<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Al Gore Stirs Controversy, this Time In Mexico

Press Barred from US Politician’s Speech for Mexico State Governor Enrique Peña Nieto


By Fernando León and Erin Rosa
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

August 6, 2010

TOLUCA, MEXICO; AUGUST 4, 2010: If Al Gore thought a trip South of the Border would alleviate his recent divorce and masseuse tabloid scandals up north, he found only more controversy in Mexico. On Wednesday, the former US vice president visited Toluca, capital of the state of Mexico, as invited guest of Governor Enrique Peña Nieto, a 2012 presidential candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (the PRI) who is seeking to restore his party to power and is considered a heavy favorite in that contest.


Former US VP Al Gore with Governor Enrique Peña Nieto on August 4 in Toluca, Mexico.
(Photo from Governor’s office.)
The press was barred from Gore’s speech, reportedly about climate change, and state officials refused to say how much the former US presidential candidate was paid (Gore typically receives $170,000 dollars per speech). The mystery was further fueled by vague admissions that private sector donors had financed Gore’s visit, but state officials claimed they did not know who paid the speaker’s fees and costs.

Sponsored by the state’s “Commitment to Mexico” initiative as part of a two-day conference on climate change and sustainable development, the website for the forum states that “all of the forums will be transmitted live” on Mexican state television, radio, and over the Internet. All other parts of the forums were in fact broadcast live, but not Gore’s speech.

This, only two months after Gore lambasted similar behavior from the oil company BP for barring reporters from parts of the Gulf of Mexico damaged by its massive oil rig leak. Gore told the Christian Science Monitor that BP’s actions were “completely unacceptable,” and that “this de facto form of censorship needs to stop.”

But what’s “completely unacceptable” for the former vice president in the Gulf of Mexico apparently is just fine for Mexico itself, as only 300 elite invitees of the state government were permitted into Gore’s speech, of which only the first five minutes – during which Gore personally thanked and praised Governor Peña Nieto’s “leadership” – were fed to reporters on closed circuit TV. The Narco News Team was there in the pressroom, and with video and cameras during Gore’s arrival, and reports more details from Toluca, below.

A Speech, Behind Closed Doors

While the forums weren’t open to the public, they were open to credentialed press. But on Wednesday morning reporters covering the panels were surprised to find out that the venue for Gore’s speech would not only be closed to the media, but that they would only be able to listen to the first five minutes of the American politician’s speech from a closed-circuit TV. Journalists at the conference were given a press advisory stating in Spanish that “there would be no transmission of the lecture for any media after the first five minutes,” per the request of Gore’s representatives. The memo also stated that Gore’s media team had requested there be no “interviews or press conferences with Mr. Gore.”

Only about 300 distinguished guests of the Mexican state government were allowed to enter the building where Gore gave his address. Those who attended the lecture were quickly escorted by private security and Mexican state police troopers from valet parking outside of the venue, past metal barricades erected to block out the press. Gore himself arrived in a blue Chevy Tahoe SUV a few minutes before the forum was set to take place, and was followed by an entourage of security personnel. “We were all surprised,” said one producer who works for the state radio station. “I mean, to only have the speech for five minutes…. What’s the point?”

Enrique Peña Nieto and the Anonymous Financial Backers


Barred from attending Gore’s speech, reporters were sequestered in a press room, allowed to see just five minutes of the event on closed circuit TV stream.
Photo D.R. 2010 Erin Rosa
Mexico state officials who organized the conference were unwilling to disclose who paid for Gore to speak in Toluca. Antonio Juárez, a spokesman who was in the press room during the forums, confirmed with Narco News that speaking fees had been paid to Gore. However, when asked who had paid for the speech the media representative said, “I don’t know. They were private sponsors.” Juárez also stated that because the money was private, he didn’t know how much Gore had been paid to speak at the event. A press secretary with the state legislature told Narco News that Gore was paid $5 million pesos ($397,000 US) for the speech.

Other journalists questioning the financial backing behind Gore’s talk have received similar answers. The Mexican newspaper Reforma quoted Mexico state’s environmental secretary, Gustavo Cárdenas, a few days before the event, when he said, “I don’t have the cost right now.” On Wednesday, the daily Milenio noted that the amount of money that was charged by Gore to participate in the event still “hasn’t been reported.” Reforma has also written that, in the past, Gore has charged more than $175,000 for a speech.

But all of the contentious questions relating to the media lock down and the lack of transparency are tied to a man named Enrique Peña Nieto, the governor of the state of Mexico and a front-runner for the country’s presidential elections in 2012. It was Peña Nieto who inaugurated the Foros de Reflexión (“Reflection Forums”) in Toluca, referring to them as his “gift to Mexico.” It was also Peña Nieto who sat next to Gore shortly before he delivered his private address to the few hundred invitees.


Billboard for Governor Enrique Peña Nieto’s “Sustainable Development” conference.
Photo D.R. 2010 Erin Rosa
The exclusive nature of the event with private and state security details, coupled with the admitted participation of private sponsors, only raises more questions about the true intention of the forum. In truth, the Gore speech—overtly organized by officials within Peña Nieto’s own government—had all the signs of a political fundraiser. But any financial transactions relating to the speech remain undisclosed and unclear.

After the talk, officials released a photo on the Mexico state Web site showing Gore and Peña Nieto in a different room than where the speech was held, speaking in what appears to be a private luncheon with numerous guests—a separate event which is described in text on the site as relating to the conference. No such meeting was ever publicly disclosed to the press, or on the official program of events given to the media at the conference.

Peña Nieto, Architect of Repression

Governor Peña Nieto is a controversial leader in Mexico, largely due to his penchant for deploying excessive force against social movements. In May 2006, he was a key architect of brutal police repression against hundreds of people in San Salvador Atenco and Texcoco, towns located in the eastern part the state where he presides.


State government official photo of Al Gore addressing 300 invited guests in Mexico on August 4. Officials declined to disclose the amount Gore was paid and the source of the payment.
At that time, Peña Nieto, while partnering with the federal government of former Mexican president Vicente Fox, ordered police to enter the towns in an effort to supposedly quell civil resistance that had erupted after the state government insisted on evicting flower vendors from nearby Texcoco to make room for a new Wal-Mart. What followed were some of the most gruesome and clearly documented human rights abuses in recent memory in Mexico.

After state police raided the population, two people were left dead, hundreds were arrested, and dozens were injured and at least a dozen women gang-raped in front of scores of witnesses by Peña Nieto’s state troopers and also federal agents. Four years after the raid, twelve additional residents of Atenco remained imprisoned, with sentences ranging from 30 to 112 years. In June 2010, the Supreme Court of Mexico found there wasn’t sufficient evidence in the charges and ordered the immediate release of all of the prisoners.

Despite the documented abuses, Peña Nieto is still considered a main contender in Mexico’s upcoming 2012 presidential election on the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI in Spanish initials) ticket, although he has yet to officially be nominated by the party. The presence of Gore in the capital of his state only appears to be a sign that the presidential campaigning and posturing have already begun.

In other words, the only climate that the former vice president and environmental activist has so far succeeded in maintaining unchanged, is the political climate of Mexico, where Gore’s appearance was widely interpreted as an expensive endorsement of Enrique Peña Nieto’s ambitions to take power and turn the clock back a decade to the seventy years (1929-2000) of Institutional Revolutionary Party rule.

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