By RICARDO CASTILLO
Is Russia meddling in the on-going Mexican electoral process?
Is U.S.-born but now-Mexican citizen and National Autonomous University of Mexico professor John Ackerman Russian President Vladimir Putin’s man in Mexico? Ackerman denies it, but that does not stop the Mexican press from pointing him out as the man behind the Russian election interference ploy?
Ackerman adamantly repudiates these allegations and the rumor of his being a Russian spy has been in the political gossip news for months, but the real noise-making began with an opinion article in The Washington Post on Jan. 11 by freelance journalism-blogger Frida Ghitis, who the The Post described as “a columnist for World Politics Review and a regular CNN.com opinion contributor.”
In her article on presidential pre-candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), Ms. Ghitis made the following statement:
“Observers started noticing months ago that the Kremlin’s unofficial television network, RT (Russia Today), which is available in Mexico, started giving vast amounts of time to López Obrador’s main English-language spokesman, John Ackerman. López Obrador recently announced that Ackerman’s wife will join his cabinet if he wins the election. And an RT program host even described Ackerman as ‘Our man in Mexico’.”
The article caused an immediate reaction in the Mexican press – as do most articles published by the WP and the NYT – from the numerous detractors AMLO currently boasts.
There were requests soliciting the Interior Secretariat (which runs the Migration Department) and Foreign Relations Secretariats to “strip Ackerman of his citizenship and deport him for treason,” according to Juan Ignacio Zavala, brother to former first lady and presidential hopeful Margarita Zavala.
Ackerman’s reaction was immediate, both in English and Spanish. He sent a letter to the editor of the WP, Michael Larabee, denying anything to do with the alleged Russian plot to interfere in the Mexican elections and chastising Ghitis for repeating the “falsehoods” that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), as well as the Mexican government, has been claiming about him for months.
Ackerman concluded his letter to editor Larabee claiming:
“If Russia really wanted to create chaos south of the Río Grande, the best strategy would be to support Peña Nieto in his bid to impose his successor, José Antonio Meade, by any means necessary, not by supporting López Obrador’s struggle for free and fair elections.
“The fabricated, fake news about a possible Russian intervention in the Mexican elections is pure fantasy. I respectfully call on Ms. Ghitis to do a little bit more research on the situation in Mexico before simply reproducing lies and speculations spread by agents of the Mexican government through the U.S media. Sincerely, John M. Ackerman.”
Last Tuesday, at an impromptu news conference, newly-appointed Interior Secretary Alfonso Prida Navarrete stated that “I have no information” about any Russian meddling in the Mexican election. as claimed not only by the Ghitis article but also by U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who alleged that the U.S. Embassy in Mexico had picked up “signs” of Russian interference in the Mexican electoral process.
In his reaction, in Spanish, Ackerson noted that the Mexican government is trying to discredit AMLO at all and any costs, including promoting AMLO’s candidacy in Venezuela in fake ads signed by the governing Venezuelan socialist party.
“The paintings on the walls, as (Ghitis’) blog passed by perfectly invisible in their countries of intent, but they were amply broadcast by Mexican journalists at the service of the regime as Ciro Gómez Leyva, Carlos Loret de Mola and José Cárdenas. It is very clear what will be the strategy between now and (Election Day) July 1.”
In an interview with Excelsior columnist Francisco Zendejas, who also spoke about the Ghitis article in the WP, Ackerman acknowledged that he is a contributor for RT, but he also writes for Mexican daily publication La Jornada and weekly publication Proceso, and also publishes abroad in The New York Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, The Guardian, Foreign Policy and Liberation.
Said columnist Zendejas, who sees the political steeplechase after Ackerman as “a lynching”, against him: “First of all, he mentioned the dirty war against López Obrador. ‘Nobody believed the painted walls in Venezuela, and that is why they are now holding on to the Russian thing,’ which he said will not have any effect in Mexico. ‘There is no anti-Russian hysteria in Mexico’.”
Zendejas added that he asked Ackerman, who according to the Excelsior publication, has 527,000 followers in Twitter: “What do you think about the version that you are a Russian agent?”
Ackerman, who studied law at the University of California at Santa Cruz and is editor of the Mexican Law Review (in English) answered: “It’s absurd, disparate, imported from the United States; they uphold their claims on the allegations of Russian interference” in the Mexican election, which “the Ambassador (Eduard Malayan) has already denied.”
Be that as it may, Ackerman is, for the moment, no doubt the best gringo piñata for Mexican detractors in Mexico, of course, after The Donald.