Cablegate: Civil Society Weighs in On Security Issues

DE RUEHME #0101/01 0431758
R 121737Z FEB 10



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 08 MEXICO 3690; 09 MEXICO 2144


1. (SBU) Summary: Civil society in Mexico is a nascent force with
significant but unrealized potential for bringing about needed
social and political change. Many of the groups contribute to the
rich and surprisingly open political debate here, but some are
top-down constructs, staffed by well-connected elites, amply
funded, but hemmed in by a political culture that is want to moving
slowly in identifying problems and glacial in pushing for real
change. The independent NGOs also reflect the cautious and
conservative nature of Mexico's political class: some groups are
too narrowly focused on the grievances of elites, while others fall
prey to the rigid PRI-created stovepipes that reinforce a zero-sum
approach and undermine common agendas, practical cooperation, and
innovative thinking.

A Brief History

2. (SBU) Historically, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI),
which ruled Mexico over seven decades, exercised effective control
over civil society, restricting its participation in questions of
governance and successfully co-opting various groups. Over time,
however, several significant events -- the 1985 earthquake, the
contested presidential election of 1988, and several political and
economic crises over the course of the 1980s and 1990s -- gave rise
to the emergence of independent Civil Society Organizations (CSO)
that insisted on the right to challenge the government's policies.
In 1994, an alliance of more than 400 CSOs formed to promote the
Citizen Movement for Democracy. Groups similarly campaigned for
greater respect for human rights, contributing in large measure to
the creation of the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) in the
1990s. Ultimately, pressure from groups for change helped lead to
the election of Vicente Fox as President of Mexico, the first
president from a party other than PRI in over 71 years.

3. (SBU) Today, civil society in Mexico, however nascent and
immature, has become a growth sector. The press unabashedly
criticizes the government, unions openly protest in the streets,
and groups representing an ever widening array of interests have
emerged, making their demands heard in the public sphere. Most
recently, record levels of organized crime related violence in
Mexico galvanized groups into action. In response to rising cries
for action, senior GOM officials including President Calderon, the
mayor of Mexico City, the country's 31 state governors, various
Congressmen, and senior members of the judiciary and military, met
on August 21, 2008 together with representatives of several CSOs
and unanimously adopted a 75 point package of security measures to
be implemented over the next three years. On August 30, 2008,
several groups organized a massive nationwide demonstration to
prove national outrage over a number of recent killings and to
promise to hold the GOM accountable to their obligations under the
agreement (see reftel 1).

Major Players in Civil Society Today
--------------------------------------------- ----

4. (SBU) Many CSOs that have emerged over recent years tend to be
highly organized, well funded, and supported and staffed by members
of Mexico's socioeconomic elite. Mexico Unido Contra la
Delicuencia - Mexico United Against Crime (MUCD) - is an example of
this type of new civil society powerhouse. This organization,

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dedicated to combating kidnappings and crime through raising
awareness and by supporting a wide range of policy reforms, is
backed by prominent businessmen and foundations, and regularly
receives extensive press coverage. Another high profile security
organization is Mexico SOS, an NGO founded by Alejandro Marti, the
wealthy and prominent owner of a chain of sporting goods stores,
whose teenage son was murdered last year (reftel). Mexico SOS,
among other programs, provides phone numbers for victims to report
crimes and works to keep security issues in the press. Another
major player in civil society is Marcos Fastlicht, a wealthy
construction magnate and patriarch of a prominent family, who
served as president of the Citizen Participation Council of the
Attorney General's Office (CPC) from 2008-2009. The CPC was
founded in 2002 when a prestigious group of civil society activists
met with then President Vicente Fox and his security cabinet to
create formal channels for citizens to express their concerns to
the state and federal attorney general offices. Today, CPCs are
active in all 31 states and are supported by 450 volunteers.
During his year as Director of the CPC, Fastlicht started
developing the National Association of Civil Participation (ANCPC)
which he now heads.

The CSO Divide

5. (SBU) In addition to these security-focused groups, human rights
organizations have inserted themselves into the security debate due
to concerns over abuses by the government and a desire for what
they describe as a "holistic" security policy. Well-respected
groups such as FUNDAR and the San Agustin Pro Juarez Center for
Human Rights (CentroProdh) participate in GOM sponsored meetings
related to the Merida Initiative and other security related issues,
even though their priorities are not exclusively security focused.
CentroProdh is a well known human rights organization that
advocates for victims and draws awareness to violations. FUNDAR
focuses more on research, analyzing the GOM's budget and policy
proposals with a focus on democratic development as well as human
rights. These groups, as well as others like the Institute for
National Security and Democracy (INSYDE), a non-profit that also
focuses on research, lobby the government less than MUCD and
advocate for local solutions to regional problems. (Note: For more
information on such groups and their efforts to effect change, see
ref 2. End note.)

