Lupita Jones, Juan Manuel Marquez, Paquita la del Barrio
Left: Former Ms. Universe Lupita Jones (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images); Center: Retired World Champion Boxer Juan Manuel Márquez (Photo by Adrián Monroy/Getty Images); Right: Paquita la del Barrio (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

Voters Don't Trust Mexico's Politicians, So Celebrities Are Stepping Up Instead

Public figures transitioning to politics is not new in Mexico. But will voters find them more trustworthy than the country's political elites?
April 19, 2021, 3:14pm

MEXICO CITY - With Mexico’s midterm elections on the horizon, a masked wrestler known only as Tinieblas (Darkness) had a choice to make. If he wanted to run for office in a Mexico City neighborhood, he would have to put his real name on the ballot. If he wanted to vote, he would have to take off his mask. But a tenet of Mexican wrestling, or Lucha Libre in Spanish, is that if your identity is revealed you may never wear your mask again.

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Tinieblas decided that the chance to fight in the political ring was worth sacrificing 50 years of anonymity. 

What’s more, he turned the unmasking into a campaign pitch. “If you want to meet Tinieblas without a mask, I invite you to vote,” he said in a press conference.

When the official list of candidates for Mexico's June 6 elections was released, Tinieblas was among a select group that sounded more like the cast of the reality TV show Celebrity Big Brother than an assortment of aspiring politicians. In fact, one of the candidates actually was a former cast member of Big Brother Mexico.

Public figures transitioning to politics is not new in Mexico. The current governor of the central state of Morelos, Cuauhtémoc Blanco, is a former soccer superstar and Sergio Mayer, a member of the early 90s pop group Garibaldi, is a federal deputy representing a Mexico City district. But this year's June 6 midterm elections feature an especially plentiful cast of colorful characters.

The celebrity candidates are running for a wide range of political parties, including President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s ruling MORENA party. The majority, though, are running for the opposition or for smaller parties trying to get a foothold on power. MORENA is aiming to secure its control in a vast election where the lower house of congress, 15 governorships and thousands of local positions are being contested. López Obrador’s competitors are looking to candidates with name recognition who will stand out in the crowded field rather than anybody with concrete political proposals. 

Tinieblas had originally been joined by two other wrestlers who wanted to enter Mexico City politics, Blue Demon Jr. and Carístico. But both eventually decided that revealing their identities was a political deal breaker when Mexico’s electoral institute denied their request to run anonymously.

But while the wrestlers faced tough decisions about whether they were willing to show their faces, Lupita Jones had no such problem — the former Miss Universe is an instantly recognizable figure in Mexico. Jones is now running for governor of the border state of Baja California, home to Tijuana and Ensenada.

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After she was crowned Miss Universe in 1991, Jones spent 20 years as Mexico's director for the pageant and used the position in 2015 to make her first venture into politics with a rebuke to the part owner of the Miss Universe pageant, Donald Trump, for his disparaging comments about Mexicans.

“As a Mexican, I am very offended and angry like everybody else,” tweeted Jones in 2015 as Trump launched his first U.S. presidential campaign “It's a shame that because of his racist comments we lose what the contest has promoted and represented during so many years, which is an atmosphere of harmony and peace among nations.”

She then announced that Mexico would boycott the 2016 Miss Universe contest over the comments, although Trump sold his stake a few months later, relieving her of the burden of following through with the threat. 

Another woman who is contemplating a dramatic career change is Francisca Viveros Barradas, more commonly known as Paquita la del Barrio, who is running to be a local deputy in her home state of Veracruz. 

A grammy-nominated singer, Paquita la del Barrio became an icon in Mexico's burgeoning feminist movement in the 80s with lyrics that confronted the country's sexist male culture. She regularly lambasted unfaithful and misogynistic men as “rats” and “good-for-nothings” in Ranchera style, upending the traditional genre which praised antiquated norms of romance and fidelity for women while glorifying the heartbreaker male trope.

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Many other musicians have climbed aboard the political bandwagon. 

Hector Hernández, the vocalist for popular Cumbia band Los Angeles Azules until 2020, announced that he'll be running for mayor of Iztapalapa, one of the poorest and most dangerous areas of Mexico City. A number of athletes hope to follow Blanco’s footsteps, including at least three former soccer stars, Juan Manuel Márquez, who held nine world championship boxing titles over a 21-year career, and a former Olympic diver.

And even family members of celebrities are capitalizing on borrowed fame to get into politics. José Joel and Vicente Fernández Jr.—the sons of two beloved singers: José José and Vicente Fernández—are running as local representatives in Mexico City and Guadalajara respectively. Another candidate in Mexico City for the federal congress is Ignacio Peregrín, the brother of pop superstar Belinda, one of the hosts of The Voice Mexico and essentially the Latin American equivalent of Miley Cyrus. In Oaxaca, Edith Aparicio, the sister of Yalitza Aparicio, who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in the movie Roma, is running for a seat in the federal congress. 

Sociologist Rodolfo Soriano told VICE World News that the surge in celebrity candidates arose because parties have trouble finding “trustworthy candidates” and he suggested that voters could turn to celebrities “out of anger at the political elites.”

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But Soriano was unsure whether fame would translate to votes for all of the candidates in the upcoming elections.

“I think it's more on a case-by-case basis. It's going to be related also to what kind of office we’re talking about. I think it's easier at the micro level, rather than the office of mayor. Because you don't really need to deal with that much ideology,” said Soriano.

“I also don't think they are going to be the most creative or the most imaginative of the candidates.”

Carlos Mayorga, a former journalist and evangelical missionary, might beg to differ. 

Mayorga kicked off his campaign for congress in early April by simulating a funeral and emerged from a casket surrounded by aides dressed in protective gear. He said that the off-color stunt was his way of sending a message to politicians “because of their indifference” to the coronavirus pandemic and drug-related violence.

“If I don’t succeed, let them bury me alive,” said Mayorga.

The tactless incident in a country with both a staggering coronavirus and drug war death toll immediately provoked disdain across national news outlets and social media. But perhaps he was banking on an old adage - “there is no such thing as bad publicity” - and placing a bet that he will emerge again in June, triumphant. 

Whatever the effect on his political aspirations, Mayorga certainly earned himself some celebrity. And in June, Mexicans will decide if he’s earned their vote.