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Looking back, looking forward: Mexico

Population GDP/Capita USD Capital City
126,191,000 9,698 Mexico City
ICCPR ratified 1981 Journalists killed 2018: 13

Constitution of Mexico 1917 (revised 2015)

TITLE ONE, CHAPTER I, ARTICLE 6.  Expression of ideas shall not be subject to judicial or administrative inquiry, except for those cases when such expression of ideas goes against the moral, privacy or the rights of third parties, causes perpetration of a felony, or disturbs the public order. The right of reply shall be exercised according to law. The State shall guarantee the right to information.

Every person shall be entitled to free access to plural and timely information, as well as to search for, receive and distribute information and ideas of any kind, through any means of expression.

TITLE ONE, CHAPTER I, ARTICLE 7.  Freedom of speech, opinion, ideas and information through any means shall not be abridged. Said right shall neither be abridged through any indirect means, such as abuse of official or private control over paper, radio electric frequencies or any other materials or devices used to deliver information, or through any other means or information and communication technologies aimed at impeding transmission or circulation of ideas and opinions.

No statute or authority shall establish prior restraints, nor shall it abridge freedom of speech, which shall be subject to no other limitation than those foreseen in the first paragraph of Article 6 of this Constitution. Under no circumstances shall the assets used for the transmission of information, opinions and ideas be subject to seizure on the grounds of being an instrumentality of a felony.

2018: A year of transition amid ongoing violence

Journalism in Mexico is trapped between the violence of organised crime and the violence of government. It remains the most dangerous country for journalists in the Americas – on a level with countries officially at war.

There were 544 aggressions against journalists linked to their work during 2018, including nine murders – one in the first month of the new sexenio (a presidential term lasting six years). Public officials committed 230 (42%) of these. The main topics the journalists attacked covered were corruption in politics, security, and justice.

In its tenth year of working in Mexico, ARTICLE 19 looks back at the country’s most recent leader, Enrique Peña Nieto, and his tenure, as well as to the new President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.[1] Our message is: ‘no erasure, no clean slate’. The impunity of the past still has a strong hold on the atmosphere of the present, but past crimes and institutional failures must not be forgotten. Truth and understanding will pave the path towards never again.

President Enrique Peña Nieto, 2012-2018

During the sexenio of Enrique Peña Nieto, 47 journalists were killed; there were 2,502 aggressions against the press (more than double the number under the previous leader, President Felipe Calderón); and well over 500 criminal prosecutions of communicators.

These figures, though shocking, cannot begin to convey the terror confronting the press in Mexico. This is compounded by the total impunity with which these crimes are committed – more than 99% of cases never see justice – and the fact that agents of the state are statistically the greatest threat to the press; the authorities both participate and are complicit in the crimes committed.

Enrique Peña Nieto’s government continued previous governments’ policies of denial and erasure of human rights abuses and violations – from the enforced disappearance of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa to the murder of journalists, such as Rubén Espinosa and Moisés Sánchez Cerezo. Though institutions and mechanisms were built and reformed, and some legislation amended, the lack of impact is ample demonstration of their cosmetic nature and the lack of political will behind meaningful reform.

Peña Nieto also continued Mexico’s recent movement towards militarisation, supposedly as a strategy to combat organised crime. Militarised security forces continued to pose threats to legitimate protests and expression, and violence in the country continued to spiral.

Even in the face of failing institutions and a lack of transparency, investigative journalism in Mexico continues to flourish and to provide the public with key information. Thanks to journalist Laura Castellanos, the country learned of extrajudicial executions federal police committed in Michoacán in 2015; Lydia Cacho revealed paedophile rings in the state of Cancun; and collectives like Periodistas de a Pie and Mujeres ante la Guerra provide further sources for Mexico’s public.

Protest rights were repeatedly violated during Peña Nieto’s sexenio; law enforcement carried out a number of serious rights violations during protests, including at 1DMX, Chalchihuapan, and Nochixtlán.

Enrique Peña Nieto arrived in government with an approval rating of 54% and left with a disapproval rating of 76%, unable to regain credibility and trust after the disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa in September 2014.

Official advertising

Peña Nieto’s government spent more than 60 billion pesos (approx. $300 million USD) on state advertising – buying space in the media to distribute information to citizens. These expenditures dwarf other types of public spending.

These advertising spaces have often been used to promote government actors and policy, and to muzzle critical media. Opaque, discretionary, and excessive allocation of public advertising funds to particular media outlets is a means of controlling content and editorial lines. During Peña Nieto’s sexenio, 10 outlets received 48% of public advertising budgets, and the other 865 shared the rest.

