Peña Nieto campaigning. (Photo: Francisco Olvera)
A Candidate is Marketed as Mexicans Prepare to Vote

The clear frontrunner in the run-up to Mexico’s July 1 presidential election is a slick insider with no known political convictions other than achieving and retaining power. His name is Enrique Peña Nieto. A former governor of the state of Mexico (a state that surrounds much of Mexico City) Peña Nieto is a long-time member of, and the creation of, the traditionally ruling—currently out of office though never out of power—Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

The PRI’s political influence extends into its rival political parties. This past June 3, former president Vicente Fox of the conservative National Action Party (PAN)—who supposedly broke the PRI’s seven-decade stranglehold on power by winning the presidential election of 2000—surprised and angered many of his fellow PANistas by announcing his support for “the next president of Mexico, who according to the polls will be Peñã Nieto.” Fox told a news conference that since Peña Nieto is the frontrunner, “we should support him to resolve our problems. It would be a mistake, to spend the next six years attacking one another.”

Fox’s endorsement of the PRI candidate reinforced a widely held belief on the left that the PRI and the PAN represent two wings of the same party, sometimes referred to as the PRIAN. The deeper meaning of Fox’s cross-party endorsement has been debated here, and there is no real consensus as to what it’s all about. One strand of opinion says it’s all about the PAN’s internal divisions and Fox’s loyalty to the real forces that rule Mexico—embodied by the owners of the television duopoly Televisa and TV Azteca. Others see opposition to the candidate of his own party—a former cabinet minister in his own administration named Josefina Vasquez Mota—as having little or nothing to do with his opposition to her candidacy but primarily as a move against the candidate running second in the polls, the leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Fox may be pushing for a sort of “useful vote” to keep López Obrador out of the presidency (i.e. don’t split the anti-López Obrador vote between a likely winner and a likely loser). This was the strategy that got Fox elected in 2000 when the useful-vote message was: Don’t split the anti-PRI vote between a possible winner (Fox) and a likely loser (the PRD candidate Cuautémoc Cárdenas).

Meanwhile, Peña Nieto has become the target of the latest round of student activism, which is protesting his candidacy as an imposition of the two major television networks, Televisa and TV Azteca. The student movement (known as “Yo Soy 132” after Peña Nieto refused to meet with a group of 131 student protestors) has been dismissed not only by the PRI candidate, but also by ex-President Fox who has referred to the protesters as a group of innocents manipulated from behind the scenes. “I don’t believe in spontaneous generation,” says Fox. “Simply, I don’t believe it possible that one hundred, five hundred or a thousand young people can reach an agreement overnight on a theme to pursue. Simply speaking, someone set this up from behind.” The instant communication of the new social networks does not exist in Fox’s belief system. The slower-moving wheeling and dealing of backroom politics apparently does.

Now, reporters for the London-based Guardian have unearthed documents suggesting that Peña Nieto has purchased favorable coverage from the two televised-news networks. According to dozens of documents—spreadsheets, personal letters and proposals—unearthed by the paper, and follow-up interviews with present and former Televisa employees, the Peña Nieto campaign has purchased news coverage and even soap opera themes from the network designed to damage the image of López Obrador. The broker of this campaign-network news deal seems to be a marketing company called Radar Servicios Especializados.

The Guardian reported, “a second source who had previously worked for Televisa…confirmed that meetings had taken place within the company to discuss a campaign to damage the presidential chances of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The source—who has no personal sympathy for the former Mexico City mayor—said the sale of political content was widespread, particularly oblique promotion of political clients within entertainment shows.”

In this last scenario, it is not so much that the networks, and the people who control them, have chosen Peña Nieto to do their bidding, as it is that Peña Nieto, and the people who control him, have purchased his way into power. In the bad old days of PRI domination and corruption, people routinely spoke of politics as heavy-handed fraud. Now the subject matter is politics as U.S.-style marketing.

This article was originally published by NACLA.