Cash, lies, and videos as Mexico campaigns

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The Independent US

Political scandals fuelled by lies and videotape are spreading like a virus through Mexico. In less than two weeks, four compromising videos have been released showing party leaders and public servants accepting briefcases full of cash, gambling at the high rollers' table in Las Vegas and offering to procure business contracts in exchange for millions of dollars.

Political scandals fuelled by lies and videotape are spreading like a virus through Mexico. In less than two weeks, four compromising videos have been released showing party leaders and public servants accepting briefcases full of cash, gambling at the high rollers' table in Las Vegas and offering to procure business contracts in exchange for millions of dollars.

With the 2006 presidential campaign already under way, there is no doubt more such videos will be beamed into the living rooms of Mexican television viewers in days to come.

"Scandals have become our daily bread," a respected commentator wrote in the daily El Universal newspaper.

Disgraceful behavior by public officials in Mexico is nothing new. A long line of federal, state and local leaders have amassed enormous amounts of wealth over the years. The difference is the amount of attention that behaviour now receives.

For much of the 71 years that Mexico was under sole control of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, scandals were rarely mentioned by news media, which mostly considered themselves part of the establishment and, relying on government largesse for much of their survival, preferred not to rock the boat.

But the Fourth Estate has followed a bolder path in the past decade, particularly since the end of the PRI's regime in 2000. These days, no alleged wrong is left uninvestigated by the dozens of publications and broadcasters competing for audiences and eager to exercise their full journalistic freedom.

In a scandal known as "Pemexgate," the PRI was accused of funding its presidential election campaign in 2000 with millions of dollars diverted from the state-owned oil company, Pemex. The matter is still being investigated. In another case, the Mexico City Mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, of the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party, was criticised for paying his driver more than most top city officials. Mr Lopez Obrador insisted the chauffeur was his logistics co-ordinator and deserved the pay.

President Vicente Fox - of the conservative National Action Party - succeeded in passing a historic freedom of information law. But he quickly learnt the pitfalls of open government when a receipt for the President's US$440 (£240) towels and $1,060 sheets were discovered among public documents, provoking much public anger.

Whistleblowers, aware of the media's willingness to air scandals, are using more sophisticated methods, advancing from wiretaps to in-your-face high-quality videos.

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