By RICARDO CASTILLO
As they say, no news is good news, but “no news” can also make for great gossip. Here’s a now-shelved tidbit from the files of recent “scandals,” which as it turned out and as in most cases of political buzz in Mexican, was just another tempest in a teapot.
National Regeneration Movement (Morena) Deputy Tatiana Clouthier recently published a memoire about what it was like for her to be at the helm of now-Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) campaign a year ago. She was his campaign manager.
Among the many issues in her book, titled “Together We Made History” (AMLO’s campaign slogan was “Juntos Haremos Historia,” or “Together We Will Make History”), Clouthier talked about a specific mudslinging campaign against AMLO. Surprisingly, she mentioned in that chapter a renowned Mexican historian, Enrique Krauze, who she alleged was the brainchild behind the campaign, with financing from several well-known Mexican zillionaires. All this boiled down to nothing new since there was no crime to pursue, just standard campaign politicking.
The real controversy had to do with Krauze’s reaction. He publicly threatened to sue Clouthier for libel and slander. She responded that she was ready and had all the facts at hand to prove that Krauze was guilty as sin. “I’ll see you in court,” she said.
Adding a dry log to the raging fire was a public statement made by Finance Secretariat tax fraud investigator Santiago Nieto, who hinted that the anti-AMLO campaign might have involved some money laundering.
This infuriated Krauze even more, and he took a vociferous stance until AMLO himself had to intervene, promising that there would be no political persecution against anyone and that he wanted to let bygones be bygones.
AMLO, however, did admit that in the past, he and Krauze “had had their differences” as AMLO has accused Krauze – albeit never by name – of being “a conservative disguised as a liberal.”
Clouthier said in her book that Krauze was the leader of “Operation Berlin,” a troll factory specifically designed to derail AMLO’s presidential campaign.
Krauze outright denied having had anything to do with “Operation Berlin” – thus named because it was carried out in an old mansion on Berlin street in the Coyoacán neighborhood in southern Mexico City – but no sooner had the famous historian denied it than an online publication called Eje Central (Central Axis) published a full-fledged article claiming that Krause had masterminded the mudslinging campaign against AMLO. They article gave every detail of the alleged scheme, including the names of entrepreneurs furniture stores owner Agustín Coppel, movie theaters Cinepolis chain owner Alejandro Ramírez, and mining and railroad tycoon Germán Larrea, as well as others who supposedly financed the entire campaign.
The only flaw in the Eje Central article was that all the quotes were credited to a single anonymous source. Based on this, Krauze went on to again deny having anything to do with the operation, which forced the anonymous source to come out in the open and do an interview with famous muckraking radio talk show personality Carmen Aristegui.
Journalist Ricardo Sevilla then uncovered the whole scam, providing Aristegui with the payment receipts issued by the Coppel Foundation – a nonprofit organization – providing all of the money for the payroll and expenses, since there were over 20 people linked to the scandal, including hackers, media specialists and talent who, during the presidential campaign, allegedly flooded the media with fake news regarding López Obrador and the people surrounding him.
(In case you’re interested, you can google Sevilla’s presentation on Aristegui Noticias, of all the receipts he presented that he said had been paid to him for churning out fake news.)
Then, with the help of several friendly columnists in the print media, Krauze began another campaign, claiming that he was being slandered and that AMLO was a petty dictator who was opposed to freedom of speech. These columnists (León Zuckerman and Raymundo Riva Palacio) claimed that Krauze was the subject of a political witch hunt.
At this point, Clouthier said that Krauze’s reaction both in his denial and in his complaining of political persecution and “character assassination” was a way of playing the victim by distorting facts and attracting attention away from other subjects. “The way he puts things seems to me to be an absurd, but at the same time astute, tactic,” she said.
Right in the midst of this noisy affair last week came the announcement made by AMLO that “as of this moment neoliberalism in Mexico is dead.”
Mind you, AMLO’s “assassination” of neoliberalism had a very clear target, besides the past six presidents of Mexico, and that was historian Enrique Krauze, as well as his intellectual bodyguard Zuckerman, who is a self-proclaimed neoliberal. (Zuckerman remains a fierce AMLO critic.) This time, AMLO said – without mentioning names – that “conservatives are hypocrites.”
During the more than a year “Operation Berlin” lasted, it allegedly created thousands of anti-AMLO bots, as well as a documentary called “Populism in Latin America,” in which AMLO was compared to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro. It also implicated gringo expat and National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) law professor John Ackerman — the Mexico correspondent for Russia Today (RT) radio and television and a big AMLO fan – with Donald Trump-style fake news stories suggesting that there were Russians behind AMLO. In fact, back then, AMLO went campaigning to Veracruz and joked that “here I am at the port, waiting for a load of Russian gold and someone to call me Manuelovich,” referring to the word “tovarovich” or comrade. These are just some of the highlights, but Krauze’s alleged campaign was a fan of blabber, spreading dung all over Mexico.
Ricardo Sevilla said during the Aristegui interview that the mudslinging campaign had its highlights during the three debates between the presidential candidates and that “Operation Berlin” supplied National Action Party (PAN) candidate Ricardo Anaya with enough material to put AMLO up against the wall. That material, however, was not used.
Finally, nowadays, with Krauze’s “guilt” out in the open, the issue of whether “Operation Berlin” was legal or illegal has become a mute point. Tatiana Clouthier claims she’s still got lots of ammo against Krauze, and Treasury tax collector Santiago Nieto says the entire affair was suspect of money laundering, among other crimes. For sure, the Coppel Foundation did misuse funds that had been earmarked for nonprofit charitable ventures. Nevertheless, neither Clouthier nor Nieto will file suit.
But the buck was clearly stopped by AMLO, who has no intentions of filing a suit for the same reason he has not proceeded against former presidents of Mexico, whom he claims could face jail time if indicted.
No suit, no case, no news … but indeed a juicy topic for gossipmongers like truly yours.
(A posdata not Krauze – not the rabid politico that he was painted to be in this petty scandal — allow me recommend his book, “A Century of Caudillos,” that narrates Mexican history since the nation was founded in 1821 through to the start of the Revolution 1910. It’s available in English through Amazon. It’s excellent and surprisingly objective. Nothing to do with the guy described above!)