<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 Giordano

Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
¡Bienvenidos en Español!
Bem Vindos em Português!

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The Democrats’ Schism at a Mexico City Fundraiser

The “NAFTA Generation” of Corporate Ex-Pats Deceived the Obama Campaign and the Attendees at a Fundraising Event Last Tuesday

By Al Giordano
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

July 24, 2008

Last Tuesday, an event featuring Maya Soetero-Ng, the sister of Senator Barack Obama who had successfully organized his February 19 victory in the Hawaii caucuses, was held in Mexico City to raise funds from US citizens abroad for the presidential campaign.

Maya Soetero-Ng, sister of US Presidential Candidate Barack Obama, in Mexico City on Tuesday, July 22.
The host of that event, however, used it to launch what may become a civil war among Democrats abroad when he lectured the assembled – according to those who were there, aghast at what they heard – that “we need assurances” from Obama “about not reopening NAFTA.”

That the host also appeared at a recent event with Senator John McCain in Mexico City, wrote nice things in his newspaper column about the Republican presidential candidate, and repeated that praise of McCain at the Obama event on Tuesday, together with the host’s own scandalous history and association with a high-profile corruption case in Mexican politics, makes for an ugly situation.

It is probably only a matter of days before CNN’s Lou Dobbs, or the Republican National Committee, jump all over on this one, and so it is especially important that the true facts, in their full context, come out before the professional distorters get their hands on them to twist. The Obama campaign was not the perpetrator of this outrage, but, rather, one of its main victims.

The media smear machine need only add a few factual distortions to portray the story of this fundraising event, however falsely, as that of an Obama “flip flop” on the North American Free Trade Agreement and an imposed association with a shadowy figure of Mexican political corruption, all as a result of having raised a measly $40,000 or more.

The sad fact is that some of the “Democrats Abroad” in Mexico have long been associated with the corporate, pro-NAFTA, wing vestiges of the Democratic Party. It is they, those walking ghosts of the 1990s, who staged a coup-de-fundraising-event in Mexico City. They deceived the party invitees and the Obama campaign as to the identity of the party host (thus denying the campaign the ability to engage in the standard vetting practices that would have caused a change in the event’s location). They then proceeded to send in their shill to crap all over the event, the candidate, his sister, his platform and his supporters in the region in ways that could come back to hurt all of them.

The Backstory

Obama has said repeatedly during this campaign that, as president, he will renegotiate NAFTA: the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, Mexico and the US, which has devastated workers and farmers from Oaxaca to Ohio since its 1993 passage, and caused the single greatest wave of human displacement and immigration in North American history. NAFTA, he correctly points out, lacks the labor and environmental protections that would be paramount for any fair and workable trade agreement between nations of such disparate wealth and living standards. Obama had already found himself last spring in a kind of media scandal when a Canadian official claimed that one of the candidate’s top economic advisors had said that the senator wasn’t really serious about reopening NAFTA. Obama has had to insist, again and again since then, that, yes, he intends to change the disastrous treaty.

According to members of Democrats Abroad, that organization’s first chapter was born among US expats in Mexico. There are at least 600,000 US citizens in Mexico, many of them retirees on fixed incomes, and others that sought the greater personal freedom and anonymity that life in Mexico accords them. As US citizens, they can vote by mail or absentee in their home states. They have been joined, in recent decades, by the NAFTA generation of corporate executives and managers that have come down to Mexico like the Spaniard viceroys of old to preside over the systematic looting of a nation’s human and natural resources. That latter group has meddled considerably in Mexican politics to bolster its most authoritarian, oligarchic and repressive factions in order to facilitate the pillage.

Just as their corporate counterparts inside the United States seized control of the Democratic Party in the 1990s – a control that is now fractured by Obama’s victory in the presidential primaries and the newer generation of change-agents that have flooded party ranks – the NAFTA generation of corporate expats and raiders (disappointed at the defeat of the Clinton machine this year) is trying desperately to hold onto its little piece of imagined power.

Your writer saw this dynamic in action on July 6, when he attended a cookout of the Democrats Abroad organization outside of Mexico City, curious to see, for the first time, the members of this group. Most of the attendees were very nice people, sincere in their thirst for change, and it was an enjoyable afternoon overall. Significant chatter was generated there by the entrance of one Ana Maria Salazar, a former Clinton administration and Pentagon employee who, in an Orwellian 2005 interview with the Mexico City daily La Jornada, referred to Bill Clinton as “the savior of Mexico.” After Salazar had come and gone from the cookout, multiple sources told your correspondent that they were upset by what Salazar had told them: that she would be the coordinator of the Obama campaign in Mexico even though, she said, “I don’t think he can win.”

