Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Feminists challenge diplomatic appointment of professor accused of sexual harassment

The diplomatic appointment of an academic accused of sexual harassment has been slammed by feminist collectives.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday announced the appointment of 16 diplomats to Mexican embassies and consulates.

Pedro Agustín Salmerón, a National Autonomous University-trained historian, was named as the new ambassador to Panama.

The 50-year-old, a Mexican history expert and prominent ally of President López Obrador with no previous diplomatic experience, has been formally accused of sexual harassment by at least one person, while several other women have denounced him anonymously.

Salmerón resigned from his position at the Autonomous Technical Institute of Mexico (ITAM), a private university, in 2019 after an internal harassment complaint was filed against him at a time when the feminist #MeToo movement was gaining strength in Mexico.

ITAM acknowledged that there was evidence that he had harassed at least one female student in his Mexican history class.

Salmerón has denied the accusations, and took to Twitter to declare his innocence once again on Tuesday. His account later disappeared from the social media site.

The announcement of his appointment as ambassador to Panama, which must be ratified by the Senate, triggered an avalanche of criticism on social media. The ITAM feminist group Cuarta Ola was among the organizations that slammed the move.

Under the hashtag #UnAcosadorNoDebeSerEmbajador (A harasser mustn’t be an ambassador), the group published a statement on Twitter that called on the government to reconsider the appointment.

In light of Salmerón’s appointment “we want to express our indignation and concern over the multiple harassment complaints against him that are being ignored,” Cuarta Ola said.

“During his years as a professor at ITAM, Pedro Salmerón took advantage of his position of authority to sexually harass his female students,” the group said, noting that a university investigation was initiated as a result of his conduct.

President López Obrador has drawn criticism for defending Salmerón, left.
President López Obrador has drawn criticism for defending Salmerón, left.

Cuarto Ola acknowledged that Salmerón denies the harassment accusations but noted that ITAM directors have accepted there is evidence to support them.

“This situation is repetitive and systematic,” it said, adding that complaints have been made against him via the MeTooAcádemicosMX Twitter account and at the National Autonomous University, where Salmerón studied for years. Eight female members of the ruling Morena party have also accused the academic of harassment, Cuarto Ola said.

“… His appointment as ambassador is of great concern given that he has shown he is a person who abuses his position of power to harass women. With his appointment hundreds of women are placed at risk of suffering gender violence. This decision shows a lack of respect for victims and strengthens the system of impunity in which we live. … We hope that his appointment is reconsidered and justice for victims is served,” the feminist group said.

Former students of Salmerón who spoke with the newspaper El País called on the Senate to block his appointment.

Karla Torres, a classmate of the student who filed a complaint at ITAM, described Salmerón as a “constant harasser in all the universities” at which he has worked. His appointment as an ambassador is “very painful” for his victims, she said.

Another student who preferred to remain anonymous told El País that Salmerón would hit on young female students during drinking sessions at cantinas that took place at the conclusion of class trips to the historic center of Mexico City, where Mexico’s pre-Hispanic and colonial pasts, and independent present, intersect.

López Obrador on Tuesday defended Salmerón’s appointment, saying that he wasn’t aware of any “formal and legal complaint” against him.

The president was previously criticized for supporting Senator Félix Salgado, an accused rapist, when he was campaigning for the governorship of Guerrero. Salgado was replaced by his daughter, Governor Evelyn Salgado, as the Morena party candidate, but only after the National Electoral Institute disqualified him for failing to submit a report detailing his pre-campaign expenses.

Martha Tagle, a former federal deputy for the Citizens Movement party and member of the Rebeldes con Causa feminist collective, said López Obrador’s support for Salmerón was regrettable.

“It’s not the first time that he has covered up for a person accused of sexual violence. He doesn’t believe what women say and despite the accusations [against Salmerón] he nominated him [as ambassador to Panama],” she said.

“The underlying problem we have is that the president doesn’t acknowledge the issue of violence against women; that’s why he asks for evidence, criminal processes [against alleged perpetrators] without understanding that neither laws nor the criminal system guarantee us justice,” Tagle said.

With reports from El País 

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