Last updateMon, 21 Jan 2019 12pm

Speak Up – It’s Mexico, not North Korea

I sometimes think the expat community here at Lakeside believes it has no right to complain about anything here in Mexico.


Most of us know, for instance, not to march in a political protest, even if it’s something you believe affects you personally. However, protesting 80 caged barking cock-fighters on the roof next door is okay, but put money aside to have your car repainted. Protesting drug influences within a community is okay.  (But get roof dogs if you do.) Protesting pot holes wide enough to have a gift shop is also okay.

The only prohibitions: Do not engage in Mexican politics, in any form. Article 33 of the Mexican Constitution states that “Foreigners shall not in any way involve themselves in the political matters of the country.”

This is emphatically interpreted to mean that foreigners do not have the right to vote, run for public office, or participate in any political event, rally or demonstration. Engaging in these kinds of activities is a good way to find your possessions bagged and hanging from a lamppost as you’re escorted out of the country. As I understand the ruling, as a foreign national you couldn’t even aid a Mexican running for public office. That can only be done in the United States by Russians.

On the other hand, some Mexican jurists interpret Article 33’s prohibition on political activity as illegal voting or party proselytizing. All other political involvement, according to this interpretation, would be legal. For example, there are affairs in which involvement of foreigners in politics is permissible. For instance, when the National University of Mexico (UNAM) decided to raise tuition rates a few years back, this government-authorized university decision affected non-nationals as well as Mexicans. Some foreigners became involved in the protests. And it was deemed legitimate. But so were the tuition raises.

Also, according to Article 33, non-national behavior it calls “problematic” will raise eyebrows. In the real world, this restriction relies on what the definition is of “problematic” (pernicioso)? In this non-legal context, no one seems quite sure.  Possibly selling Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett action figures for kids. Or denouncing a crucified 16-year-old paraded in a plumber’s truck on Good Friday. Or doing any unauthorized practice without a proper license – as in orthopedic acupuncture work using BBQ skewers.

The crux of all this, according to Ajijic lawyer John Brennan, is that gringos have the same protest, complaint and lobbying rights as Mexicans, a freedom of expression which is guaranteed in the Constitution and treaties Mexico holds with most democracies – by virtue of owning property and having valid immigration papers.  Brennan gives a good example: A Mexican homeowner in Chula Vista had broken their bylaws by running a business in a strictly residential area. When asked to discontinue by the Chula Vista board, the Mexicans refused. Expats then took the issue to the local authorities and the Mexican business was removed.

Most surprisingly, Brennan explains, expats can even “complain about wrongdoing in government or government agencies, but of course, with adequate evidence.” Obviously, discretion and caution is wiser if you can’t properly prove any wrongdoing.

About the only other issue that can get an expat deported is flawed immigration status that is not up to date or fraudulent in some way. And that I believe is universal all over the world.