Carmen Aristegui, the renowned Mexican journalist behind blockbuster public corruption investigations into top government officials, will speak at the University of Texas on Tuesday.
Aristegui is the featured speaker for the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latino Studies’ annual “Austin Lecture on Contemporary Mexico,” which invites public figures from that country to speak about current issues. Past speakers have included prominent historian Lorenzo Meyer, human rights activist Sergio Aguayo, political activist Marcela Lagarde and writer Javier Sicilia.
Aristegui is widely regarded as one of the top journalists in Mexico and is the leader of an investigative team that has broken the biggest stories on public corruption in the country in recent years. In March 2015, she and her team were fired from MVS Noticias after the radio station said the team used its logo on a whistle-blowing effort called MexicoLeaks without authorization.
The fired journalists were responsible for breaking the “White House scandal” that implicated the Mexican first lady in buying a house from a government contractor. The story, and subsequent follow-ups, raised questions about conflicts of interest involving the presidential family, and the journalists’ firing was seen by many as a reprisal for their aggressive coverage.
Aristegui and her news team, who now broadcast on CNN en Español and continue to write on their website and in some major Mexican newspapers, have given extensive coverage to the case of 43 students who vanished in the southern Mexican city of Iguala two years ago and are believed to have been attacked and arrested by local and federal police working with drug gangs and are presumed dead.
This year, Aristegui’s team published a story showing that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto had plagiarized parts of his thesis project at the Universidad Panamericana in Mexico City.
Ariel Dulitzky, a human rights lawyer with extensive experience in Mexico and a UT law professor, nominated Aristegui as the speaker for the annual series.
“When I nominated Carmen, I was asking who in Mexico is a public figure who contributes to the public debate and is also making contributions to strengthen democracy and the rule of law,” Dulitzky said. “Carmen is that person. … She creates the space to have critical reflection on what is happening in Mexico, what the problems are and what the potential solutions are to those problems.”
Dulitzky, who has been interviewed by Aristegui for his human rights work, said she represents “independent journalists who are willing to investigate and show corruption, human rights abuses and the failure of the government.”
“Because of her work, she suffered some reprisals,” Dulitzky said. “It’s very important to recognize independent voices and Carmen is the best example of that.”
The lecture will begin at 5 p.m. in the Texas Union Theater room UNB 2.228. The event is free and open to the public. Seating will be given on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Consulate General of Mexico in Austin and “Believe & Train” a running company based in Austin on Saturday announced a new charity race to raise funds for scholarships for Latino students in Central Texas and promote healthy habits within families in the Latino community.
The 5 kilometer race called “Corre Latino” will be held Saturday, Oct. 15 at the H-E-B Center at 2100 Avenue of the Stars in Cedar Park. Registration for the event is now open online at correlatino5k.com. Registration for adults is $30 during August, $35 during September and $40 during October. Children can enroll in the race for $25.
The Mexican consulate will provide financial assistance for low-income families who wish to participate in the race, organizers said during a news conference on Saturday at the Mexican American Cultural Center.
Funds for the event will go toward raising money for the MexAustin scholarship organized by the Mexican consulate and Foundation Communities, which provides financial assistance to Mexican and Latino students in Central Texas who are going to college. The scholarship fund gave out 140 scholarships worth $1,000 to students in its first year.
Organizers are hoping to raise $5,000 for the scholarship fund and to have at least 400 participants in the inaugural race.
“We ask you to spread the word to your friends, to people you know to other families,” Jorge Euran, owner of Believe & Train said in Spanish on Saturday. “The first year is always the hardest … but if we reach our goal the following years will be great.”
During a ceremony at the Austin school district’s Performing Arts Center, the students were awarded the $1,000 scholarships, which are open to students who are Mexican, of Mexican descent or of another Latino group. The funds for the scholarships will be awarded to the recipients upon proof of admission to an institution of higher education.
“My best advice is keep going. If you constantly listen to the things people say about you, you’re going to be held back,” Lara said to the crowd of scholars and their families. “What they say shouldn’t matter. You should always continue to fight for our rights and advocate for everything you believe in and encourage others to do the same.”
“I just hope all of you take this scholarship and continue your education and make the world a better place,” Lara said.
Carlos González Gutiérrez, consul general of Mexico in Austin, said the award was an affirmation of the hard work the students put in throughout their high school years and a show of support that their community believes in them.
“They will succeed, I know, because as a community we have their backs,” he said.
