María Fernanda Vargas, the new mayor of Ecuador’s Simón Bolívar canton (a subdivision below a province), likes to be called by her nickname, Mafer. On February 15, she comfortably won the local election, securing 47.76% of the vote in Simón Bolivar, a coastal area that is home to 27,000 people. Vargas, 32, is a journalist and law student, but before entering politics, she was known for creating adult content on the platform OnlyFans. That’s all in the past — Vargas closed her account long ago — and on May 14 she will take office and become the first woman to govern a canton in the province of Guayas.
Vargas’ history with OnlyFans was a topic of conversation across Ecuador. However, she was a well-known figure before she entered politics. Vargas first made headlines in 2013, when she was attacked by three women armed with bottles. The assailants attacked her face, leaving her with injuries that later required surgery. In Ecuador, a country struggling with widespread insecurity, Vargas’ story captured the public imagination and sparked outrage. She used this visibility to speak about violence in the media, and later created her own foundation, Una Mano Amiga, which is dedicated to helping female victims of violence. According to Vargas, she invested all the money she made from OnlyFans — thousands of dollars a month, she estimates — into the foundation.
Mauricio Alarcón, the head of a Quito-based research center called the Citizenship and Development Foundation, believes Vargas’ victory is related to the broader rise of celebrity culture in Ecuadorian politics. According to Alarcón, Ecuadorian voters have a tendency to support celebrities, influencers, singers and actors who venture into politics. “It responds to the particular way in which the Ecuadorian electorate votes,” he tells EL PAÍS by phone. The researcher argues that Vargas knew how to take advantage of the media attention surrounding her OnlyFans account for the benefit of her political campaign.
Alarcón points to other examples of well-known figures entering politics, such as television host Polo Baquerizo or marathon runner Rolando Vera, who won seats in Congress in the 1998 elections. “This is a phenomenon that is happening more and more. Gaining a position is easier when people identify you,” he explains.
Importantly too, Vargas was not running as a candidate for just any party: she was representing the Citizen Revolution Movement, the party of former president Rafael Correa (2007-2017). Indeed, Correa campaigned with Vargas and defended her against “hateful” comments about her past on OnlyFans. “Look at her profile: she’s a social communicator, law student and has a foundation to help fight violence against women,” he said in a video.
Ecuadorian society is generally very conservative, and this posed a threat to Vargas’ chances. “There are cities where it would have been impossible for her to succeed, but in a small canton like Simón Bolívar, political parties of all ideologies want to attach themselves to familiar faces,” says Alarcón.
During the election campaign, Vargas’s opponents cast aspersions about whether a former adult content creator should become mayor. But it made no difference. Vargas secured one of the most comfortable victories in the entire country. In the February local elections, in which voters elected mayors and council members across the country, she won nearly 50% of the vote. In other cantons, the winner scraped by with just 20% of the vote. Although she deleted her OnlyFans account, Vargas says she’s not ashamed of her past. She describes the derogatory comments about her past as “political violence.” In May, when her term begins, she will come head on with the security crisis in Ecuador — the same problem that shot her to fame 10 years ago and pushed her into politics.
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