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The Back Story on Mexico’s (Possible) Withdrawal from ACTA

Submitted by on October 6, 2010 – 6:35 pmNo Comment

There was a lot of activity on Twitter this morning claiming that Mexico has pulled out of negotiations of ACTA, the misnamed “Anti Counterfeit Trade Agreement.” That is not entirely true — it is the Federal Executive, led by President Felipe Calderón, that has the power to withdraw from ACTA negotiations. What actually took place is that the Mexican Senate passed a non-binding accord requesting the Executive to withdraw from ACTA negotiations, and establishing a working group to monitor ACTA with the hope of making it more transparent. The best English-language summary I have seen comes from OpenACTA and includes a translation of the actual text that was unanimously approved by all 105 senators present at yesterday’s session.

To better understand the context and back story of how and why the Mexican Senate decided to issue their request to the Executive, you can do no better than reading Leon Felipe Sanchez’s latest column for Merca 2.0. The original is in Spanish; what follows is my translation:

Yesterday the Senate unanimously approved a non-binding agreement (“punto de acuerdo”) that asks Mexico’s Executive to withdraw from negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, also known as ACTA. The unprecedented event reveals how citizen participation through social networks is now shaping a new form of doing politics in our country.

The non-binding agreement signed by Senators Carlos Sotelo García, Yeidckol Polevnsky Gurwitz, Francisco Javier Castellón Fonseca, Federico Döring, Beatriz Zavala, Ruben Camarillo, Raul Mejia and Ramiro Hernandez was presented to the entire Senate and was passed unanimously. The proposal requests the Federal Executive to suspend ACTA negotiations on behalf of our country. It also orders the formation of a diverse working group to monitor the process of negotiations that have occurred so far, with the objective of making the process more transparent. The working group will convene forums and public consultations involving civil servants, academics, experts and the general public to find alternative mechanisms that protect intellectual property rights while ensuring respect for the fundamental rights of citizens.

While the accord is a non-binding resolution, meaning that it may or may not be obeyed by the Executive, it sets a very important precedent. According to the Constitution, the Senate is the body that must approve international treaties signed by Mexico. Consequently, if the Executive decides to ignore the request approved yesterday by the Senate and continues negotiating ACTA, it still must return to the Senate for approval of what was negotiated. Given yesterday’s unanimous rejection, it seems unlikely that the Senate would approve any treaty negotiated by the Executive.

Once again, social networks, Twitter in particular, played an important role in raising Senators’ awareness of the detrimental consequences that the adoption of ACTA would have on citizens and internet users in our country. A significant number of Twitter messages were sent to Senators who have Twitter account — including Federico Döring, Beatriz Zavala, Ruben Camarillo, Raul Mejia and Ramiro Hernandez — to convince them to join Senators Carlos Sotelo García, Yeidckol Polevnsky Gurwitz, and Francisco Javier Castellón Fonseca in support of the agreement against Mexico’s participation in the ACTA negotiations.

The campaign was not just on Twitter. As on other occasions, some people phoned their Senators, others wrote e-mails, and still others came in person to the Senate.

The rules of politics are changing because of the use of information technology as a tool for communication, supervision and empowerment of civil society. Those who rule the country must understand that modern times do not allow for negotiations to take place in the dark, or for politicians who make decisions that affect citizens without taking them into account and consulting them.

Congratulations and thanks to the 105 senators present at yesterday’s session who unanimously approved the request to the Federal Executive to suspend Mexico’s participation in the ACTA negotiations. Congratulations and thanks to all who, through various means, made their voices heard and raised the Senators’ awareness.

Leon Felipe Sanchez was, in fact, one of the most instrumental individuals in bridging the online activism against ACTA to the attention of Mexican senators. In a column in today’s El Universal Antonio Martínez Velázquez of the Mexican Pirate Party points to the success of the anti-ACTA campaign in Mexico to argue against Malcolm Gladwell’s recent claim that online activism is little more than a bunch of hype. He shows how an elite group of Mexican Twitter users — León Felipe Sánchez, Emilio Saldaña, Geraldine Juarez, Alejandro Pisanty, Jesus Ramirez, Jesus Robles — were able to help translate a frequently raucous online campaign into a concrete policy proposal. That same group of Twitter users were also heavily involved in #InternetNecesario, which successfully removed a 3% tax on internet access in Mexico, and they are now shifting their focus to Internet Para Todos, which demands that telecommunications companies expand broadband internet penetration in rural areas.

Their success in protecting the rights of internet users and expanding internet access in Mexico has been astonishingly successful. But, once again, I am left wondering if that same level of activism can also tackle Mexico’s myriad other problems have have nothing to do with the Internet. What about the increasing incidence of reports of human rights abuses committed by the Mexican military? Where is that campaign? What do Mexican Twitter users think about their country’s most important judicial sector reform in decades? Where is the campaign to improve health care, environmental policy, rural development, public transit, urban planning? When will we be able to point to a success story that doesn’t just have to do with the rights of internet users?

To continue following the developments of ACTA I recommend TechDirt, the personal blog of Michael Geist, Intellectual Property Watch, and Open ACTA.

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