129,434,606 pesos on image enhancement, in one of Mexico's poorest states
In a country where the official poverty rate is 45%, and things may be getting harder, not easier, for the man on the street, Mexico's upward bound politicians spare not a centavo in boosting personal images.
The first to draw press attention was Jalisco governor Aristóteles Sandoval, shortly after he was sworn in last year as the state's PRI governor. Sandoval hired the same photographer that Enrique Peña Nieto engaged for his official portrait, arranging the shoot to project a decidedly presidential image - not surprising, since Sandoval is on a short list of 2018 candidates. The bill for each, Mexican news sources reported, was in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Now Chiapas governor Manuel Velasco's finds himself under the press blowtorch. Velasco (top photo) has admitted that since he took office (Dec. 8, 2012), his administration has spent a whopping 130 million pesos on "publicity." At today's exchange rate, that's one million dollars, minus some change.
To be sure, the 33 year old Velasco is a very popular governor in Chiapas, a desperately poor state with a long history of open defiance to Mexico City. Even foreign-born molotov cocktail specialists pass through the countryside to pay their respects before setting out on missions.
The press reports, which have been delivered with all the subtlety of a fist in the jaw by several national newspapers, are not likely to hurt Velasco. That's true even though yesterday Enrique Peña Nieto traveled to neighboring Guerrero state to deliver a major speech on the need to attack poverty, especially Mexico's severe pobreza alimentaria, which has added a million people to its ranks since 2010.
Velasco remains popular with the heavily indigenous population of Chiapas because he has shown himself to be a competent administrator, because he is obviously respected by the president (watch the video below), and well, because it doesn't hurt to have a very attractive fiance who is also a singer and songwriter.
There may another reason, too, although it's rarely acknowledged by anyone. In a nation of dark skinned citizens, for politicians it definitely pays to be as light as possible. One look at Sandoval's and Peña Nieto's official mugshots explains the concept. People of color and indigenous groups often the target of discrimination in Mexico.
No less a person than the president of the Republic poured attention on Governor Velasco last October, while completely ignoring the presence of Mexico's virtual vice-president.
Back to Chiapas financial affairs. Velasco denied that his lavish publicity expenditures have anything to do with the early launching of a presidential bid in 2018. "I have no interest in being a candidate, despite widespread speculation to the contrary," he said, in a denial which will seem to some more like an acknowledgment of just that.
News sources report that with increasing frequency Velasco's smiling, boyish face is appearing on billboards not only in Chiapas, but in the Federal District and EDOMEX (the state of Mexico) which lies just beyond its borders. More significant is that the partisan labels plastered by his name are Partido Verde (the Green Party) and PRI - suggesting, perhaps, some sort of a political coalition in the works for 2018.
Mexico has reasonably strong freedom of information laws, but so far the Chiapas Institute of Social Communications has refused press requests for a detailed accounting of to whom all that money was paid, and for exactly what services. In a very bureaucratic rejection, ICOSO said the release of such data "could cause damage to the rule of law, to state security, cultural development and the general well being of the citizenry." There may be an appeal of the ruling.
On Tuesday the conservative, center right National Action Party (PAN) filed a complaint over the expenditures with Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute, but it is far from clear that the IFE has jurisdiction in the matter.
Jan. 3, 2013 - Mexican governors continue to raise their salaries, with half the nation in poverty
This photo was taken in Mérida, not Chiapas, but such scenes are ubiquitous on Mexican streets
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