Of Mexico’s four largest parties, at least as of the last election, only one managed to increase its vote share between 2012 and 2015 — the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM, Ecologist Green Party of Mexico).
Since its foundation in 1993, the party has developed a cynical reputation for corruption than any particular devotion to the traditional left-wing, environmentalist causes of green parties throughout the world. Nevertheless, if preliminary estimates are correct, the PVEM will have won more than 7% of the vote in Mexico’s midterm elections, which means that it will almost certainly hold more the fourth-largest bloc of seats in the 500-member Cámara de Diputados (Chamber of Deputies), the lower house of the Mexican Congress.
That’s astounding in an environment where Mexicans rank political corruption at the top of their concerns, alongside drug violence and above even a sluggish, uneven economy.
With the exception of the 2000 election, when the Greens backed conservative maverick Vicente Fox for the presidency, the party has been a reliable junior partner for the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Party of the Institutional Revolution) and Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto. Together with the Greens and another small party, Partido Nueva Alianza (PANAL, New Alliance), the PRI is expected to hold a narrow legislative majority.
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That’s not necessarily great news for Peña Nieto, whose personal reputation has been compromised by financial scandals surrounding himself, his wife and close colleagues, and whose party — certainly not impervious to corruption — remains highly distrusted after governing Mexico uninterrupted for seven decades until Fox’s 2000 election.
The Green Party, however, seems to thrill in flouting election law — Mexico’s new electoral authority, the Instituto Nacional Electoral (INE, National Electoral Institute) fined the party over $20 million in May after it illegally financed campaign advertisements. One sports personality said he was offered 200,000 pesos by the party to support it on election day via Twitter.
Its leader, Jorge Emilio González, the son of the party’s founder, known as El Niño Verde, has a black-hat playboy image of a corrupt baron. His reputation never fully recovered from videotapes that showed him apparently negotiating $2 million in bribes in relation to a shady land deal in Cancun.
Jo Tuckman, writing for The Guardian, finds that the PVEM draws disgust from analysts across the board as a party of ‘false greens’ that often acts more like an organized crime cartel controlled by the González family:
“The Greens concentrate the bad elements of Mexican politics and take them to an extreme,” said political analyst Jesús Silva Herzog. “There are sinister figures in all the big parties, but there are some respectable ones too. I cannot think of a single respectable figure in the Green Party.”
The PVEM first won seats in the Chamber of Deputies in 1997 (just eight) and, while its share (17 seats) remained steady between 2000 and 2012, it won 29 seats in the 2012 election and, when final results from the 2015 midterms are available, it will likely hold between 40-45 seats. It’s a sign that, even though Mexico has a true multi-party democracy and successive national governments have taken some steps toward greater political accountability and transparency, the politics of vote-buying and corruption still pay off. Though the Greens are particularly well known for exchanging goodies for votes, the PRI, too, isn’t immune from such tactics — the ruling party pushed through a measure for the national government to deliver digital televisions to millions of potential voters earlier this year. It surely wasn’t a coincidence that congressional elections were approaching.
Disgust with corrupt party tactics, which are even more blatant at the state and local level, explains why Mexican voters in Nuevo León elected an independent governor, populist candidate Jaime Rodríguez (though he was still a lifelong PRI member until late last year).
The Greens personify that corruption in droves, as David Agren reported in VICE last month:
“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.”
Europe’s association of green parties ceased to recognize the PVEM in 2008, for example, when the PVEM enthusiastically endorsed the death penalty. They’re anti-gay, and they backed Peña Nieto’s reforms to introduce private investment into the public Mexican energy sector, despite opposition from environmentalist groups and other leftist parties in part because the reforms removed workers from the board of PEMEX, the state oil company).
It’s not only González who has attracted negative publicity. Manuel Velasco, who was elected governor of the impoverished southern state of Chiapas in July 2012, has spent over $10 million in state funds on advertisements propelling his own image — not only in Chiapas but in Mexico City as well. The 35-year-old Velasco, himself the grandson of a Chiapas governor, is perhaps most well-known as the husband of Anahí, a popular actress and singer. But he garnered unwanted attention and his own mocking hashtag on Twitter (#LadyVelasco) when he appeared to slap an assistant earlier this year. Despite the heavy spending and a flashy wedding that comes directly from Peña Nieto’s political playbook, Velasco has rather unconvincingly denied presidential ambitions in 2018.
With a divided left, however, no frontrunners among Fox’s Partido Acción Nacional (PAN, National Action Party) and no clear successor to Peña Nieto within the PRI, there’s at least a risk that Velasco could become a major contender, despite the fact that the PVEM seems to represent everything Mexicans say they despise about the status quo.