By RICARDO CASTILLO
Last week, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto went on an unprecedented spree of interviews with three major television stations (Televisa, Imagen and TVAzteca). He was also interviewed by the leftist daily La Jornada and other newspapers.
But should the president be doing this nowadays? There are a number of reasons he is launching this media blitz. First off, he is doing it to counterattack the massive amount of 24-hour-a-day publicity his former presidential candidacy contender and now President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is receiving. In a comparative air time count. AMLO is beating Peña Nieto by a 10 to 1 ratio. In short, Peña Nieto is totally overshadowed by the future president, who will not officially take power until next Dec. 1.
Unlike many times in the past, Peña Nieto finally acknowledged two issues that have been wrecking his fame over his nearly six years in power. One is his personal involvement in the purchase of “the white house” – a $7 million property in the plush Chapultepec Heights District in Mexico City and the coldblooded murder of 43 education students in the state of Guerrero by a raw opium trafficking gang who thought they belonged to a different cartel. They fizzled their bodies in acid, making them disappear.
The general impression of Peña Nieto’s interviews is that no matter how much he tries to conceal it, he looks overwhelmed by the current events surrounding him. His administration will go down in history as if not the most ever, at least the most corrupt of the new millennium.
Another motive for the interviews is the fact that next, Monday, Sept. 3, Peña Nieto will be delivering his last State of the Nation Address, with which he will formally begin passing on the reins of government to AMLO and his all-new cabinet.
Some observers claim that he will not misbehave during the upcoming three-month lull period and will be confident that President-elect AMLO will keep his promise to not seek revenge nor unleash a witch hunt against his administration. Peña Nieto expects impunity from AMLO. Some pundits say the question turning over in his mind is: Will AMLO keep his word?
In the interview with Denisse Maerker of Televisa a week ago Monday, Peña Nieto finally admitted that the “white house” had been “bought” by him and his wife, soap opera actress Angelica Rivera, best known as “The Seagull” for playing a poor barefoot peasant (with fake eyelashes, of course) that made her famous throughout Latin America.
The real story, however, was published by muckraking radio journalist and now-CNN reporter Cármen Aristegui, who at the time, said that the house was a kickback from the contractor Higa Constructions for awarding them – without any bidding – the construction of the Mexico City-Querétaro Rapid Train, a maglev project.
Back then, “The Seagull” read a statement on television claiming she’d paid for the “white house” mansion from the savings she made from her soap opera career. At the time, it sounded totally impossible, and it was. The kickback payment story hurt worse than a sore toe. The Rapid Train project had to be junked, much to the chagrin of the Chinese company that was to provide the machinery for operations. And also by those of us who often travel on the deadly overcrowded Mexico-City-Querétaro freeway.
But the “white house” and the Ayotzinapa murders are just the tip of the iceberg. A myriad of Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) political companions who went over to become governors are now in jail. The case of Javier Duarte of Veracruz is certainly the noisiest, since Duarte robbed the administration of all it had. In fact, Duarte considered himself “the new PRI” back in 2011. When Duarte was thrown in the slammer last year on charges of rampant corruption, his crimes became the most talked about issue in the nation and the biggest black spot on Peña Nieto’s impeccable white shirt. Other governors now on the lam are Roberto Borge of Quintana Roo (public land theft) and César Duarte of Chihuahua (no relation to Javier), who is reportedly nowadays hiding in El Paso.
A salient point of discussion with anchor Ciro Gómez Leyva of Imagen television (owned by Excelsior daily newspaper) was the current construction of the Mexico City-Toluca rapid train.
The focus of the interview was that there is no way in which the Toluca rapid train can be finished in three months. President Peña Nieto put the remaining construction time for the next year and a half. There’s serious doubt, however, as to whether AMLO will put up the finances to finish this train.
With the La Jornada newspaper reporter, Peña Nieto evaded the question of whether he had made a mistake with his appointment of José Antonio Meade as the PRI candidate for president. “The PRI decided for Meade to run,” the president said. “He was a great collaborator of mine, but he just didn’t make the grade as a presidential candidate.”
Peña Nieto also described his worst moment during the past five and a half years as president, Aug. 31, 2016, two years ago this Friday.
“When we accepted the visit of then-candidate Donald Trump, that did not leave a favorable balance,” he said. “We rushed into that decision. But in the end, I see something positive: to have laid a communications bridge to allow us to bring to a good conclusion the renegotiation of a free trade agreement.”
There were many more issues – drug trafficking, security, organized crime and the state of the economy. In another interview with TVAzteca, the station’s soft-peddling anchor Xavier Alatorre did not pin Peña Nieto down like all the others over the fact that the 64 percent popularity he began his six-year term with back in December 2012 has plummeted to at best 12 percent today.
From riches to rags, so to speak.