Skater punks Miguel and Johnny are your typical disaffected youth in a major urban city. They stay up all night, sleep in late, take drugs to their heart’s desire and seemingly skate the rest of the time.
In between that, they also sell blood to local emergency rooms and ambulances, herding their friends, girlfriends, acquaintances and, quite literally, any Joe Blow they can find on the street to fill up a pint of blood in exchange for money. Business seems to be going well. So well, in fact, that Techno, one of Miguel’s friends has been selling his blood so often that he has become prone to fainting on the subway from exhaustion.
But all of that changes when Miguel (Diego Calva) and Johnny (Eduardo Martinez) are presented with a new offer. Their connection needs 50 “cows,” as they call the blood providers, to give their blood for a drug cartel-related job. Miguel and Johnny, still kids, have never done a job like this, but the pay – three times the going rate – is too much of an enticement for them to turn away.
They set off for their bounty, bringing in friends, Johnny’s girlfriend, Adri, and some of the employees at the cabaret that Miguel’s mother runs, including the elderly manager, Juanito. When they all meet up at the location for the blood transfusion, the motley crue consists of neighborhood women, elderly men who can barely walk and random people they picked up from a local park.
Then the man in charge of the operation shows up in a spruced up SUV with extravagant chrome rims and it is immediately clear that Miguel and Johnny are way in over their heads. He forces Miguel to sell him his father’s Jeep and, as if anyone had missed the veiled threat, pulls out a gun while inspecting the car to remind Miguel that the sale is not an option.
Director Julio Hernández Cordón takes a masterful jab at American viewers by having the cartel operator bark out orders to his henchmen in perfect English, an implication of the United States’ role in Mexico’s drug wars.
When the “cows” see the man running the operation and the beat-up moving trailer they are expected to get into to go get their blood taken, they let their discomfort be known. But by this point, leaving is not an option. As the man in charge says, they can either get in the trailer or his two muscle men can force them in there.
From there, the plan devolves rapidly. At a certain point in the movie, the viewer knows things have gone terribly wrong for Miguel and Johnny. But just when you think things have gotten bad, they get even worse.
Watching the film and its strong performances, you wouldn’t know that most of these actors are not traditionally trained. The director, Julio Hernández Cordón, cast the movie using Facebook, specifically to look for actors who had experience different than his own classical training. But the chemistry and performances from Calva and Martinez are especially worth noting because they explore the attraction and relationship between two gay men in the heart of a Mexican city, a subject that is still taboo.
Miguel, one half of the duo, is a rich kid with all the advantages of life going for him. He lives in a posh home with a security fence, has an in-house maid (Brenda, Johnny’s mom) and drives a fancy Jeep given to him by his father (the archetype mirrey that has arisen in Mexico in recent years). But for some reason, he chooses to slum it with Johnny and other skater punks, who skate and idle all day.
Part of that may be a teenage rebellion to his mother kicking his gay lover, Johnny, out of the house, a move that seems to only fuel Miguel and Johnny’s tortured relationship. As the film goes on, however, it is unclear whether Johnny ever fully reciprocates Miguel’s feelings. At times, it seems that Johnny, who represents Mexico’s poor, is only using the relationship and the sex he offers Miguel, to take advantage of him. After all, Johnny has a girlfriend, Adri, and repeatedly brings her along to things that Miguel jealously says are supposed to be “his.”
And before all is said and done, Johnny delivers a blow to Miguel that is more hurtful than the presence of Adri at moments that were supposed to be intimately between he and Miguel.
And it is then, that Hernández Cordón really brings the story home. When things are at their worst, Johnny realizes that although he loves his mother, he cannot count on the poor woman from a rural area to achieve the things he wants. While the ungrateful Miguel only has to call his tony mother to pick him up from a hotel and has everything resolved for him.
The message, Hernández Cordón seems to say, is this: In Mexico, if you have money, all will be well. Impunity can not reach you. If you are poor, you are on your own.
Through his 88-minute film, Hernández Cordón, tries to tell the unadulterated story of Mexico today. That story, although told from the lens of disaffected youth, hits on many of the country’s struggles: impunity in the face of crime and corruption, a stigma around homosexuality and a deep divide between the rich and the poor.
But one scene encapsulates Hernández Cordón’s big picture look at Mexico today. As Johnny and Miguel roam the city after their deal with the drug cartel has gone wrong, Miguel suddenly lashes out in frustration and starts banging his skateboard against a fence on the bridge they’re crossing. He bangs his skateboard against that fence with such wild fury that he seems to physically wear himself out and collapses to the floor. Johnny holds him in his arms affectionately, trying to calm him down. Then, a man walks by, stepping around and over them without even stopping to look at them or ask what’s wrong.
