Mexico’s right-wing National Action Party (PAN) was rocked this week by the release of two videos that showed senior officials partying with exotic dancers and a suspected drug trafficker at a luxury beach house.
The third high-profile scandal to hit the PAN in as many months, the affair is likely to further damage the image of the opposition party that ruled Mexico from 2000 to 2012.
From January 23-27, the PAN convened a conference in Puerto Vallarta, a popular beach resort in the western state of Jalisco, to discuss Mexico’s energy reforms and agree on the legislative agenda for the year. But by night, it seems the politicians failed to abide by the conservative ideals they so often espouse in public.
The videos, released Monday by Mexican media outlet Reporte Indigo, show high-ranking party members — including federal congressmen from Guanajuato, Nuevo León, Sonora and Sinaloa — drinking liquor and dancing to a live band with strippers from Taboo and Candy’s, two of the best-known lap dance clubs in Jalisco.
The politicians can be seen fondling the women’s buttocks and are heard joking that “the Viagra’s going to run out.” The drunken debauchery took place at Villa Balboa, a 2,000-square foot, seven-bedroom mansion that costs $3,200 a night.
Reporte Indigo reported that the PAN received a budget of 1.5 million pesos ($114,000) from the national treasury to finance the conference, although it remains unclear whether public funds were also used to pay for the nightly parties.
Suspected criminal involvement
The allegations against the PAN took on a more sinister note Tuesday when Reporte Indigo revealed that the parties were organized by a man once accused of drug trafficking and linked to a high-profile murder.
Edelmiro Sánchez Hernández, who was filmed handing out condoms to the politicians, was arrested in the northern state of Nuevo León in 2004 with 87 kilos of marijuana in his truck, although he eventually escaped prosecution after his driver took the blame for the illicit cargo.
Sánchez came under investigation again in 2012 because he was the last person to see or speak to Hernán Belden Elizondo, a PAN state congressman in Nuevo León, before Belden was kidnapped and murdered. Somehow, such episodes did not dissuade other PAN officials from hiring Sánchez to organize their hedonistic parties.
After a meeting with the PAN national president, Gustavo Madero, on Tuesday, PAN politicians Luis Alberto Villarreal and Jorge Iván Villalobos renounced their roles as legislative coordinators because of their involvement in the infamous parties.
“I offer an apology to those who were offended by my participation in that private event,” Villarreal said, but he strongly denied using public resources to fund the party. Despite their demotions, both Villarreal and Villalobos will continue to represent the PAN in Congress. The other politicians involved could still face sanctions, Reporte Indigo noted.
The PAN’s fall from grace
The PAN was widely lauded for ending 71 years of one-party rule by the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) at the turn of the century, but throughout his six-year term, President Vicente Fox of the PAN proved incapable of passing the structural reforms that he had promised would usher in a new era of democratic governance in Mexico.
Fox’s successor, Felipe Calderón, who won the 2006 election by a margin of less than one percent of the vote amid allegations of voting fraud, will be remembered above all for launching a military crackdown on the nation’s cartels that saw Mexico’s murder rate skyrocket.
After 60,000 were killed and thousands more disappeared in just six years under Calderón, the PAN slumped to third in the polls in 2012, with the electorate preferring to restore the PRI to power than endure another PAN administration.
The PAN’s credibility was further damaged this summer when senior party members Sergio Eguren Cornejo and Rafael Medina Pederzini were arrested alongside two other Mexicans while attending the World Cup in Brazil.
Hours after Mexico’s defeat to Holland on June 29, the pair allegedly groped a Brazilian woman and then assaulted her husband and another companion when they tried to intervene. Detained as they tried to escape, the politicians remain in custody in Brazil where they face charges of seriously injuring the two male victims.
That incident coincided with the news that members of Youth Action, the junior branch of the PAN, had created a neo-Nazi organization back in Jalisco. On their now-defunct Facebook page, the group celebrated the 125th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s birthday, advocated denial of the Holocaust and expressed their hatred for Jews, homosexuals and communists, among others.
The PAN was quick to condemn and distance itself from the group, but the damage had already been done.
Given this relentless string of scandals, the party may now find it harder than ever to restore its reputation and reclaim the presidency in 2018.