Ana Maria Salazar
Salazar, who hosts an English-language radio program in Mexico and various blogs, introduces herself online with these words (translated from the original Spanish):

“Hi! I’m Ana Maria Salazar. During 15 years I have worked in politics, specifically in two areas that excite me: negotiation and conflict resolution. Among the grand challenges I’ve confronted, I could speak to you of my government jobs in the United States; as assistant subsecretary at the Pentagon, where my responsibility was to negotiate complex issues with foreign governments and US legislators; and as political advisor to the White House, where I coordinated policies to develop the agenda of President Bill Clinton toward Latin America and the Caribbean…”

Far from making him “the savior of Mexico,” Clinton’s promotion and signing of NAFTA crippled the Mexican economy and displaced millions of poor Mexican farmers from their lands, forcing them to move to Mexican cities, border towns or into the United States to find difficult work at low wages, including in a new wave of sweatshops where to even speak of organizing for better working conditions has brought many into unemployment, physical harm or death. NAFTA has also wrought considerable destruction of the natural environment in Mexico. Once pristine beaches, rivers and mountains have become open sewers from unregulated overdevelopment by multinational corporations and narco-money launderers that built hotels and tourism facilities. Farmland goes fallow or has been appropriated by multinational agribusiness companies, their pesticides, chemicals and genetically-engineered seed. And the US-imposed “war on drugs,” of course, has brought historic corruption and violence and a trail of blood including from too many innocent civilians.

Salazar has been the dominant figurehead of the Mexico chapter of Democrats Abroad for many years now. More important to this story is that, according to local members, she was on the committee that organized the Obama fundraising event in Mexico City on Tuesday.

Planning a Fundraising Event

The invitation arrived innocently enough:

You are invited to join

Maya Soetoro-Ng

Senator Barack Obama’s Sister

for a reception benefiting the

Obama Victory Fund

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

At the home of Alan Skinner

Address provided upon RSVP

Mexico City, Mexico

The invitation was for two events: a $250 ticket lunch at 3 p.m. (attended by 40 guests) or a $1,000 ticket dinner at 8 p.m. (attended by 30), both in the same location. The usual disclaimer – “only United States citizens may contribute to this event” – was added.

Facebook photo of Agustin Barrios Gomez, nee Barrios Segues.
The host of the event, it turns out, was not Alan Skinner – the man that the local organizers of the event told the Obama campaign and the invitees owned the mansion at which the events would be held – but, rather, Skinner’s business partner, a disgraced Mexican politician caught up in the biggest Mexican political scandal so far of the century: Agustin Barrios Gomez.

Barrios Gomez, suffice to say, would not likely have passed the vetting process that the Obama campaign deploys for all of its fundraising events, and not merely because his possible dual citizenship might give ammo to the Lou Dobbs crowd.

A columnist for the English-language Mexican daily, The News, Barrios Gomez had already accompanied Republican candidate McCain in Mexico City on July 10, a fact that he boasted about in his column:

Last Thursday your correspondent had a chance to meet with Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Despite his nearly 72 years and relatively short stature, Senator McCain “owned” what was an impressive roomful of people. This was doubly admirable given his campaigning, his traveling, and the early morning visit to both the Guadalupe basilica and President Calderón (each on opposite ends of a difficult city). Given the hopeful intelligence that Senator Obama brings to the table and the experienced, principled leadership that Senator McCain exudes, Americans are going to have a difficult choice to make in four months.

The real problem, though, with the hosting of an Obama event at Barrios Gomez’s home, is that the former 2003 candidate for borough president in the Mexico City district known as Miguel Hidalgo, Barrios Gomez, is a figure associated with a major political corruption scandal in Mexico; the most notorious, in terms of media coverage, of the new century.

Carlos Ahumada
It is the case of Argentine businessman Carlos Ahumada, who brought down a Mexico City Governor and other leading politicians by videotaping his own bribes to them, and then using the videotapes – some of which were broadcast on national television – for blackmail purposes.

Some of those politicians were disgraced when investigators discovered their names in Ahumada’s little black book, together with code numbers that indicated illegal payments to them.

According to a 2006 report by Radio 13 in Mexico City:

“The beneficiaries of the money of Carlos Ahumada appear… One million pesos for Luis Eduardo Ozuno, of the family of inlaws of (former Mexican president) Luis Echeverria, 300,000 pesos to Francisco Martinez Rojo, ex-legislator in Tlahuac, on May 12: one million to Agustin Barrios Gomez and, later, 1.1 million to Agustin Barrios Gomez, and, still later, 750,000 pesos to Agustin Barrios Gomez…”

When those payments were made in 2003, Barrios Gomez was a candidate for political office in Mexico City.

