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Government Spying Allegations in Mexico Spur Calls for Inquiry

Those calling for an investigation say the only way a truly independent inquiry can be guaranteed is to bring in an international team of experts, as the government did after the students disappeared. The government, however, ended that group’s mandate before its work was complete.

“Will the government have the capacity and will to investigate itself?” asked Mario E. Patrón, the executive director of the Miguel Augustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center, a human rights group in Mexico that was among the targets of the spyware attacks. “I think we all know what the answer is.”

The Times’s article and the report — produced by a group of organizations in conjunction with the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto — cautioned that there was no conclusive evidence that linked the spying to specific government agencies in Mexico.

A spokesman for the Peña Nieto administration issued a statement on Monday emphasizing that point and using it to defend the government. “For the government of the republic, the respect of privacy and the protection of personal data of all individuals are inherent values of our liberty, democracy and rule of law,” said the spokesman, Daniel Millán.

He invited people “who could have been victims of the actions described in the article” to present their complaints to the attorney general’s office.

Still, the findings provoked broad outrage, with many laying responsibility — if not for the spying itself, then at least to initiate a thorough inquiry — on the shoulders of the administration.

“This new, chilling evidence confirms that Mexican journalists and human rights defenders are a target of illegal practices designed to interfere and hinder their work,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas director at Amnesty International, said in a statement. The findings “show a clear pattern of illegal use of technology in an attempt to control any criticism against those in power.”

In a measure of the volume of reaction, the hashtag #GobiernoEspía, or #SpyGovernment, became the top trending topic on Twitter in Mexico on Monday and a top trending topic globally. In Mexico, the topic dominated social media and figured prominently in the news media on Monday and into Tuesday.

The level of anger was likened by some to the public reaction that greeted the so-called Casa Blanca scandal in 2014. That was spurred by reports that the president’s wife had received a special deal on the purchase of a mansion from a government contractor close to the president.

The episode weakened Mr. Peña Nieto’s standing and cast doubt on his stated commitment to the rule of law.

The administration has in recent weeks also been under pressure to better protect journalists.

At least 104 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000, including six this year so far, and at least 25 others have disappeared, according to press freedom groups.

The pressure on the government intensified last month with the killing of Javier Valdez Cárdenas, a widely respected journalist who reported drug trafficking in his home state, Sinaloa.

The findings this week “only add to the idea that, rather than protecting the press, the Mexican government views it as a dissident group or even as an enemy,” Guillermo Osorno, a founder of Horizontal.mx, a digital magazine, wrote in an opinion piece published by The New York Times en Español.

But the reaction was also mitigated somewhat by a certain cynicism in a country where wiretapping has been a time-honored tradition in politics, and allegations of spying by the government against its critics are not new.

Raymundo Riva Palacio, a columnist for El Financiero newspaper, wrote Tuesday that in 2015, the paper reported on an extensive government spying program that targeted cellphones. In response, he said, “nothing happened.”

He welcomed the reports this week “for the possibility of finally provoking a reaction from President Enrique Peña Nieto.”

But many commentators have been underwhelmed by the administration’s early response, which struck some as highly defensive and a reaffirmation of the widely held view that the government is more interested in preserving its authority than in enforcing the rule of law.

“If it wasn’t them, isn’t the Mexican government worried that someone is going around spying?” wrote Carlos Puig, a columnist for the Milenio newspaper. “Shouldn’t it be the government itself asking for an investigation? Or is it simply that they already know the answer?”

Source: NYT > World

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