New Mexican Law Threatens Access to Information, Censorship in Archives

by George Apodaca (Harvard University) and Ana Rodriguez (University of Florida)
Co-chairs, Latin American and Caribbean Cultural Heritage (LACCHA) Section 


Mexican archivist Enrique Chmelnik, president of the Association of Mexican Private Archives and Libraries (AMABPAC) and director of the Center for Documentation and Jewish Research in Mexico (CDIJUM) was the guest speaker and presenter at the Latin American and Caribbean Cultural Heritage Section (LACCHA) gathering during Archives*Records 2016, the Joint Annual Meeting of CoSA and SAA in August in Atlanta. It’s the second year in a row that LACCHA has invited a Latin American archivist to address a current event or pressing concern taking place in their home country.  

AMABPAC was established twenty-two years ago as an organization to support the development and operation of private archives and libraries in Mexico that hold much of Mexico’s cultural patrimony within their collections. CDIJUM was founded in 2015 as a means to have a sole institution tasked with safeguarding the historical collective memory of the different sectors and institutions relating to the Mexican Jewish community.  

Chmelnik’s talk discussed a controversial piece of legislation that is currently being debated in the Mexican Senate known as La Ley General de Archivos (General Archival Laws) that would have a fundamentally adverse effect on how these institutions currently operate. The proposed law seeks to control access of information within the nation’s libraries and archival operations, in both the public and private sector, by designating the National Archives System, currently a technically and administratively autonomous entity, under the jurisdiction of the Secretariat of the Interior. The fear is that once under the auspices of the Secretariat, this closely-knit association can influence the creation and curation of Mexico’s cultural patrimony according to the political interests of the time, being that any decisions related to the National Archives System will rest uniquely with the Executive Branch of power. It is therefore deemed essential that an archival system be dependent on checks and balances and allows for plurality, transparency, and the embodiment of democratic values, while also being comprised of independent specialists and free of government officials.  

Chmelnik further expounded two concerns that Mexican private archival institutions have about the new law. The first notes that the new law does not establish any democratic process for the selection of a private archives and libraries representative to the Ruling Council of the National Archives System. This would hinder the ability of myriad entities and institutions that are together tasked with forming the sources of Mexican historical information from expressing their interests and opinions on a national level. The second issue, just as troubling, remains that the new law would grant the Mexican state indiscriminate power to expropriate materials from private archives without instituting a transparent or accountable path to exercise such power. The creation of interdisciplinary and autonomous councils that might supervise and advise on the expropriation of these materials is but one of the dire consequences Mexico’s public and private library and archival institutions may face if La Ley General de Archivos is approved by the Mexican Senate.  

Given the plight of human rights violations that have plagued Mexico in the last couple of decades, a profound lack of accountability and transparency at the highest levels, and an ever-increasingly regression towards authoritarianism and corruption as the modus operandi of politics, scholars, lawyers, and stalwart citizens have been doing their part to demand that the new law be remedied with provisions that meet the very needs libraries and archives strive to manifest: transparency, access to information, and accountability.  

For our part, LACCHA has been helping disseminate information and latest developments on La Ley General de Archivos through our blog Memoria and our social media sites. Fellow archivists can also do their part by informing themselves on the issues at hand and signing the petition online. 

For the petition by scholars and LIS professionals, click here. Watch a summary of the meeting here, and watch Enrique Chmelnik’s petition to the Mexican senate here.

Posted December 13, 2016

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