President López Obrador’s decision to promote a 2019 budget that halved the funds earmarked for the government’s Childcare Facility Program, which benefits well over 300,000 children from low income households, sparked considerable concern. But the apprehension grew when he decided this year to abruptly channel all of the remaining funding that was helping to keep open more than 9,000 kindergartens, preschools and childcare centers managed by civil society organizations into direct cash payments to program beneficiaries for them to decide how best to organize their own childcare. The immediate result was a wave of closures that deprive children of quality care and women of access to the childcare essential to their possibilities for studying or working outside the home. A decision to apply the same approach to shelters and other centers for women and children victims of domestic violence drew much more intense criticism, even from people close to the government.
The effective shuttering of so many CSO-managed services seems utterly nonsensical on many levels, especially given the dearth of public sector alternatives. AMLO claims the move is necessary to eliminate widespread corruption, but the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval) recently detected irregularities in only 3 percent of such centers.
Such moves actually betray an effort to fundamentally redefine the relationship between the government and society, though not in favor of the statist approaches of yesteryear when the solution to every social ill was to build massive public sector institutions. Instead, they appear aimed at undermining the contribution CSOs and other expressions of civil society make everyday to building democracy and higher living standards.
By replacing their funding with direct cash transfers to individuals, the government appears intent on building new clientelist and patronage-based political networks subject entirely to the will of the governing party and the President’s whims.
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