The new movers and shakers

They don’t wear balaclavas or wave banners, but they are bringing about change

The Economist

VIRIDIANA RÍOS is a 32-year-old activist who grew up in the impoverished suburbs of Mexico City. But she is no left-wing firebrand. She is the Harvard-educated head of an NGO that uses analysis, statistics and cheeky social-media campaigns to agitate for clean government. Instead of adopting the rabble-rousing tactics of the street, she is part of a movement of civil-society wonks who are gaining big influence in Mexico. Their weapons are hard facts and solid arguments. “We are the technocracy of civil society,” she says.

In recent months, after the murder of 43 students in the south-western state of Guerrero in September and widespread allegations of corruption, these organisations have come into their own. They have persuaded the government of Enrique Peña Nieto to go further than he originally wanted in a constitutional reform to tackle corruption. “I would go so far as to say that, without them, this reform wouldn’t have happened,” says Fernando Rodríguez Doval of the opposition National Action Party, which drafted the law.

In April NGOs and think-tanks lobbied successfully for laws opening up greater access to government information. They also launched a “civil observatory” to monitor the building of a vast new airport near Mexico City; the government says it will cost 169 billion pesos ($11 billion), but has not said where the money will come from. And an education charity, Mexicanos Primero, headed by a member of a prominent industrial family, is taking legal action to force the interior ministry not to cave in to radical teachers who are opposed to a sweeping education reform.

The NGOs’ methods include “name and shame” campaigns that play well on social media. Ms Ríos’s outfit, México ¿Cómo Vamos? (How are we doing, Mexico?), has designed an anti-corruption “breathalyser”. It shows in real time which states have and have not approved the anti-corruption reform that will, for the first time, subject them to federal audits. Within a week of approval in the federal Congress on April 22nd, ten of the 32 states had ratified it. This delighted Ms Ríos.

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