Mexico has a strong civil society sector, which is generally viewed favorably by the public. The government of Mexico has ratified most international and regional human rights treaties and demonstrates leadership on the international level regarding human rights. The Federal Law for the Promotion of Activities Undertaken by Civil Society Organizations provides a framework for CSOs to participate in Mexico’s development, allows them to seek and receive resources, and grants them tax-exempt status. However, civil society activists report that recent changes to the Law are problematically vague and that requirements for tax-exempt CSOs are disproportionate, unnecessarily burden CSOs, and jeopardize their sustainability.
Under current law, CSOs that are granted tax-exempt status are subject to heavy reporting requirements, including submitting receipts for all financial transactions to the government. This is difficult for smaller CSOs working in rural areas where receipts are generally unavailable. Tax-exempt law requires organizations that change their physical location to surrender all their assets to another tax-exempt organization. Because the law is vague, it can be applicable to CSOs that simply wish to relocate from one office building to another. Civil society representatives report that organizations with tax-exempt status are subject to heavier reporting burdens than private businesses such as hotels and restaurants.
The government recently began requiring tax-exempt CSOs to attain certification for compliance with fiscal requirements from a private audit firm certified by the government. Such new regulations cause some activists to believe that the government is gradually trying to restrict their rights to seek, receive, and use foreign and domestic funding. It is reportedly common for politicians and government officials to threaten CSOs with financial audits in order to coerce independent CSOs. They also report that organizations with close links to the government attempt to publically stigmatize independent CSOs by accusing them of being linked to organized crime, possibly because some CSOs advocate for prisoners’ rights.
In recent years, drug cartels have triggered a human rights crisis in Mexico, which has affected civil society activists in a number of ways, including exposing them to physical attacks and kidnappings. Rather than protecting civil society activists from these threats, the government has increased fiscal requirements for CSOs, which the government claims will prevent money laundering by the cartels. The government requires organizations that receive funding from foreign donors to submit copies of official identification documents of individuals who legally represent donor organizations, which legal representatives are often reluctant to do out of privacy concerns. The government also argues that the requirements will improve aid efficiency. The government has not, however, strengthened fiscal requirements for private businesses in order to reduce corruption.