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  • Mexican scientists oppose new budget cuts


[MEXICO CITY] Researchers in Mexico are being invited to sign a letter protesting a cut to the science budget proposed by the country’s president Vicente Fox.

The letter, prepared by the office for coordination of scientific research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), will be delivered to Congress. It says the cut "will not only threaten the country’s development […] but will also reverse the investment already made in the country".

Fox proposed the funding cut to parliament on 8 September. If accepted, it would reduce next year's budget for science and technology from 0.37 per cent of the country's gross domestic product to 0.35 per cent.

Only one week earlier, Fox had approved a decree stating that the national science budget would increase to one per cent of GDP by 2006 (see Last-minute boost for Mexican science budget).

"There's a big incongruity in the government, which on the one hand approves reforms to invest one per cent of GDP in science and technology, and on the other, tries to cut the funding in its proposal for 2005," said Francisco Bolívar Zapata, former president of the Mexican Academy of Sciences in an interview with Mexican newspaper Reforma on 17 October.

Although Fox's proposed cut is small, it would have a disproportionate effect on Mexico's National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT), whose income would be reduced by more than one tenth.

Since CONACYT is one of Mexico's main research funding bodies, changing its budget would affect research programmes across the country.

The Mexican Academy of Sciences has already lost half its funding from the federal government, granted through CONACYT, and was forced to cut several science popularisation programmes as a result.

The president's planned cuts will also directly affect public universities such as the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), reducing their total budgets by 3.2 per cent.

Juan Ramón de la Fuente, head of UNAM, and René Drucker Colín, the university's coordinator of scientific research, have both spoken against the cut.

"The Mexican science and technology system now faces its worst crisis ever," said de la Fuente.

"We are at risk of destroying what has been built in the last 30 years regarding science," said Drucker.

De la Fuente and Drucker, whose university conducts half of all Mexican scientific research, made their comments during the announcements earlier this month of five new research projects on water, nanotechnology, stem cell research, genomics and biodiversity.

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