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Fox Signs Mexico's First Freedom of Information Law - 2002-06-11

Mexican President Vicente Fox Monday signed his nation's first freedom of information law, allowing for public scrutiny of government documents. There are some limits in the law to protect sensitive information.

Open government was one of the main themes of the Fox campaign two years ago and the passage of this law last month was seen as a major victory for his program. In a ceremony outside his official residence, President Fox signed the law and then spoke about its benefits.

He said his government is closing, one-by-one, the sources of corruption, impunity and inefficiency. He said no one will stop the democratic impulse that sustains his government's actions.

Mr. Fox said the new law, known formally as The Federal Law of Transparency and Access to Public Government Information, will help open government agencies to the public's eyes. He noted that, for the first time in Mexico, citizens will be able to verify the salary of a public servant. He said they will also be able to follow government budgets and expenditures.

President Fox said, however, that there are exceptions built into the law to protect the public interest. He said it is also the responsibility of the government to keep some information from the public so as not to compromise national security, financial stability or the relations Mexico maintains with other countries. Such classified information will also be made public after a 12-year waiting period.

But the Mexican leader said the government will not be able to use this reserve section of the law to hold back information about human rights abuses or other crimes.

Mexico's new freedom of information law was supported by all three of the nation's major political parties. All federal agencies, the Congress, the Bank of Mexico and the courts are subject to the new law and must post information on the Internet within a year.

Any government official who fails to provide information or who tries to hide or destroy information could be subject to firing, a fine and criminal charges. The law calls for the establishment of an Institute of Access to Public Information to investigate any failure to fulfill a request.