The newspaper Voz Independiente reported in 2007 how the code numbers in Ahumada’s calendar book from 2003 corresponded to his payments to politicians and officials:

“To each person there was a number that corresponded to the area of the expense. For example, the “password” of (then Mexico City governor) Rosario Robles was GPV08, that of the ex-member of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD, in its Spanish initials) Ramon Sosamontes, GPV09; of the then National Action Party (PAN) official in the borough of Alvaro Obregon, Luis Eduardo Zuno, GPV22; that of the PRD candidate for the presidency of the borough of Miguel Hidalgo, Agustin Barrios Gomez, GPV45

“As such, the losing PRD candidate for the leadership of Miguel Higaldo, Agustin Barrios Gomez (GPV52), had received nearly 4 million pesos (about $400,000 US dollars) between May and June…”

Whether or not Barrios Gomez is innocent, guilty, or more guilty than the press reports suggest, there is no way that the Obama campaign in Chicago would have signed off on a fundraising event at his home had local organizers been honest – and not deceived by giving a different name to them and to invitees – about who would be hosting the fundraiser. A simple Google search would have turned up this scandalous information about Barrios Gomez.

But a political campaign must also rely upon its local contacts and fundraising committee members to tell them the whole truth, especially when, in the case of politically-connected members like Ana Maria Salazar, this information – so basic to the political lexicon in Mexico City – is known to every journalist that reported on the Ahumada scandal, and every political junkie in the country.

But wait: It gets even worse…

The Embarrassing Event

Visitors last Tuesday to the luxurious mansion of the Barrios Gomez family at 210 Agustin Ahumada Street (ironic, the street name, considering the cast of characters in this Rogue’s Gallery of Mexican political corruption) in the ritzy Mexico City oligarch neighborhood of Lomas de Virreyes, thought they were going to the home of one Alan Skinner, presumably a US citizen.

Party guests were told that these were original Andy Warhol prints of Barrios’ Gomez’s mother.
It is possible that Barrios Gomez holds dual citizenship: his father was a Mexican diplomat and journalist and the younger Agustin has written that he lived in the United States, Canada and Switzerland during his youth. Agustin Barrios Gomez, in fact, was the name of his well-known father. Young Agustin was born Agustin Barrios Segues, the latter name being that of his mother, Patricia Segues, who, party guests were told, was the model for an Andy Warhol lithograph hanging on the walls of the mansion.

Here are some other photographs of the Barrios Gomez home where Tuesday’s fundraiser was held:

(In case anybody’s wondering, this is not a typical Mexican home or décor, post-NAFTA.)

Apparently, sometime after the senior Barrios Gomez passed away in 1999, the younger Agustin dropped his mother’s maiden name and adopted his late father’s entire, more famous, name before going into electoral politics.

And there he was, the made-over Agustin Barrios Gomez, Junior, now having performed the coup of hosting the sister of the likely next president of the United States. When party guests later complained of his outrageous behavior as host, they were told by event organizers that he hosted the party because he had given $5,000 to the Obama campaign. (What’s the over-under on that money, if it was given, being summarily returned once Chicago figures out what has happened?)

In addition to his statement to the assembled that “we need reassurances about not reopening NAFTA,” Barrios Gomez committed some other political gaffes and no-noes in his role as host and speaker at the event.

According to those who were there, Barrios Gomez used his pulpit to praise rival US presidential candidate John McCain, saying that “McCain certainly commanded the room” during his July 10 event in Mexico City, two weeks prior. And when he mentioned that his wife would soon be giving birth, a party guest commented how wonderful it was that another Democrat abroad was being brought into the world. Barrios Gomez replied, according to guests, in front of all the assembled, “it would be better for my daughter to be a Republican, so she can make money. Then she can become a Democrat.”

This story of two small fundraising events (the $40,000 collected represent maybe a couple of minutes of online small-donor fundraising by the Obama campaign, which averages $64 per contributor from two million US citizens so far) is especially interesting because it presents a microcosm of a larger conflict underway within the Democratic Party of the United States: a power struggle between the big donors and operatives of the corporate wing of the party and its hawkish policy barons like Ana Maria Salazar, and the influx of real people, brought in by the Obama candidacy, who are wrestling it away from its former owners.

And in Mexico City, the conflict, as elsewhere, forms along class lines: the corporate NAFTA generation of US expats tried to pull a fast one, deceiving the attendees and the Obama campaign as to the identity of the party host, as the real host then railed off-message using the event as a front for the “Save NAFTA” campaign.

And the rank-and-file Democrats abroad, most of whom want fundamental change, are, some of them, only now waking up to the fact of the struggle they are going to have to wage on the local level: to remove the deceivers as spokespersons and power-brokers that seek influence in their name, and to create, from the bottom up, as has occurred through the Obama campaign throughout the United States, a truly grassroots organization with a new wave of leaders unbeholden to the special interests, more honest, and who understand that 700 small donors and volunteers are more powerful, if they use that power, than 70 big donors and the manipulators that abuse political fundraising to push corporate and personal agendas.

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