Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Quintana Roo governor in the crosshairs over "fascist" anti-protest law

A brewing "Caribbean fascism" in Q.R. state, opponents argue

Cancún, Quintana Roo -
Roberto Borge Angulo, the 34 year old Institutional Revolutionary Party governor of Mexico's most southeastern state, has quickly backed away from a bill which easily cleared the PRI controlled state legislature on Monday. Borge's deft sidestep took opponents by surprise, since the proposed "Social Order Law" was his political brainchild, they claim.

The controversial legislation would give authorities the power to shut down any march, demonstration or public protest which "interferes with the delivery of any service or disrupts the peace or tranquility of any community or impedes the activities or human rights of other persons."

Moreover, it would flatly prohibit demonstrations in "any zone of touristic, economic or archaeological importance," which arguably could include anywhere and everywhere in Quintana Roo. Marches along "primary traffic routes" would be illegal.

Such a statute would almost surely violate Mexican constitutional guarantees. The nation's highest court currently has under review an unrelated statute which was challenged by Mexico's Human Rights Commission on the grounds of overbreadth, the same legal issue implicated in the Quintana Roo bill. Mexican judges consider constitutionality of "hawk" law. Statutory overbreadth means a law is written so expansively that almost any conduct falls within its parameters and could be construed as a violation of its terms, enabling police to discriminate in the enforcement of its provisions. That's exactly what has infuriated advocacy groups along the Riviera Maya, who have launched a media campaign to crush the bill and at the same time vilify Borge as a specter of the repressive "old PRI."

Yesterday Borge said he was withdrawing his support for the Social Order Law. He asked legislators to reconsider the statute, "subjecting it to the most careful analysis." But opponents say the governor is determined to stifle public protests and political dissent of any type, and insist that his instructions to PRI deputies is a stall for time. They claim Borge wants to establish a "Caribbean fascism" in Q.R.

According to opponents, the Borge administration has tried to attract support for the Social Order Law principally in the business and commercial community, which often is the most adversely affected by demonstrations on busy streets. But once they understand the potentially draconian consequences of the statute, most businessmen and merchants are strongly against it, the opponents contend.

Opponents argue the Q.R. Social Order Law is actually a trial run of the PRI administration's plan to enact similar legislation in the Federal District, which was hard it by violent political dissent in much of 2013. An ultra-radical school teachers union, youthful anarchists and others cost Mexico City merchants millions of dollars in lost commerce last year, and legislative bodies are under pressure to set reasonable limits on public demonstrations.

But those against the Social Order Law, which has not yet taken effect, say it goes too far. "They'd like to limit public protests to the back patio of your own house," the leader of one advocacy group argued. "The Law is plainly repressive, and exemplifies the old PRI style," he added.

Others complain the statute is "consistent with PRI's long history, in that it tries to criminalize the universally recognized human right to demonstrate and to associate with others who wish to do the same."

"The Social Order Law is part of the State's strategy to silence dissent, stop public demonstrations and prohibit any other form of criticism of corruption, lack of transparency in public affairs and violence perpetrated by the government of Roberto Borge Angulo," said one Q.R. activist.

Borge has responded by assuring that his administration has no plans to stifle public dissent. "We are mindful of the sacred guarantees of Articles 8 and of 9 of the Constitution," his office said in a public statement. Article 9 provides that "The right to assemble or associate peaceably for any lawful purpose cannot be restricted," similar to the language of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

The London based human rights organization Article 19 called Q.R.'s Social Order Law "a clear violation of freedom of expression" guarantees. "The bill runs contrary to Mexico's obligations under international treaties, and doesn't pass the constitutional 'sniff' test," it contended in a press release.

The Social Order Law flew through Q.R's state congress on Monday, after just one day of committee hearings, floor debate and the vote. The constitutional validity of the measure apparently troubled few legislators. It has not yet been published in the Quintana Roo Register, the final step necessary for its implementation. It is unclear whether the administration will rewrite the law by significantly tailoring its application, or abandon it altogether. Even if the bill becomes law, it will surely be challenged in court by opponents.

Mar. 29 - A similar proposed law in San Luis Potosí which would strictly regulate demonstrations and require permits before they could be carried out has come under fire. The bill, which would give state authorities unfettered discretion to grant or deny the permits, is sponsored by a legislative deputy of the center right National Action Party (PAN). Civil rights advocates are vigorously opposed.

Quintana Roo has never experienced scenes like this, but Mexico City did, on Oct. 2, 2013

© MGR 2014. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

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