Impunity is a persistent theme in Mexican society. It has been manifest everywhere from the courts and elections, to the recent massacre in Guerrero. Many Mexicans are suspicious of the two major TV networks, Televisa and Azteca, whose bland and polished coverage has led not just to accusations of bias but to allegations of secret deals with political parties.
Yet there are some journalists, such as Carmen Aristegui and Jorge Ramos, who have established a reputation for rigorous reporting in the face of considerable pressure for conformity. Here are five occasions when key Mexican figures have come under scrutiny, and faced the questions that they are so keen to avoid.
1. Future president Enrique Peña Nieto forgets how his first wife died
For more than two years, there was speculation and rumour surrounding the early death of Monica Pretellini, the first wife of then Governor Enrique Peña Nieto. The magazine Proceso reported that even the doctors at the hospital were surprised by the cause of death, which was reported as an attack of epilepsy. The discovery that the Governor had two children with other women, and the deadly attack in the city of Veracruz on four bodyguards who were close to his family, further deepened suspicions.
It was in this climate that Jorge Ramos asked Peña Nieto about his wife’s death in 2009. Astonishingly, he failed to remember the name of the condition she had suffered from. In a follow up interview in 2011, Ramos asked him directly: “Did you have anything to do with her death?” Peña Nieto denied being involved, and described his inability to recall her medical condition as a “lapse”.
2. Elba Esther Gordillo is questioned on her wealth
The former teacher’s union boss Elba Esther Gordillo is notorious for her extravagant (tax-funded) lifestyle, Machiavellian maneuvering and fascination with the occult. Described as a “King-maker” by journalist Jo Tuckman, Gordillo has held enormous influence over elections by encouraging her 1.4 million union members to vote as a single bloc. In 2008, Televisa’s Carlos Loret posed some uncomfortable questions to “the Teacher” about her personal wealth and properties, which allegedly include a waterfront mansion in California, and some nine other houses in Mexico City and the United States.
It isn’t surprising that this line of questioning came from Televisa, which traditionally has links to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). By 2008, Gordillo had broken ties with her old party and was closer to the governing National Action Party (PAN).
This shift in loyalties may have been her undoing. It left her open to negative coverage from Televisa but crucially, it may also have contributed to her arrest for embezzlement in 2013.
3. Carlos Salinas de Gortari is confronted about suspected electoral fraud in 1988
On election night in 1988, there was widespread disbelief that the left wing candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas was ahead in the count. The election wasn’t rigged. After 59 years in power, the PRI party was finally on the way out.
Suddenly, a computer failure brought the system down. When it was restored, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the candidate of the ruling party, had surged ahead in the vote, eventually winning the election by a 20% margin.
Cuauhtemoc Cardenas denounced the electoral fraud, but feared provoking a violent crackdown, so avoided confrontation in the streets. Anger about the election lingers on, and in 2008, Jorge Ramos questioned former President Salinas on the shady circumstances surrounding his rise to power.
4. Subcomandante Marcos is questioned on his identity
Subcomandante Marcos shot to fame in 1994, when the Zapatista army launched an uprising in Chiapas, one of the poorest states in Mexico. It was a brief, symbolic rebellion, but one that seized the imagination of millions across Mexico and abroad.
Two years later, and hidden behind his famous mask, the Zapatista spokesman looked uncharacteristically bashful, adjusting the balaclava and emptying his trademark pipe. He was being questioned about his identity, and the family he had left behind.
His interviewer Jorge Ramos suggested that he was Rafael Guillen, the son of a Spanish salesman from the state of Tamaulipas, and a former philosophy lecturer in Mexico City. Marcos denied the claim, jokingly pleading with female viewers not to believe Ramos, and followed with several enigmatic statements presumably designed to obscure and distract.
His reaction revealed a personal side to the man behind the Marcos persona.
5. Drug Lord Rafael Caro Quintero is interviewed by reporters
Rafael Caro Quintero is a founding member of the Guadalajara Cartel, a drug trafficking organization that was initially granted immunity by the CIA due to its “charitable contributions to the Contras” in Nicaragua. In Mexico, he is known as “the Narco of Narcos” and has been accused of a series of murders, including that of American DEA agent Enrique Camarena.
In 1985, he was detained for his part in Camarena’s murder and sentenced to forty years in prison. He was questioned by reporters a month after his arrest. It was the first television interview with a criminal leader of his stature, and he cut a surprising figure for a man facing a murder charge. The curly haired gangster smiled and joked for the cameras, almost seeming to enjoy the spotlight.
In 2013, a tribunal ordered his release, having discovered that he was improperly tried in a federal court for crimes that should have been handled at the state level. Under pressure from the United States, the Mexican authorities issued another arrest warrant just days after his release but so far he has avoided recapture.