24 May 2010

Paulette, Peña Nieto and the presidency

UPDATE: State of Mexico Attorney General Alberto Bazbaz resigned May 25, just the latest fallout from the botched investigation into the death of four-year-old Paulette Gebara Farah.

Gob. Enrique Peña Nieto
State of Mexico Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto speaks to reporters Nov. 12 in Cuautitlán Izcalli, to north of Mexico City, before meeting with Mexico's Catholic bishops' conference.

Could the inept investigation into the death of Paulette Gebara Farah - a four-year-old girl found dead in her own bed nine days after investigators supposedly had searched her room - derail the 2012 presidential aspirations of State of Mexico Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto?

It's too soon to tell, but a recent survey by María de las Herras suggests the fallout has negatively impacted the governor - the leading contender for the Institutional Revolutionary Party candidacy in 2012 and the early favourite for the presidency itself.

The de las Herras survey, published in the Spanish newspaper El Pais, found 45 percent of respondents saying their opinion of Peña Nieto worsened because of the Paulette fiasco, which continues generating a bizarre mix of curiosity, outrage and disbelief across the country.

The outrage and disbelief grew even larger after State of Mexico Attorney General Alberto Bazbaz announced the absence of foul play and explained the circumstances of her death.

As my former editor Malcolm Beith explains on his blog:

The authorities have concluded that the 4-year-old girl who went missing for 9 days this Spring and was then found in her bed, dead, died in that very bed, of her own accidental smothering. Apparently, she was actually in the bed the whole time. Apparently, she was there while the police searched her room, the house, detained the mom, searched some more, put up billboards and launched TV ads looking for her, while an aunt slept in the very bed where she was supposedly lying dead.

This story is too fucking ridiculous to be true.

The Mexican public seems to agree - 71 percent of respondents in the de las Herras poll say they don't believe the official explanation. And now, in an even more bizarre twist, Paulette's mother, Lizette Farah told reporters May 24 that she doubts the explanation, too.

"For me, it's difficult to believe the conclusions and I've not had access to the file, in spite of our filing for three injunctions, and the Attorney General's Office of the State of Mexico has never lent it to me," Farah said.

The behaviour of judicial officials has failed to surprise some political observers as the state - a diverse mix of wealthy industrialized areas, ramshackle suburbs of Mexico City founded by squatters and a rural landscape, too - is famed for corruption and sleazy politics.

It gained fame for crime in recent years, too - especially for displacing Ciudad Juárez as the jurisdiction with highest rates of murders committed against women. Most of those crimes have not been solved.

State judicial officials now say the Paulette case is solved, but few people are buying it and the process has been questioned.

"In the Paulette case, people no longer know if they should think it's a sin of negligence, corruption or stupidity. In any of those three cases, the cost for Peña Nieto could be very high," de las Heras wrote.

Or, it might not have much of a cost at all.

Peña Nieto has maintained high levels of popularity in the State of Mexico as a well-oiled publicity machine - and generous coverage from media outlets such as the Televisa broadcasting empire - continually publicizes various public works projects his government claims credit for completing.

Peña Nieto has the inside track winning the PRI nomination for 2012, too, as he effectively controls the PRI and Green Party factions in the Chamber of Deputies and, according to many political observers, controls many of the PRI's state governors - key power brokers in the party, which has a weak central leadership.

The Paulette case may continue generating public outrage for some time - and Peña Nieto's critics will continually revive the matter - but how much it impacts the governor's long-term political fortunes remains to be seen.

No comments: