LATIN AMERICA

From ‘Big Brother’ to candidate in one of Mexico’s most violent cities

Former reality TV star Sandra Casar has been chosen to run on the PRD ticket in Tamaulipas

Sandra Casar in the ‘Big Brother’ house.
Sandra Casar in the ‘Big Brother’ house.Facebook

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When Sandra Casar sent an audition tape to the Mexican version of Big Brother she included on it a list of life goals. “Skydiving, work as a missionary, do an exchange program in Israel, get to know certain cultures and be on Big Brother,” she said. But the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) has given the 30-year-old a responsibility she did not include on her bucket list. She will be the mayoral candidate for Victoria, the capital of Tamaulipas, one of the most violent states in Mexico.

Casar, who goes by the username Shira La Judía (Shira, the Jew) on social media, is a psychologist. Studying human behavior was one of the reasons that made her want to appear on Televisa’s reality show. “It’s not easy being seen 24 hours a day,” she said on her audition tape. She knew she would need a lot of “tolerance” to “control her emotions.” She failed. Her appearance on Big Brother was controversial because of her fits of temper. She hit one of her housemates on the head with a water bucket and threw a glass jar at her on a separate occasion. “It’s good to be a woman with a strong personality,” she said in her defense on a chat show after she was expelled from the house.

Even if we do not win, we prefer to lose than to nominate someone linked to organized crime

Alberto Sánchez Neri, head of PRD in Tamaulipas

The PDR leadership in Tamaulipas claim that she was not selected because of her fleeting fame. In fact, Big Brother is on the decline – its last season had the worst ratings since it started in 2002. “She has done altruistic work for many years,” says Alberto Sánchez Neri, PRD president in Tamaulipas. Sánchez Neri said he met Shira when she was working at the local congressional offices, where he served for eight years.

The PRD leader says when it came time to nominate a candidate for Victoria the party looked beyond its own members and considered choosing among its supporters and ordinary citizens. The party, he says, has been very cautious in its selection process. “Even if we do not win, we prefer to lose than to nominate someone linked to organized crime,” he adds.

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Shira, Neri says, is a beloved figure in the city because of her work at animal shelters and her discipline when it comes to exercise. “She has put Tamaulipas up in lights at national and international bodybuilding events,” he says of her participation in bikini competitions.

Still, the party could benefit from Casar’s popularity. She has more than 94,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 130,000 on Facebook – more fans than the votes PRD received in the last three mayoral elections. Casar will have to work hard to keep the party from losing in the capital. PRD usually falls in third place behind the National Action Party (PAN) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) but it has lost even more ground in recent years. In 2007, it received 2,979 votes while the winner, PRI, brought in 65,447 votes. Three years later, PRD lost 400 votes. And it only managed to get 1,583 votes in the last elections.

The party could benefit from Casar’s popularity  – she has more than 94,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 130,000 on Facebook

Victoria, a city of 278,000 residents, is located in one of the most violent states in Mexico. Turf wars between the Gulf Cartel and Zetas keep it at the top of the list for homicides and kidnappings. Over the last few weeks, there has been even more unrest, especially in northern Tamaulipas, near the border with the United States.

The violence has also marred regional politics. Six years ago, PRI gubernatorial candidate Rodolfo Torre Cantú was killed. Mayors and former mayors have been attacked. Tamaulipas candidates are set to launch their campaign season in this hostile environment on Sunday.

“All [of us in] Tamaulipas run the risk of being attacked, of dying in the crossfire. We are all at risk, not just Shira,” Sánchez Neri says.

English version by Dyane Jean Francois.

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