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MEXICO: Foreigner involvement in Mexican politics

Because of a legacy of US intervention in Mexican affairs, Mexico enacted the legislation which David Crow describes: "The question of foreign nationals' involvement in domestic politics is thorny in any country. During my stay in Mexico, friends would jokingly threaten to apply the dread constitutional Article 33 against me. That article forbids foreigners from getting mixed up (inmiscuirse) in Mexican politics on pain of expulsion from the country. Often forgotten by those who brandish Article 33 (both jokingly and seriously) is that the same article guarantees foreigners all the same rights that attach to Mexican citizens--including freedom of expression. Thus, some Mexican jurists interpret Article 33's prohibition on political activity strictly as applicable only to illegal voting or to party proselytism. All other political involvement, according to this interpretation, would be legal.

Article 33 was invoked several years ago against a group of foreigners, mostly Italians, who entered the country to observe human rights in Chiapas. The Italians marshalled the doctrine of "universal jurisdiction", claiming--correctly, I believe--that human rights were within the competence of the international community. The pleas fell on deaf governmental ears, but many domestic human rights groups welcomed the international presence as necessary to exert pressure on the Mexican government. After all, argued the human rights groups, it makes little sense for the government to police itself on its own alleged violations. They also pointed out that South American dictatorships rejected international intervention precisely on the grounds that abuses, no matter how atrocious, were internal affairs.

But there are a host of other affairs on which involvement of foreigners in politics seems warranted. For instance, when the National University of Mexico (UNAM) decided to raise tuition rates, this decision affected non-nationals as well as Mexicans. Thus, some foreigners became involved in the protests. (My own involvement was limited to attending an organizational meeting of graduate students; I subsequently became disillusioned with the anti-democratic tactics of the "ultra" wing of the protesters.) Another example is involvement in neighborhood associations that lobby the city for services.

Clearly, international business concerns are very ably represented--oftentimes by domestic lobbyists and PR firms--in national legislatures and the public arena generally. To distinguish political protest somehow from this sort of legislative lobbying would rest on the thinnest of logical bases: both involve free speech rights guaranteed by international conventions and most national constitutions. Legally, it is unclear to what extent national constitutions protect non-citizens; ethically, it is unconscionable to deny someone basic rights merely because he or she is not a citizen. In any event, non-citizens' liberties do fall under the auspices of international agreements. I should add, however, that rioting is obviously beyond the pale of any legal protection".

Ronald Hilton - 5/30/02