Who is that man? Could he be Mexico’s civic and political class, which for too long has stayed quiet against the corruption in that country, or the outside world, which knows what is happening and hardly lifts a finger to help?
Javier Palomarez, the president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which represents 4.1 million Hispanic-owned businesses, visited Austin this week. In an interview with the American-Statesman, Palomarez spoke candidly about the chamber’s campaign to make the U.S. Senate vote on a hearing to confirm Roberta Jacobson to the role of ambassador to Mexico, Marco Rubio’s opposition to that nomination, Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy and the importance of Austin to the future of Latino businesses in America.
Not everything in the wide-ranging interview made it into our newspaper Saturday, but here at Somos Austin, we decided to give you a full transcript of the conversation. For reference, Jacobson was nominated by President Barack Obama to fill the role of ambassador to Mexico last year. The career diplomat who speaks fluent Spanish and is an expert in Latin American politics has yet to be confirmed. The United States has not had an ambassador to Mexico, one of its most important allies, since August.
Here, in full, is our conversation with Palomarez:
American-Statesman: I heard that you’ve been speaking with Roberta Jacobson, let’s start off with that because you wrote a pretty strong op-ed in our paper and I wanted to get more of your thoughts. Why is the USHCC pushing so hard? Why do you think this is so important?
The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce represents 4.1 million Hispanic-owned firms in this country that collectively contribute over $661 billion to the American economy,and as a business association, we recognize clearly the importance of commercial and economic relations that exist between Mexico and the United States. I’ve spoken to the president personally on this issue. The reality of it is… in Mexico we have had a crucially important commercial partner, economic ally as well as a national security ally, I won’t even touch on that. But the reality of it is that Mexico does more business and is a better and stronger commercial and economic partner to the United States, we do more business, we do more trade with Mexico than we do with Great Britain, than we do with Germany, than we do with France, India, Brazil, with Japan and the list goes on. We need the top diplomat in that country. We’ve been waiting for nine months now.
Sadly, there are three members of the Senate that have been blocking her vote, that have refused to vote. Have blocked the vote. And one of those is Marco Rubio. We’re happy that very recently, maybe about two weeks ago, Sen. (Bob) Menendez (of New Jersey) after eight months finally conceded the point and has called for the vote. We’re now looking at Marco Rubio and asking him to do the same thing. The reality of it is… Marco Rubio has missed 129 of the 243 votes that he was called upon since he decided to run for the presidency.
He is no longer running for president. He no longer has an excuse. It’s time to put good policy in front of politics. He needs to get down there and cast his vote and allow this woman to have her day in court. Roberta Jacobson is a life-long diplomat, has a stellar record. She is more than prepared to do this job and the USHCC and all of our constituents (are) firmly behind her.
There have been some amazing members of the Senate on both sides. (Tom) Udall on the Democratic side, Martin Heinrich, Amy Klobuchar that have been very supportive of this effort that I’m trying to lead. On the Republican side you’ve got John Cornyn, you’ve got John McCain, specifically you’ve got Jeff Flake, who’s been a real champion of this and I want to commend those senators for putting politics aside and doing the right thing. America needs to honor the relationship we have with Mexico. This should not be politicized. There is no reason why this woman has been put on hold for almost nine months now. This is an important commercial issue. This is not political, it is not racial, it’s about commerce, it’s about the economy, it’s about the continued well-being of both our economies and we need to get on with the business of getting on with it.
Statesman: I want to ask you specifically about Marco Rubio and politicizing this issue on Jacobson because, as I understand it, he kept putting off meeting with you at USHCC for your presidential chats, and now that he’s not running for it, do you think he’s likely to change his mind on it?
Palomarez: Well, I sure hope so. I can understand that running for the presidency is very, it’s a trying effort. It’s not an endeavor that one takes on lightly and I understand the strains on his calendar, but that’s behind us now. It’s time to get to work, to do what you were hired to do. You’re a senator. Go cast your vote. We’re not asking him to vote for Roberta Jacobson, we’re asking you to remove the hold and get on with the business of voting, and to politicize this, I think, is at best bad for our economy and, frankly, I think puts us at risk of offending a crucial commercial ally that is Mexico, that has been that kind of an ally for almost two centuries now. We should honor that relationship. We need to place the top diplomat on behalf of the United States in Mexico and Roberta Jacobson is that woman.
