Mexico’s cuts in nature, archaeology budgets draws protests

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has cut budgets for things like archaeology, nature reserves and crime victims so deeply — about 75% in some cases — that parts of his own government cried foul Thursday.

López Obrador says the cuts are needed to raise money for hospitals during the coronavirus epidemic, and refuses to borrow money or run up budget deficits, even though many government are doing so now.

Researchers at the National Institute of Anthropology and History, known as the INAH, said in a letter circulated Thursday that the institute’s budget is being cut 75% even though it oversees 193 archaeological sites that are open to the public and hundreds more that aren’t.

“The INAH is in danger of being left paralyzed,” said the letter from researchers, noting the budget cuts announced May 22 put at risk more than just research and education. The country’s pre-Hispanic ruins and colonial buildings are under constant threat from looting, vandalism and disrepair.

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The commission that oversees Mexico’s 182 nature reserves and parks, meanwhile, said it is “worried” and has asked that some money be restored.

“We have started a permanent dialogue with various arms of the Mexican government to revise the budget cut,” the National Protected Areas Commission said in a statement.

Even more than the archaeological sites, Mexico’s nature reserves are under constant threat from loggers, wildlife collectors and even drug cartels that use parks to set up clandestine drug labs.

Also on Thursday, the governmental National Human Rights Commission urged López Obrador to back off on cuts to the Commission for Attending to Crime Victims, a body that provides financial and other types of support for families of the disappeared and other victims.

The victims commission said the cuts “will halt our essential activities and paralyze our functioning.”

The rights commission said that more than just reducing the ability of victims commission to function, “these measures really mean more that the commission will actually disappear.”

More than 60,000 Mexicans have disappeared since the start of the country’s drug war in 2006, and many families of those people — and others who have been abused by police or criminals — struggle to find them, or get justice for them.

The three government agencies that suffered cuts were already operating on tiny, reduced budgets, in part because López Obrador distrusts oversight, regulatory and independent bodies and prefers to put government money in direct payment programs for the public, like scholarship and pensions.

In May, López Obrador’s Morena party tried to dissolve the government fund known as Fidecine, which provides co-financing or loans for Mexican film production. Only a public campaign by Oscar-winning Mexican directors Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Inñarritu was able to head off that measure.

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