Angelica Rivera, the wife of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, was forced to release a video statement on Wednesday, defending herself against accusations of “a conflict of interest” after her mansion home was found to be registered in the name of a company that had received contracts from her husband during his time as governor of Mexico State.
In the video, Rivera, a former soap opera actor, set out to justify her wealth and revealed details of her finances, saying: “I have nothing to hide.” Among her claims was the shocking revelation that her employer, the media company Televisa, paid her 131 million pesos ($10 million) in 2010*.
The statement sparked an intense reaction from journalists and bloggers, and Rivera came under heavy fire, particularly on social media, where she was the butt of an endless stream of jokes and memes. Mexican soap actor Ana De la Reguera, who had moved from Televisa to rival company Azteca for better pay, tweeted: “So why did I go to Azteca, and then Los Angeles if Televisa pay so well?”
The Hollywood actor Rob Schneider joked that he would love to work on a Mexican soap opera, and Rivera’s daughter Sofía Castro was even insulted in Las Vegas by a woman who accused her family of robbing Mexico.
Following the video, it emerged that other more famous actors such as Gloria Trevi, Thalia and Veronica Castro had signed 5 year deals with Televisa worth $500,000 to $600,000 a year; a fraction of the amount that Rivera reported.
Univision correspondent Enrique Acevedo found her explanation unsatisfactory: “So is Angelica Rivera the best paid actor in the history of Mexican television and cinema?” he asked.
Journalist Javier Garza Ramos pointed out that Rivera was buying a mansion of $7 million over 8 years at 9% interest, yet in a year made enough to buy it outright. Such a move would have meant that she saved on the interest but still had $3 million to live on.
Amid the furor, some key questions emerged: How could a moderately well-known Mexican soap actor amass such a fortune? Moreover, why was she being paid this amount in a year in which she hadn’t been involved in a single Televisa production?
The suspicion of corruption lingered over the issue and even led people to question whether this was money attained through purely legal means.
Yet it is unlikely that Rivera would declare ilicit funds to the tax authorities. It is possible that the sum does indeed come entirely from Televisa, who perhaps saw in Rivera an opportunity to deepen ties with then Governor Peña Nieto, whom she married in November 2010.
The Guardian newspaper has published an outline of fees apparently charged by Televisa for raising Peña Nieto’s profile when he became governor in 2005. Yet by late 2010, the situation may have reversed, with Televisa deciding to make an investment in the man who had already established himself as the PRI Party’s likely nominee for the 2012 presidential elections.
Journalist Jo Tuckman has written extensively on the two main television networks, who control around 90% of free channels, and “are widely perceived to be political kingmakers.”
Televisa’s generous dealings with Angelica Rivera, who was given a Mexico City home upon the termination of her already highly lucrative contract, suggest that the network sought to deepen ties with the couple.
Another possibility is that Rivera’s story is a lie, a hastily fabricated cover story designed to wriggle out of a scandal over a home that she could never possibly afford. It would be short sighted for the First Lady to quote such an eye-catching figure, but it remains a popular theory on social media.
What is beyond doubt is that Rivera’s own defense has drastically altered her image. From a silent First Lady defined almost entirely in relationship to the President, she was transformed overnight into an indignant Mexican Marie Antoinette, a key focus of popular resentment in a country rife with inequality.
* It should be noted that in Rivera’s statement it was unclear whether this amount was annual income or the earnings from work carried out over a number of years as part of a contract. In either case, it would make her among the best paid actors in Mexico, but the difference in earnings is nevertheless huge, and there is an urgent need for clarification on the issue.