Statesman: Do you think that was a political move by Marco Rubio?
Palomarez:: Clearly. Marco Rubio I think has politicized this thing. I think this has more to do with what the president decided to do to normalize relationships with Cuba. He is, I think utilizing that as a (inaudible)… and regardless of what he said, listen if you don’t think the woman’s prepared, then vote and vote against her, it’s just that simple. But vote. You’ve missed 129 of the 243 votes you were called upon, you have the worst track record of any senator in America. It’s time to get to work, Marco. This is serious and we’ve been asking.
Statesman: If you have nothing else to add on that one….
Palomarez: We better stop (laughter)… Ya me enoje (I’m upset now) (laughter).
Statesman: I want to ask you about the presidential chats that you have had with candidates. As I understand it, you’ve met, I think with all of them, the ones that are in there, except Donald Trump, who very publicly pulled out of a conversation with you. Has there been any talk of bringing him back in for one of those chats.
Palomarez: Yeah, we continue a dialogue with Donald Trump’s campaign. You’re right. We met with Ted Cruz, with Bernie Sanders, with Martin O’Malley, with John Kasich, with Jeb Bush, with Hillary Clinton. Marco agreed when he and I spoke personally he thought it was a great idea, I did too, and unfortunately, calendars being what they are and schedules being what they are, and again, when you’re running to be the president of the United States it’s a trying endeavor and so we were never able to make that happen.
And of course, famously, Donald Trump 48 hours or so before the actual date of the Q&A backed out, but the door is open. We are not a partisan organization, we’re not even a political organization, we just believe that anybody who’s running for the presidency of the United States should avail themselves of the opportunity to sit in front of our constituency, again that represents 4.1 million-owned firms, $661 billion in economic contribution and represents this amazingly rapidly growing community called the Hispanic community. Every 30 seconds a Latino turns age 18 in this country and becomes an eligible voter. That’s 60,000 brand new votes every single month and that’ll be the case in the next 21 years in a row. So, if you’re running for an elected office, whether that’s dog catcher or president of the United States, you’d do well to avail yourself of an opportunity to come and state your case in the presence of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and talk to our constituency of Hispanic business owners.
Statesman: Do you think his comments that he has made, some of which are racial or anti-immigrant or anti-Mexican, do you think those statements hurt him with the 4.1 million firms that make up your constituency?
Palomarez: Clearly it has hurt him with the Hispanic community. Clearly it has hurt him with Americans. This is beyond being a Hispanic issue. This is an American issue… and in my opinion someone running for the American presidency should be an individual who tries to convene and coalesce and bring people together and heal the nation, not be divisive and speak from a position of bigotry and hatred and fear-mongering. I don’t want to speak for Donald Trump, he needs to state his own case, but certainly, the reaction that I’m seeing and the language and the rhetoric that he’s used, to me really has put him in a place where he’s got a lot of making up to do, not only with the Hispanic community, with common good-hearted, loyal Americans. I think the entirety of the Hispanic community and a good portion of the rest of America is very disappointed and appalled at some of the language coming out of that campaign.
Statesman: Do you think he’s scared of some of the questions you might ask? It’s not an easy conversation. I saw the one where you were speaking with Bernie Sanders and he said something like “your people” and you sort of corrected him. Do you think he’s scared of the questions you might ask?
Palomarez: I think he’s a little bit worried about the kind of questions he’s going to have to deal with. Certainly when they pulled out they wanted some concessions that we’re not willing to make. I have to say that in his private conversations with me he has been a gentleman. And I can’t speak for him. I can tell you that of all of the candidates, he’s the one who didn’t come.
Statesman: And famously, you said after he pulled out that there’s no way he wins the White House.
Palomarez: No. No.
Statesman: I saw that in a Fox News Latino article.
Palomarez: Yeah, yeah. No, that’s not going to happen.
Statesman: Do you still believe that even as far along as we are right now?
Palomarez: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it plays well in certain pockets. It plays well in certain arenas. The polls look good. But even then, he was making an argument in Nevada that quote-unquote “the Hispanics love me. I won the Hispanic vote in Nevada, I had 44 percent of the Hispanic vote.” There again, once you dig below the surface, that poll was an entrance poll, it polled 1,573 people that were Republican. Of those 1,573, 8 percent of them were Hispanic, so that’s (125), and 44 percent of those (125) voted for Donald Trump. So in essence, he got 55 votes.
