Postscript to Mediating Dilemmas: Local NGOs and Rural Development in Neoliberal Mexico
While acknowledging the role played by the “third sector” in enabling opposition electoral victories, the past two PAN administrations have also sought to channel the organizational efforts of NGOs into projects more compatible with neoliberal visions of the common good. My informants in Tulancingo struggled to avoid co-optation by state agencies and political parties, as this risked compromising the role they had forged for themselves as advocates for citizen rights and promoters of a participatory civil society. Their anxieties found symbolic expression in the figure of First Lady Martha Sahagùn de Fox, whose Fundación Vamos México embodied both a shift in funding and accountability models and troubling new forms of “connectivity” between NGOs, state agencies and the political class. Those continuing dynamics shape funding relationships between smaller and larger NGOs and limit their autonomy.
Today, the socioeconomic polarization caused by neoliberal reforms is exacerbated by the unprecedented violence of Mexico’s narco wars. However, the voluntaristic model of solidarity actively promoted by current President Felipe Calderon and by organizations like Vamos México and the Centro Fox (of which it is now a subsidiary) as a remedy for Mexico’s ills is focused on the development of philanthropic subjects rather than the resolution of structural inequalities. The Centro Fox is a policy institute led by a cadre of conservative Catholic business leaders, all direct beneficiaries of privatization. One Tulancingo friend mockingly called them “Los Milionarios de Cristo,” referring to the Legionarios de Cristo, an infamous right-wing Catholic congregation with powerful ties to the PAN. Vamos México is a major recipient of corporate donations from multinationals such as Nestlè, Hasbro, Gruma, UPS, Whirlpool and Coca Cola. During Fox’s presidency, it created numerous public-private partnerships, leveraging state infrastructure and resources to carry out its signature programs. The organization was repeatedly accused of political influence peddling. Since then, Vamos México has expanded its influence over Mexico’s “third sector,” entering into partnerships with smaller regional NGOs, as well as launching a professional certificate program in “Social Management” marketed to NGO personnel. In short, Vamos México has created an innovative form of patron-client philanthropy which enables it to indirectly shape social policy.
This model has profound implications for the long term outcome of Mexico’s “democratic transition,” in that the official promotion of NGOs now lends itself to the domestication of civil society participation. In “Mediating Dilemmas,” I described the efforts of the CSC to institutionalize the civic role of NGOs. The outcome of their campaign was the 2004 Law for the Promotion of Activities Undertaken by Civil Society Organizations, which created an official federal registry. Inscription is required of any NGO wishing to participate in public-private partnerships. Applicants must re-write their bylaws to conform to a single standard, and may only access funds from established programs (rather than proposing new ones). They are further prohibited from engaging in any activity intended to influence legislation. By controlling the way NGOs are organized, the Mexican state may now legitimately exclude “unofficial” groups from policy processes and limit the scope of dialogue.
Analiese M. Richard’s work has also been published in Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology and Journal of the Royal Anthropological Society. Her book, Bridges of Love: Constructing Transnational NGO Networks from Rural Mexico, is in preparation.