, the funding doesn’t seem to be enough.

With reports from Animal Político and El País

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