LATIN AMERICA

Video shot at party brings down Mexican congressional leaders

Coordinator and vice-coordinator of right-wing PAN ousted after release of footage filmed in resort city

An image from a video showing a PAN deputy dancing.
An image from a video showing a PAN deputy dancing.

A video has done what months of allegations had not been able to do. Luis Alberto Villarreal, the controversial coordinator of the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) camp in the Chamber of Deputies, has been dismissed from his post two days after the release of a video shot at a party he attended. His second-in-command, PAN vice-coordinator Jorge Villalobos, was also ousted. Since November 2013 national media outlets have been accusing these politicians of taking bribes in exchange for approving budgets for public works.

On Monday, newspaper Reporte Índigo published images filmed in January in a mansion in the resort of Puerto Vallarta in western Mexico. The recording shows the two politicians drinking and dancing at a party with some women. Lawmakers were in the city for a congressional plenary meeting where they would outline the strategy to meet the administration’s reform agenda. Reporte Índigo said the women seen at the party were escorts who work in strip clubs in the tourist city.

What I see is a process of decadence, moral degradation, and corruption” Former Mexican president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012)

In a letter to the newspaper, Villarreal said he was an invited guest at a “private event” that had nothing to do with the plenary meeting and denied the supposition that there was “use of public resources” at the party. “I offer my apology to those who may have felt hurt by my participation in this event,” he added. Villalobos offered a “sincere apology” on Twitter to his friends and relatives for his behavior.

PAN president Gustavo Madero said he was “renewing” the coordinating and vice-coordinating offices of the party. Dismissing two of his closest people was a big blow for the PAN leader, who was re-elected in May. For months, Madero had been refusing to reprimand Villarreal and Villalobos despite the veil of suspicion surrounding them after Reforma newspaper accused them of a bribing scheme that involved Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) members.

According to Reforma and AM newspaper, which is based in the city of León, various mayors said a group of lawmakers – including Villarreal, Villalobos and PRI congressional leader Manlio Fabio Beltrones – offered them funding for public works in exchange for a “commission” and their choice of construction companies. Madero defended his men, saying there was “no proof” and that the newspapers’ stories were based on “leaks.”

Villalobos is from Chihuahua and he was Madero’s personal secretary – many PAN members see him as Madero’s fixer. This is not the first scandal to have affected him. In May 2013, Villalobos was heard boasting of his political influence on some telephone recordings that came to light.

Villarreal denied that there was “use of public resources” at the party

Guanajuato native and PAN congressional leader Luis Alberto Villarreal is not known for his puritan ways. He lives in an elegant area of Mexico City and his neighbors say he likes to hold parties late into the night at his apartment.

The episode worsens the crisis within the PAN. Founded in 1939, the party was first seen as a Catholic organization. One of its most prominent intellectuals, Manuel Gómez Morín, wrote about his intention to bring clean people into politics, people who had not been touched by corruption.

On Monday, PAN member and former president Felipe Calderón resurfaced to present a book about his administration (2006-2012). In a telephone interview with journalist Joaquín López-Dóriga, the former head of state dedicated a few brief words to the crisis. “It makes me sad. What I see is a process of decadence, moral degradation, and corruption.”

Translation: Dyane Jean François