More than 650 academics, journalists, poets, scientists, artists, writers, filmmakers and other intellectuals have put their name to a statement that accuses President López Obrador of sowing “hatred and division” among Mexicans.
Titled “In Defense of Freedom of Speech,” the document asserts that the principle is under attack in Mexico and that the nation’s democracy is at risk as a result.
“President López Obrador makes use of a permanent discourse of stigmatization and defamation against those he calls his adversaries,” says the document endorsed by historian Enrique Krauze, poet and peace activist Javier Sicilia, physicist Julia Tagüeña and writer Sara Sefchovich among many other prominent Mexicans.
“In doing so he offends society, degrades public language and reduces the presidential platform from which tolerant discourse should emanate,” it continues.
The document charges that the president, who frequently uses his weekday press conferences to attack his critics, passes judgement and spreads falsehoods that “sow hatred and division in Mexican society.”
“His words are orders: censorship, administrative sanctions and judicial threats against media and independent publications that have criticized his government have followed them [as has] the warning that the choice for critics is to shut up or leave the country,” it says.
The last of the stated consequences was a reference to advice that Paco Ignacio Taibo II, head of the government-affiliated, non-profit publishing group Fondo de Cultura Ecónomica, recently gave to Enrique Krauze and historian and publisher Héctor Aguilar Camín.
Published online on Thursday by sociologist Roger Bartra and political scientist Francisco Valdés Ugalde, the statement also says that López Obrador has shown contempt for women’s protests and the pain of victims of violence.
In addition, it says that the president has ignored environmental complaints, reduced the budgets of autonomous government bodies, tried to humiliate the judicial power and damaged cultural, scientific and academic institutions.
“And now he is seeking to undermine freedom of speech. Finally, let’s remember that people and organizations are not stigmatized … [by the president] without placing them at risk. … This has to stop,” the document concludes.
Its release coincided with the publication of an interview with the Mexico representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, who said that López Obrador’s frequent attacks on the media threaten freedom of expression.
The president dismissed the intellectuals’ accusations at his regular news conference on Friday morning.
“Why do they feel offended? They should apologize because they remained silent when the country was looted,” López Obrador said, referring to the alleged embezzlement of public resources by past governments.
He charged that they didn’t speak out against past governments because they were “well attended” by them.
Responding to the claim that his government is attacking freedom of speech, the president asserted that his administration will never seek to prosecute its critics.
“We’re not authoritarian. We’re not the same as those who censored Carmen Aristegui,” López Obrador said, referring to the journalist who was fired from her radio job in 2015 after exposing a scandal involving former president Enrique Peña Nieto.
“We’re not going to affect the free expression of ideas, it’s good that there is debate. … [The intellectuals who endorsed the statement] are a group of conservatives and it’s understandable that they act in this way. … They dedicated themselves to applauding and burning incense for the neoliberal governments [but] now is another time.”