6. (SBU) These human rights groups often criticize MUCD and SOS
for being too friendly with politicians, too involved in party
politics, and too removed from the average citizen. They charge
that such organizations are paternalistic and their leaders only
focus on the grievances of the elite; that their work is motivated
simply by personal loss and not the greater good. One FUNDAR
representative explained the divide by telling Poloff, "there's
MUCD, SOS and then there's us, INSYDE, CentroPro, etc." Poloffs
repeatedly hear similar sentiments which create an "us vs. them"
divide in civil society. MUCD and SOS are powerful,
well-connected, and earn envious amounts of media coverage.
FUNDAR, INSYDE, and CentroPro work more quietly. Much of their
labor focuses on the local, state, and individual levels and they
do not generate as much press coverage, a fact that could lend
itself to jealousy. Of course, many of the security-focused groups
also disagree with each other, often devolving into petty disputes
over which gets more press time or is more compromised by its
elevated connection to power circles. The divisions within and
between the two sets of groups tend to undercut their credibility
and influence on power and draw their attention away from the
necessary scrutiny, oversight, and accountability of government
they can provide.

Overcoming Bad Habits

8. (SBU) While Mexico is more open than it once was, most levels
of government are still slow to integrate genuine civil society
participation and recommendations. Seventy years of one-party rule
have cast a long shadow over Mexican politics, and exclusion is
still the norm here. CSOs constantly complain that officials

MEXICO 00000101 003 OF 003

exclude them from decision-making and rarely take their opinions
into serious account. Nonetheless, Congress gave NGOs a voice in
the recent selection of the new head of the National Human Rights
Commission (ref 3) and, for the first time ever, legislators
accepted a bill from an NGO in December. Stop Kidnappings, an NGO
led by the prominent activist and mother of a kidnap victim Isabel
Miranda de Wallace, submitted a victim's rights bill to Congress
which lawmakers will consider next session. These small victories
represent the growing opportunity for Mexican CSOs to engage with
the government.

Hope on the Horizon

9. (SBU) Despite divisions and a closed political climate,
Mexico's security-based groups represent a growing sector, and
their influence continues to expand. Fastlicht believes that CSOs
can and should play an important role in controlling and
dismantling the cycle of violence affecting society. In his
opinion, "if criminal groups are organized then civil society is
disorganized." Fastlicht's newest project involves the
establishment of an umbrella organization for CSOs in Mexico. He
hopes to coordinate and facilitate their interaction with each
other so that they can work together more seamlessly to achieve
mutual goals. Fastlicht commented that he still lacks the budget
needed to support this project and is looking to USAID, for
funding. (Note: AID already supports his organization with $1
million USD of Merida funding. End note.) Similarly, after a
recent press conference slamming the GOM for having made "no
advance" on security, MUCD president Ana Franco reflected her
organization's determination when she said, "We will demand that
the situation be corrected," leaving no doubt that MUCD will
continue to work with GOM officials to improve the government's
response to security concerns. Another MUCD representative told
Polasst that his work for the organization is voluntary and that he
would not spend his time working for it if he did not feel it was
going to make a difference. Despite their regular complaints of
government inaction and incompetence, these organizations clearly
see themselves contributing to positive change.

10. (SBU) Comment: We are working very closely with Mexican civil
society both in our dialogue with the human rights NGOs and in our
support for citizen participation groups working to build a
national consensus against violence. These efforts are showing
great promise notwithstanding continued growing pains in Mexican
civil society. We are encouraged that the messages delivered by
security-focused CSOs have struck a chord with Mexico's broader
civil society. These groups have no intention of letting their
demands go unaddressed. Instead, they insist they have a seat at
the table in policy debates. Mexico's efforts to combat organized
crime and institute respect for the rule of law will take time and
significant resources. While we have not seen evidence of cartel
intimidation affecting Mexico City civil society, we know that in
Ciudad Juarez CSO leaders do face more threats from cartels. We
will continue to monitor the situation and look for ways to partner
with CSOs to urge the GOM to adopt policies that enhance safety for
community activists. To the extent the GOM develops a more
constructive relationship with Mexico's broad array of civil
society players and proves itself more responsive to their demands,
we can expect continued progress in their shared vision of a safer,
more prosperous Mexico. End comment.

© Scoop Media

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