Mexico’s Lopez Obrador denounces USAID funds as ‘interventionist’

The president issued a letter to his US counterpart Joe Biden, calling to halt funds to groups ‘against’ his government.

Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gestures during an event to mark the 85th anniversary of the expropriation of foreign oil firms in Mexico City
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador previously criticised USAID funds in 2021 [File: Paola Garcia/Reuters]

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has issued a letter to the administration of Joe Biden, calling for the United States to end aid to organisations he perceives as opposed to his government.

The letter specifically identifies funds from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), though it does not name the groups López Obrador objects to.

“The U.S. government, specifically through USAID, has for some time been financing organisations openly against the legal and legitimate government I represent,” he said in the letter, dated Tuesday and read during the president’s morning press briefing on Wednesday.

“This is clearly an interventionist act, contrary to international law and the relations which should prevail between free and sovereign states.”

Wednesday’s comments echo earlier pushback from López Obrador, who previously sent the US a diplomatic note in 2021 denouncing USAID funds.

At the time, he objected specifically to funding for the nonprofit Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity. “A foreign government can’t provide money to political groups,” he said of the funds, adding: “It’s promoting a form of coup.”

In his latest letter, López Obrador appeals directly to Biden to halt the funds. On Tuesday, the Mexican president met with White House Homeland Security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall to discuss border policy ahead of the expiration of Title 42, a policy US officials used to expel asylum seekers during the COVID pandemic.

López Obrador has faced criticism during his tenure for allegedly weakening Mexico’s democratic institutions through attacks on the media and government checks.

Last week, he reiterated calls to close Mexico’s Institute for Information Access and Transparency (INAI), an independent government body with the power to compel other official agencies to comply with freedom of information requests. He cited wasteful spending as a motivation.

The president has also been critical of Mexico’s judicial system and supported a push to cut funding and limit the powers of the National Electoral Institute (INE), which oversees election integrity.

López Obrador has condemned the work of non-governmental organisations as well, including the free speech group Article 19, which receives USAID funds.

Mexico remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. In a report issued in March, Article 19 registered 696 attacks against Mexican media workers in 2022, the highest figure since the group started keeping records in 2007. It estimated that there was an attack against a journalist once every 13 hours.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a US-based nonprofit, found that 2022 was the deadliest year on record for Mexican journalists, with 13 killed.

Biden’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2024 earmarks $63.1bn for the US State Department and USAID. In a statement about the budget, Secretary of State Antony Blinken applauded the agencies’ work in “leading extraordinary global efforts” to advance a vision “of a free, open, secure and prosperous world”.

In an interview with the TV programme CNN This Morning on Tuesday, USAID Administrator Samantha Power explained that her agency provided nearly $160m to support independent media around the world.

Earlier this year, López Obrador lashed out at implicit criticism from the Biden administration, saying, “There’s currently more democracy in Mexico than in the United States.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies