Even as he prepares to take office in a month, a mushrooming scandal in Mexico threatens that country’s new President, Enrique Pena Nieto.
Some call it Mexico’s Watergate; the comparison might even be apt.
Like Watergate—which picked up momentum only after Richard Nixon had won the ’72 Presidential election—the Narco Televisa Scandal is heating up just before Pena Nieto takes office.
Watergate had a largely unexplored Mexican connection. The Narco Televisa Scandal has an American angle. Both scandals involve drug money.
And therein lies the rub, explaining why reaction in the U.S.—despite billions of US taxpayer dollars pouring into the black hole of Mexico's drug war—has been a studied and exceedingly mild indifference.
“It has become known as the case of the fake journalists, read the lead in a recent wire report about the case distributed to American newspapers.
But this is untrue. No one in Mexico—where Televisa’s guilty involvement is almost a given—is calling it that. It is the Narco-Televisa Scandal.
Thousands of posts on Twitter discuss what happened to 18 Mexicans busted in Nicaragua driving a half-dozen satellite TV vans from Televisa.
They are at #Narco-Televisa. On the other hand, at #fake journalists, there is just one. It reads: “I love #fake journalists… You don't know how to write and wouldn't know a real story if it bit you in the ass.”
It is a small point, but telling.
Why no skepticism?
There is good reason to maintain a healthy skepticism about pronouncements by Mexico’s new President, and by Televisa as well, because both Pena Nieto and Televisa are involved in major recent scandals.
August also saw the arrest in Spain of a lieutenant for the Sinaloa Cartel whose day job was as a party functionary for Pena Nieto’s PRI. Rafael Celaya even posted pictures of himself hanging out with Mexico’s new President on Facebook.
Televisa and Pena Nieto together were also enmeshed in a scandal together. The Guardian published documents showing Televisa committing dirty tricks against other candidates to help Pena Nieto win the Mexico presidency, and—in a blatant pay for play scheme which listed fees for various services on offer—raising Peña Nieto's national profile while he was governor of the state of Mexico.
And Wikileaks released cables from the American Embassy in Mexico recently illustrating US concerns that the Mexican presidential election frontrunner had been paying for favorable TV coverage.
So why is a US reporter stationed in Mexico City, where all this is well-known, calling it—while providing no evidence to back the claim—the “fake journalists” scandal?
Read yourself into the story
How we got here:
On August 20, border guards in Nicaragua detain 18 Mexicans—17 men and one woman. They are all wearing Televisa t-shirts, and they are traveling in six satellite TV vans emblazoned with the Televisa logo. They carry press credentials from the network.
Customs officials received a tip from a Nicaraguan official who spent the previous evening in Tegucigalpa Honduras in the same hotel as the Mexicans. He became suspicious after hearing loose talk.
The leader of the group, 39-year-old Raquel Alatorre Correa, will be described in newspapers in Mexico City as a “brunette with voluptuous breasts, a wasp waist and an arrogant attitude.”
She is adorned with a Cartier watch, a Bvlgari Italian ring, a triangle-shaped diamond ring, several gold chains, an IPod, a Blackberry, and a two-way radio.
She is, in short, heavily-accessorized. And so is her mansion in Merida.
Later, when authorities in Mexico raid her homes and ranches (she has 12) in the Yucatan, they find her main residence has an electrified fence, two gates, security cameras, and special outdoor lighting.
She tells border officials—who find her high-handed and petulant—that she and her fellow journalists are in Nicaragua to do a story. When asked exactly where in Nicaragua they are headed, she says “I won’t tell you.”
A search of the satellite-TV vans is a foregone conclusion. What turns up is a surprise:
$9.2 million in cash, stuffed into built-in hidden compartments, as well as traces of cocaine. Prosecutors charge the group with money laundering, drug trafficking and organized crime.
Not the crime, but the cover-up
Questioned about the arrest of one of their TV crews, Televisa emphatically and categorically denies any link to either the Mexican suspects or the six satellite TV vans.
For good measure, and perhaps to show the earnestness of their intentions, the giant network threatens to sue the 18 incarcerated Mexicans—who are already looking at doing 30 years in a squalid Nicaraguan prison—for appropriating the company’s good name.
Next Mexico's Attorney General Marisela Morales steps into the fray, to say the suspects have falsely used Televisa’s name as a cover for criminal pursuits.
“Using the prestige or name of persons or companies without their knowledge,” she explains breezily, "is part of the way in which criminal organizations operate in Mexico and other countries.”
