COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 40 (En Español)
COVID-19 has impacted Mexico in a transformational way. A lot has been observed and analyzed when it comes to the slow and confusing federal response to the crisis since the beginning. Realizing the absence of national authorities, communities and the civil society in Mexico rapidly mobilized resources to confront COVID-19. These same organizations found themselves overwhelmed with the scope and scale of the emergency. To this end, Mexico’s amparo law was used multiple times to force the government to act and respond diligently. Despite the suspension of judicial activities for several months, the amparo law served as a tool to reestablish services and provide help to all citizens at the beginning of the pandemic, during the reopening states and vaccination process.
In this brief report, I will mention a succinct definition of the amparo in the context of Mexican law as well as various examples of how it has been used during the pandemic. I have chosen examples related to immigration, refugees and energy. Furthermore, I will also talk briefly about the period of time when judicial activities were suspended and the current process of access to vaccines.
Brief Definition of Amparo
The amparo is a legal recourse that protects individuals’ human rights which have been established by both the Mexican constitution as well as applicable international agreements and treaties. The amparo can be executed against a public or private entity and its decision may have consequences for everyone. Despite being associated mostly with Mexico, the amparo is also present in similar ways throughout Latin American countries of civil law tradition. At the end of 1960, the amparo was also added to the American Convention on Human Rights protected by both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Amparo Law Facing COVID-19: Suspension and Application
As we have mentioned before in our reports, the inept and confusing response from the federal government contributed to Mexicans’ loss of confidence, while being forced to take matters into their own hands. At the same time, civil society groups organized themselves to demand a response from the government. The amparo law was one of the tools they were able to use. Baja California, Guerrero, Nuevo León, Michoacán, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa and Oaxaca are among some of the Mexican states in which decisions from amparo lawsuits forced the administrative authorities to act and to implement measures. These measures included the reappropriation of financial resources to respond to the health emergency, the possibility for federal authorities to grant tax incentives or allowing to postpone tax payments. Some of the most urgent measures included supporting and protecting medical personnel and other employees who found themselves working in the frontlines as well as making available COVID-19 tests to people showing symptoms. Furthermore, the amparo law was used successfully to demand that the government made COVID-19 information accessible to people with hearing impairment.
The accumulation of decisions from multiple amparo lawsuits, the rapidly growing rate of infected people, and the demands of citizens forced the federal government to declare a health emergency throughout the entire territory for two months, from March 30 to April 30. The emergency plan prohibited all non-essential activities and it encouraged people to stay at home as much as possible, without demanding a curfew or a total lockdown. At the same time, the country’s judicial system followed the national emergency plan and consequently it suspended all its activities until April 2020. Courts in all Mexican states followed the same protocol, albeit with slight differences when it came to reopening dates. During this time, using the amparo became an impossible thing to do. Citizens had to comply with the emergency measures, and to patiently wait until the reopening of courts at both the state and federal levels.
Immigration, Energy and Vaccines
Immediately after the reopening of courts, the amparo became once again an essential tool to safeguard everyone’s human rights in the country. Immigrants and refugees have found themselves in a state of high vulnerability as a result of the lack of health resources to combat COVID-19. The asylum and migratory centers have contributed to spread the virus within groups completely deprived of any medical help. A few civil society organizations in Mexico put forward an amparo lawsuit against the National Institute of Migration (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM in Spanish) to demand them to provide “basic guarantees” of access to health, security and protection. The situation has become a critical one both along the Northern border with the United States as well as the Southern one with Guatemala. Civil society organizations have obtained favorably decisions from the courts, and they will continue to use the amparo law as a way to look for solutions at both borders as well as asylum centers throughout the country.
The government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, AMLO, through its National Energy Control Center (Centro Nacional de Control de Energía, CENACE in Spanish) published on April 29 its response to the pandemic. The national energy protocol aimed at strengthening the trust on the country’s electrical energy produced mostly by fossil fuels, and it also suspended any planned testing activities conducted by renewable energy as those were deemed “unreliable”. Only a few days after it was announced, various amparo lawsuits were filed throughout the country requesting not to allow the government to stop such activities. This is not the first time that AMLO finds himself in a battle against renewable energy companies. However, experts coincide that this is the first time that CENACE finds itself facing an amparo lawsuit.
Despite being the first country in Latin America to kickstart a national vaccine program on December 24, 2020, Mexico decided to only vaccinate its medical personnel. The national authorities plan to begin vaccinating the second group, older than 60 years old by March 2021. The decisions have been the result of what the Secretary of Foreign Relations, Marcelo Ebard called at the United Nations, the “phenomenon of hoarding” pursued by various rich countries.
In this uncertain context, Eva Flores Medina filed and won an amparo lawsuit on January 11, 2021 against the Secretary of Health’s Vaccination Plan. The lawsuit demanded a local hospital in Mexico City to vaccinate Flores despite her medical condition. The amparo lawsuit also forced the government to prioritize people with chronic conditions as well as comorbidities. Unfortunately, Flores passed away before getting vaccinated. However, the decision of her amparo lawsuit has inspired other people to use the same legal recourse in order to reform the country’s current vaccination plan.