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Fidel Herrera: rata, cursi… and uncensored!

14 May 2009

Mexican campaign laws are designed — in theory — to avoid negative campaigning and outside influence.  Elections are federally financed and what in the United States are called “campaign contributions” here go by the less euphemistic name of   “bribery.”

The parties have a budget (controlled by IFE, the Federal Elections Institute) for advertising, and all are given equal access to media time. Their ads are supposed to be informational only, and… for the most part they are.  Also, they tend to be dull.

Given the success of negative campaigning by PAN in the last presidential election (which may have owed something to PAN’s use of U.S. campaign advisors… illegal though that may have also been), election law was recently changed to preclude attacks on opponents.  IFE said nothing about internet advertising, and all parties have been turning to the web in this latest round of electioneering.

The Greens have been testing the system — some say openly flaunting it, running on-line negative ads paid for with private funds.  Their reasoning seems to be that any fines they face are just part of the cost of doing business.  The Mexican Green Party is not really a “Green Party” — it lost its membership in the international group because of its support for the death penalty.  It usually acts a junior partner for PRI, and may be testing the elections  laws for the benefit of the older, and much larger party.

Given IFE’s mishandling of complaints about the Greens, there is some justification for IFE writing regulations regarding internet advertising.  However, whether IFE understands how the internet works… or whether all negative comments about Mexican political figures are political advertising… is an impossible conundrum.  And IFE is handling it very badly.

Governor Fidel Herrera Beltran of Veracruz — who lately has been accused of coddling Smithfield Farms and agro-giants to the detriment of his constituents (and, faced with overwhelming criticism, has morphed into a “people’s champion” of more controls and investigations into the giant hog operations in his state) is also well known for having won the lottery — TWICE — during his tenure and is suspected of a number of frauds by certain political (and apolitical) observers.  So, Fidel Herrera has argued — successfully — that a recent Youtube video that pokes fun at the Governor is a negative campaign practice and ordered it removed.

The video appears to be a PAN production (though not directly so), but censoring the video means, of course, attempting to censor the internet.   Alfredo (Citius64)  comments (my translation) — in a high dudgeon — that this is not campaign regulation, just old fashioned censorship.

When fascism arrives, it’s not going to march in with something so blatant as a patriotic parade.  It’s more subtle than that: usually beginning with an attempt to silence  “libertines”– for the protection of the helpless people, of course.

Yesterday (12-May) IFE took a frightening step in that direction, ruling in favor of the Governor of Veracruz, who complained about a You Tube video that mocks him.

Fidel Herrera is no  idiot.  He knowns any request that IFE censor the newspapers would backfire badly on him.  But never, never before in the history of Mexico has any authority sought to censor the internet, and Herrera wants to see if it is possible, and if he can do it.

And IFE, the defender of democracy yielded up one of its prized values:  freedom of expression.  One wonders what those who died to defend the freedom of ideas would say about this.  What would  Belisario Domínguez* say? What would the journalists assassinated over the last several years say?

IFE, having prohibited using the Internet to make fun of a Mexican politican only proves that IF does not understand the Internet.  The web of webs is a new paradigm at bureaucrats have not studied, nor do they understand.  Luckily, the video in question has gone viral, and IFE has no way to stop it.

What’s tragic is that the electoral autorities want to treat voters like children.  And to defend democracy, act as if we are living in China or Cuba.  They seem to follow the logic of Orwell’s 1984: as  Big Brother tells us, “Freedom is Slavery.”

Fidel Herrera is no  idiot.  He knowns any request that IFE censor the newspapers would backfire badly on him.  But never, never before in the history of Mexico has any authority sought to censor the internet, and Herrera wants to see if it is possible, and if he can do it.

And IFE, the defender of democracy yielded up one of its prized values:  freedom of expression.  One wonders what those who died to defend the freedom of ideas would say about this.  What would  Belisario Domínguez say? What would the journalists assassinated over the last several years say?

IFE, having prohibited using the Internet to make fun of a Mexican politican only proves that IF does not understand the Internet.  The web of webs is a new paradigm at bureaucrats have not studied, nor do they understand.  Luckily, the video in question has gone viral, and IFE has no way to stop it.

What’s tragic is that the electoral autorities want to treat voters like children.  And to defend democracy, act as if we are living in China or Cuba.  They seem to follow the logic of Orwell’s 1984: as  Big Brother tells us, “Freedom is Slavery.”

The censored video makes reference to colorful incidents in the career of the present governor of Veracruz — like winning the lottery… TWICE! — and expresses some doubts about the sources of the governor’s financial resources vis-a-vis the conditions of the state budget.

Uploading the censored video might be construed as a political act, and — as a foreign resident, who  cannot by law participate in political action — I’d never think of such a thing (nor — if I was a citizen — would I be pushing PAN propaganda in all likelihood).  As far as I know, there are no such restrictions on videos from Kazahikastan, where  “u8hio” lists his (or her) residence.  I’m sure others outside Mexico (or Mexican citizens) might upload the video elsewhere with legal impunity.  But that would be wrong… right?

* Dr. Belisario Dominguez, a Puebla physician and congressman, was the only member of the Chamber of Deputies with the balls to say that Victoriano Huerta, who became president in the U.S. sponsored coup that overthew the democratically elected Francisco Madero in 1912 was a dictator.  Huerta agreed…  having the doctor shot down in the street.

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