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Mexican congress votes to eliminate social, culture trusts

October 6, 2020 GMT
Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador addresses family members of 43 missing students from the Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa, during a presentation of the ongoing investigations on the sixth anniversary of the students’ enforced disappearance, at the National Palace in Mexico City, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador addresses family members of 43 missing students from the Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa, during a presentation of the ongoing investigations on the sixth anniversary of the students’ enforced disappearance, at the National Palace in Mexico City, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The lower house of Mexico’s congress voted Tuesday to eliminate as many 109 government trust funds that finance everything from science to movie productions to disaster relief.

Debate continued on opposition proposals that some of the trusts could be preserved. But President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his Morena party managed to push the initial bill through on a 242 to 178 vote, and so may be able to roll over any objections.

The issue has sparked more heated debate than any of López Obrador’s initiatives since he took office almost two years ago.

Together, the funds manage almost $3.2 billion in government funds for research, health, sports and education projects, including one that finances protection for threatened journalists.

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López Obrador and his party say that funding for those projects is assured, but that the trust funds were wasteful and uncontrolled.

Opposition parties and civic groups say the funds’ independence is precisely their value. They charge that with the changes voted through Tuesday, all the projects would have to rely on annual budget votes, an arrangement that would make them more dependent on the president or political whims.

López Obrador is known for his personal austerity and his hatred of waste, but he has also been accused of building too much personal control of government and of disdaining checks and balances, civic groups and other limits on his power.

The president said Tuesday that there are “trusts for everything, with bureaucracies where in many cases the money is spent, the funds do not get to the people.”

After the trusts are eliminated, he said, his administration will “gather all these funds and hand them out, nobody would lose funding. If high-level athletes depend on these trusts, they should not worry because they are going to continue to get their support payments. If an artist depends on a scholarship from these trusts, he will continue to get it with no problem, or a writer, a moviemaker, whoever.”

Despite such assurances, groups of prominent scientists, film makers, writers and artists have opposed the changes.