A slap in the face reveals a lot about Mexico

A governor slaps his aide, telling a great deal about race, class, and politics in the country.


A rural stage-managed event in impoverished southern Chiapas state – usually not the place where news is made that shines a light on a country’s whole political class.

But as this shaky cell phone video shows, the young blue-eyed governor of the state, Manuel Velasco, slaps an aide in the face (at around 50 seconds)

It happened at a political stop as the 34-year-old Velasco was out drumming up support for his state of the state speech.

Of course once the video hit social media this week the governor said his mea culpa in a public apology. But the incident is very revealing: The rich and powerful here – usually of a whiter shade than their underlings – often enforce their authority with violence, insults or harsh criticism. The incident was reminiscent of a much more brutal response from a white, powerful man in the capital.

In 2012 a rich business owner in Mexico City pummeled a doorman who refused to leave his post to help him change his tyre. He was ironically called the Gentleman of Lomas – in reference to an upscale neighbourhood.

That followed a scandal from 2011 when two drunken women in another upscale neighbourhood refused to take an alcohol test from police who they slapped and screamed at in a profanity-laced litany of insults that ended with them calling the police “salary earners.”

A clear dig from people who are perhaps worth a fortune in this extremely unequal society.

The case of Velasco though is different. It’s less violent of course, but perhaps more disturbing for some since he’s being mentioned as a possible serious presidential candidate in 2018.

Someone being groomed, it seems, to follow in the footsteps of the current telegenic president Enrique Peña Nieto. Billboards of Velasco hugging poor indigenous constituents in Chiapas are plastered around the state and the country. They proclaim his successes in Chiapas, one of Mexico’s poorest states. The ads cost millions of dollars of the state’s public money.

Besides being white and powerful both Peña Nieto and Velasco have an attraction for soap opera stars. Peña Nieto’s actress wife was ridiculed recently for her defensive response to accusations she had received political favours when she got a loan to buy a house for her family from the owner of a company that won a single-bid contract to build a high-speed rail project in Mexico. The contract was later cancelled, likely due to the political fallout over the deal.

Velasco is set to marry a soap star of his own in April.

They also both seem to have tempers that when it comes to their staffs.

The Al Jazeera team here in Mexico got a chance to interview Peña Nieto soon after his 2012 election victory.
When wiring him for an interview we heard a scratch or static on the mic. It was one apparently his team had provided. He quickly lost his cool and started angrily calling out who had put the microphone on him. Things calmed down soon, as we provided another microphone. But we could all tell that he was used to getting his way and reacted strongly when he didn’t.

Is that a slap or violent act? No, not even close. But it is perhaps a ‘reveal’ as a poker player would say, showing that behind the smile of the rich and powerful here – there is often a temper rarely seen in public in Mexico’s often stage-managed politics.

Source: Al Jazeera

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