Official advertising often constitutes subtle or indirect censorship, and has been an obstacle to the development of a pluralistic, critical, and free debate on public-interest issues. This system also erodes public trust in the media.

Hollow institutions

Mexico has many of the institutions expected of a developed and progressive democracy, but many do not function as checks on power, instead failing to protect expression or tackle the structural causes of Mexico’s crisis of expression.

Specialist institutions, such as the protection mechanism and the special prosecutor’s office, remain far from able to tackle their obligations in the face of this crisis. Some of these structures are limited by being designed to be reactive rather than proactive; some simply do not have the budget they need; and others are limited by the working conditions and security of their functionaries.

Mexico has an established right to information (RTI), but Enrique Peña Nieto’s implementation of this focused on the online sphere, creating huge inequalities in access to information in practice, since Mexico has a low level of internet penetration. The President’s programme to connect more people to the internet failed to meet its initial targets, though there was some increase in public internet-access sites. This means massive inequality in real ability to access information in the public interest – particularly for indigenous groups and women to access information about their rights, including food, health, and education.

The National Institute for Transparency, Access to Information and Personal Data Protection (INAI) has proven a key institution during the sexenio, enabling the publication of information about the Ayotzinapa case (2014), the Internal Security Law (2017), and the Tlatelolco killing (2018). But though INAI has an impressive record, the executive has revealed itself to be less of a fan of freedom of information; it presented 73 petitions to Google to delist information between 2012 and 2017.

2018 election: a paradox of violence and democracy

The 2018 elections presented a paradox for Mexico. While the process represented a small step forward for democracy, in terms of process and polling day, the violence against freedom of expression and those exercising it represented a serious step backwards.

The elections were the most violent in recent history, deepening existing polarisation in the country. ARTICLE 19 registered 185 aggressions in the electoral context – 68 on election day itself – the majority of which party members and public officials perpetrated.[2]

Andrés Manuel López Obrador: 2018 onwards

Following a sexenio characterised by impunity, corruption, and indifference to poverty and inequality, a large majority of the voting population opted for Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), a left-wing candidate who promised to combat these evils and promote political, economic, and social transformation.

However, the deep political polarisation that characterised the lead-up to his election has continued into his term as leader, maintaining a clear division between those in favour of AMLO’s political project and those critical of it.

The new government has already shown itself to be full of contradictions regarding the importance of journalistic work and violence against the press. Within months of taking office, AMLO had begun to stigmatise the press as dissenters. AMLO has also launched numerous attacks on bodies that guarantee the RTI, questioning their credibility or suggesting they are a waste of public resources; INAI has repeatedly been a target of this discourse.

As far as the deaths of journalists go, not much has changed under AMLO; in the first nine months of his government, 11 journalists were killed.

UN steps in to recognise the rights of Lydia Cacho

In August 2018, the UN HRC demanded the Mexican government take action to remedy the violation of the rights of journalist Lydia Cacho. ARTICLE 19 submitted a communication, then represented Cacho in the dialogue with Mexican authorities.

After the publication of her investigation ‘The Demons of Eden’ in 2005, which uncovered a ring of paedophiles in the state of Cancun, Cacho was arrested for defamation – a criminal offence in Mexico – and transported to Puebla. During a journey lasting around 20 hours, she was subjected to psychological and physical torture, sexual assault, and death threats, which continued during her detention at the Attorney General’s Office in Puebla.

The UN HRC’s resolution – its first ever against Mexico – determined that Cacho was arbitrarily detained, subjected to torture and gender-based violence, and that her right to free speech had been violated. It demanded that the Mexican government:

  1. Carry out an impartial, prompt, and thorough investigation into the crimes Cacho revealed;
  2. Prosecute and penalise the persons found responsible for the violations committed;
  3. Offer adequate reparation; and
  4. Adopt necessary measures to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future, ensuring that all journalists and human rights defenders can exercise their right to freedom of expression in their activities, by decriminalising the crimes of defamation and slander in all Mexican states.

The Mexican state has now issued an official apology, and launched prosecutions against two of those behind the crime.[3]



[1] This section is based on the reporting of Article 19 Mexico and Central America: Ante el Silencio, Ni Borron ni Cuenta, 2 April 2019, available at; and Pautas sobre libertad de expression e informacion en el nuevo gobierno, 25 January 2019, available at Translation and precis by Emily Hart at Writing Rights

[2] ARTICLE 19, El 46.7% de las agresiones contra la prensa en 2018 se registraron en contexto electoral: Red #RompeElMiedo, 23 October 2018, available at

[3] ARTICLE 19, Annual Report 2018, 14 May 2019, available at