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In Mexican Politics, the Greens Are ‘Corruption Turned Into a Party’

Acting in ways that are anything but green, Mexico's "ecological" political group blankets cities with its aggressive ads. The Green Party's success is linked to the goals of the ruling PRI and President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Imagen por Eduardo Verdugo/AP

It votes in favor of fracking, runs socialites and sons of the elite as candidates instead of erstwhile environmentalists — or even anyone looking "hippie" — and plies peasant farmers with herbicides in exchange for support.

The Mexican political party that calls itself Green is notorious for championing the death penalty, courting ties that are closer with the country's telecommunications industry than with environmental groups, and putting a low priority on issues such as deforestation and climate change.


Mexico's Green Party, in short, acts in ways that are anything but green.

And as Mexicans prepare to vote for hundreds of offices in elections on June 7, its scorched-earth advertising presence is reminding voters with the reasons the Green Party has become a potent symbol for corruption in Mexico's electoral politics.

"The only thing it has that's green is the name," said Raul Estrada, spokesman for Greenpeace Mexico. "It hasn't taken up national topics that have to do with the environment or the big environmental problems still pending in the country."

Its poll numbers are small — in the high single digits — but the Partido Verde remains the most prominent among Mexico's smaller parties, and still takes in millions of pesos in public financing money.

'They're afraid of confronting a Green Party at the ballot box.'

Public financing is supposed to prevent out-of-control spending in campaign season in Mexico. Yet year after year, the Greens manage to blanket cities in disproportionate fashion with billboards, radio spots, bus ads, and propaganda during previews in cinemas — sometimes eliciting boos from audiences.

The National Electoral Institute, or INE, has fined the Green Party more than 500 million pesos for various electoral violations in 2015, which equals to about $32 million dollars. Although this week the INE board decided to roll back one penalty that called for three days without Green Party spots on the air.


In this year's campaign, an online petition attracted more than 155,000 signatures calling for INE to revoke the party's registration. But the proposal failed before Mexico's electoral tribunal, leaving the party free to keep hammering citizens with its message of "El Verde Cumple" or "The Greens deliver."

Related: Mexican Teachers Burn Ballots in Spreading Protests Ahead of Elections

Its seeming untouchability might have something to do with how close the Greens are to the ruling behemoth of Mexican politics, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. The PRI won the presidential election of 2012 with Enrique Peña Nieto, who was also the Green Party's candidate for president.

The Green Party in fact has steadfastly backed the PRI since the 2006 elections, and voted in favor of an energy reform presented by Peña Nieto and questioned by environmental groups, which would allow fracking to take place in the country's arid northern states.

"To varying degrees, all of Mexico's political forces are corrupt. What distinguishes the PVEM from the rest is that its corruption is genetic," wrote political analyst Emilio Lezama in El Universal. "The other parties are susceptible to corruption. The PVEM is corruption turned into a party."

The Ecological Green Party of Mexico, or PVEM in Spanish, has cut a controversial course through Mexican politics since its founding in the mid 1980s —especially for its founding family, Jorge Gonzalez Torres, and his playboy son Jorge Emilio, better known as El Niño Verde, or Green Boy.


Critics contend the family has treated the party as personal property.

Jorge Emilio Gonzalez, El Niño Verde, defending himself against fraud allegations in Cancun in 2004. (Photo by Alex Cruz/EPA)

The criticism goes beyond Mexico. A group of international Green Parties kicked the PVEM out of its organization in 2009 for its support of the death penalty.

But the party remains unrepentant and has polled strongly enough that its big brother ally the PRI keeps a majority in the lower house of Congress, despite the conflict-of-interest scandals plaguing President Peña Nieto.

Green Party officials did not respond to interview requests from VICE News. In press statements, party members portrayed themselves as the victims of opponents unable to compete. "They're afraid of confronting a Green Party at the ballot box," party spokesman Carlos Puente told reporters in May.

"Seventy-five percent of the agenda approved on environmental issues has been proposed by the Green Party," Green Party Sen. Arturo Escobar told the newspaper Reforma. The critics, he said, "don't know us."

Questions in Cancun

PVEM officials are well known and appear often in the news, though not always for the right reasons.

Escobar, for example, was stopped in a Chiapas airport prior to the 2009 elections with $1 million pesos in a Louis Vuitton bag. He was subsequently sent on his way and said the money wasn't his.

El Niño Verde was captured on video in 2004 appearing to negotiate a bribe for developing a hotel in Cancun on ecologically sensitive lands. He denied any wrongdoing. In 2011, a Bulgarian model fell from the 19th floor of a Cancun penthouse — which Mexican media said was owned by Gonzalez — in what authorities said was a suicide. Gonzalez said the penthouse wasn't his and he wasn't at the party.


Today, the Green Party's most senior politician, Chiapas Gov. Manuel Velasco, spent an estimated $10 million in 2013 promoting his image across Mexico, despite poverty levels in state topping 70 percent of the mostly indigenous population, making it Mexico's poorest.

Party officials insist their campaign is legal and the PVEM has a track record of following the rules.

"We can review the violations of the parties since 1997 and, for much of that time, we were the party with the fewest violations," Escobar told Reforma in May. "We're the least fined party in the history of the electoral institute, save this year."

Green Party ads hit hot-button issues: coupons for free medicines in government clinics, making English and computer classes mandatory in school, and banning animals from circuses. It claims credit for laws such as life sentences for kidnappers, implemented in 2011. It had originally proposed the death penalty for the crime, a proposal that was eventually turned down in a country with a history of wrongful convictions.

Related: Mexico's President Appoints a 'Friend' as His New Anti-Corruption Chief

The PVEM keeps running afoul of electoral rules due to expectations that judges on the country's electoral tribunal will rule in its favor, analysts say. "They have a very high probability of getting away with murder," Federico Estevez, political science professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, told VICE News. "That's proven over time."


Analysts agree the PVEM ads work wonders for promoting the party, with some arguing the PVEM is simply out-strategizing its opponents and presenting proposals the public wants to vote for.

"It has a concise and concrete campaign. It has very timely and simple topics … that people understand," said independent political analyst Fernando Dworak.

"A lot of people say that the Green Party is the bad guy, but problem isn't the Green Party," he added. "The problem is that the other parties that don't know how to develop a narrative."

Related: Chilapa Disappearances Highlight the Struggle Between Drug Gangs for Mexico's Poppy Trade

Follow David Agren on Twitter @el_reportero.