Despite her assurances, there is a problem: In Mexico City, journalists discover all six vans are registered to Televisa.
Her office is later forced to admit, to much derision, that her remarks weren’t based on the results of an independent investigation, but on assurances from Televisa.
But it’s the thought that counts.
“I want to live!”
Another similarity between Watergate and NarcoTelevisa: Woodward and Bernstein could tell when their investigation was close to hitting pay dirt by how shrill personal attacks on the two became. As they delved into the Miami Cuban burglar’s connections, they were also looking nervously over their shoulders.
No one yet knew for certain whether being a “nattering nabob of negativism” had become a capital offense.
In Mexico— where journalists start off on much much shakier ground— the attacks are already pretty shrill. Pursuing the Narco-Televisa scandal becomes a badge of courage. In the best of times, taking on the largest mass media company in the Spanish-speaking world would be no easy assignment.
And these are not the best of times. Dozens of reporters are being murdered in the current drug war. Reporters are being bullied—so far just in print—to leave the Narco-Televisa scandal alone.
In the columns of unfriendly journalists, reporter Carmen Aristegui stands accused of being a “manipulative freak” who is “sickly obsessed.” She has a “communication strategy Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels would have loved.”
She is said to share (with Proceso magazine) a “fixation.” To suffer from a “Fatal Obsession.” To engage in “pure unsubstantiated sensationalism,” and to “repeat a lie a certain number of times hoping it will become the truth.”
Her reporting on the “Cocaine Caravan” scandal is “an incredible waste of resources, both financial and human.”
“Yet Aristegui persists in disguising her obsession with famous phrases like ‘the public interest’ and ‘questions that deserve answers.’”
Cooler heads observe that Carmen Aristegui has won Mexico’s National Journalism Award on four occasions, as well as the Cabot Prize from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
In a recent radio interview, she says, plaintively and poignantly, “I want to live!”
Nicaraguan authories underwhelmed
Nicaraguan authorities seem underwhelmed with the response to requests for information they have received from both Televisa and Mexican law enforcement. “The claim that Televisa was the victim of an illegal operation," says the Attorney General of Nicaragua, “must be supported by evidence.”
The prosecutor in the case pointedly states that he has not yet been satisfied that Televisa is not involved.
According to prosecutors, the narcos, or the narco-journalists, from Televisa have been running, for the past five years, a drug trafficking and money laundering pipeline running the length of Central America.
If six satellite TV vans bearing Televisa logos ran up and down Central America for almost five years without anyone at the network noticing, it would be of a piece with the impunity which Mexican oligarchs believe is their due.
More difficult to explain is why news reports in the U.S. dismissed claims of Televisa’s involvement out of hand, labeling the 18 Mexicans a “phony news crew” and saying they are “posing as journalists.”
As weeks pass, there are a series of revelations. The six vans, it turns out, were registered to Televisa.
Televisa's response was to insist that motor vehicle personnel had been bribed. Notorized documents make this seem unlikely. Then, too, there are letters on Televisa letterhead signed by the vice president of the news division, asking border officials to expedite the vans entrance into their country.
The 18 Mexicans may not be journalists. But that doesn't mean Televisa isn't involved.
Reporter Tim Johnson, stationed in Mexico City for McClatchy Newspapers, allows that the Nicaragua drug case is vexing Televisa.
BBC News point out that “2012 has not been a good year for the largest television producer in the Hispanic world."
That seems to be as pointed as criticism of elite deviants gets these days.
Impunity on both sides of the border
Of course, Mexico isn't the only country where well-connected drug traffickers ply their trade with impunity.
When a DC-9 left St Petersburg Florida and was busted at 6 PM Central Time on the evening of April 10 with 5.5 tons of cocaine, FAA registration records clearly showed the plane’s owner was Frederic Geffon of St Petersburg.
Geffon claimed he'd sold the plane. But he didn't inform the FAA of the sale until after it was seized. However, this didn't bother anyone in a position to put Geffon behind bars.
Frederic Geffon got a Mulligan. A 5.5 ton 'do-over.'
In the US, where bailed-out banks—but not bankers— are regularly accused of fraud, top-level oligarchs in Mexico caught with their hand in the cookie jar never break a sweat.
And in America's endless war on drugs, every US administration, liberal or conservative, pursues exactly the same course, spending billions of American taxpayer dollars supporting completely and thoroughly corrupt governments in places like Colombia and Mexico which don’t fight the drug trade, but enable it.
There is only one plausible explanation for such an obviously wrong-headed policy:
Somebody in the US must be getting very very rich.