Monday, August 2, 2010

Unregulated Protest -- Mexico City

The N.Y. Times has this interesting story about the costs and benefits of unregulated street protests in Mexico City.  On the cost side, the protests are highly disruptive.  On the benefits side, the right to demonstrate in public appears to be firmly entrenched -- and, for the most part, respected by authorities.  There is, of course, a middle ground between completely unregulated public protest and oppressive regulation or suppression of public contention.  The U.S. tries, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, to navigate that middle ground according to well established First Amendment principles. 

Here is an excerpt from the story:

Since the city does not regulate protests, demonstrators are free to block traffic whenever they please. In just the first three months of this year, there were 740 street demonstrations, an average of about eight and a half a day — an improvement over last year, when there were more than nine a day, the city government points out.

“In our country, it is a constitutional right to demonstrate,” said Juan José García Ochoa, the leftist city government’s point man for protests. “What we can do is to mediate, so that we guarantee the right to demonstrate along with the right of free movement.”

The daily marches may appear to be a sign of a vibrant democracy, proof of a wealth of ideals and opportunities to express them. But they also obey the choreographed rules of engagement laid down during 70 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI.

“For many years, the political system was very closed, but it was not authoritarian,” Mr. García Ochoa said. “During 70 years of the PRI, they let you demonstrate as long as you didn’t threaten their hold on power.”

It has been a decade since opposition parties broke the PRI’s political monopoly, but the idea that the best way to get the authorities’ attention is to stop traffic remains embedded in Mexico’s political culture.


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