(Editor’s note: Palomarez was speaking of the top of his head, so we had to double check the numbers after the interview and changed it accordingly in this transcript. For a similar breakdown of those numbers, click on this Somos Austin post from February, Trump’s numbers with Latinos in Nevada.)
From that, he extrapolated the “Hispanics love me, I got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote.” That’s absolutely inaccurate and that’s classic Donald Trump. Once you dig even one layer below the verbiage and the rhetoric and you start to look at the facts, you know, it all falls apart. But it’s going to be fun to see. I’m waiting for the general election for when the Hispanic community coalesces.
If anything, Donald Trump has done a great service to the Hispanic community in that I have never seen the Hispanic community so engaged, I’ve never seen it so coalesced around an issue. It’s less about who they’re voting for than who they’re voting against, and they are 100 percent concrete and coalesced around this notion of voting against Donald Trump. Again, we don’t pick sides. We are an organization that is about business, we are about commerce. We’re not s political organization and we’re not a partisan organization, but my read of the tea leaves and what I’m hearing from other Hispanics and other Hispanic leaders in the nation, that’s kind of where that sentiment that I’m sharing with you now is coming from. The door remains open to Donald Trump to come to our organization and be treated as fairly as everyone else was, but with no preferential treatment either. We will not pull any punches, but we’re not looking to debate him, we’re simply giving him an opportunity to state his case in front of our community and the conversation continues, it’s been very civil and we’ll see where it goes from there.
Statesman: Let’s talk about the importance of Austin to USHCC. You’ve got a strong chapter here, obviously.
Palomarez: We have an amazing leader here. Mark Madrid who runs the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has really hit the market strong. You see that crowd out there, that’s indicative of the excitement around our organization and what we continue to do. You know, we advocate on behalf of 4.1 million business owners who happen to be of Hispanic descent, but we never forget that we’re first and foremost American business owners. Every tax bill we pay, every job we create, every product we manufacture, every service we provide goes to benefit the American economy. And in that context, we believe that our business group of American business owners is important to the continued growth of any city in America, but certainly the continued growth of Austin.
I believe by the year 2020, Austin is projected to have something like 52,000 Hispanic-owned firms here, driving something like $12.8 billion of economic contributions. That’s significant and I think that the entrepreneurial spirit, the DNA, the ethos of Austin is perfect not only for a Hispanic entrepreneur but for any entrepreneur and certainly to include Hispanic entrepreneurs. This is a city that welcomes diversity of thought, that embraces innovation and creativity, and those are some of the basic elements that you need when you’re building your own enterprise, your own business and certainly we’re looking to do everything we can to spur the growth of Hispanic-owned businesses in this city. I just met with the mayor. I think Mayor Adler is the right man for the job, he recognizes the potential in the Hispanic market and certainly the Hispanic entrepreneurial and business community, and so we’re thrilled to be here to celebrate the continued growth of our organization, the continued growth of our Hispanic-owned businesses in this country, which by the way, are growing at a rate of 3-to-1 when compared to the general market. So this is an asset to the American people, to the American society that can be harnessed, and if there’s a city that I think can illustrate how to do it best, it certainly is Austin, Texas.
Statesman: Final thing, going back to Jacobson, do you think the vote for her appointment is going to come soon?
Palomarez: We’re very hopeful. I think if Marco Rubio will do as Sen. Menendez did, if he will put politics aside, if he’ll put policy ahead of politics, and at least go do his job and vote, I think that they’ll be calling for a vote soon and we remain hopeful. We want to work with anybody who sees this issue as we see it: as an important commercial and economic issue that is critically important to the well-being of the relationship between these two commercial allies. And so we’re hopeful that we’ll be seeing a vote here very soon.
Statesman: So it doesn’t sound like you think the presidential election weighs in on this anymore.
Palomarez: I can’t imagine that it would. It’s time for Marco to get back to work. Right now, missing 53 percent of your votes, having the worst voting record in the Senate, missing 129 of the 243 votes that you were hired to vote upon. That’s inconceivable, it’s not acceptable and I think the excuse of saying I’m running for the presidency, I’m busy campaigning, that’s gone and it’s time to get back to work. We’re hopeful he’ll do the right thing.
The event, organized by various sectors of the Mexican government, private businesses and a prestigious Mexican university, was held at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center from March 11 to 14. Its focus was on promoting Mexico as a hub for culture and innovation and was home to several panels on entrepreneurship and technology and various fast-pitch competitions.
“The event went very well,” González Gutiérrez said. “I think Casa México filled a void and it’s here to stay.”
The Mexican diplomat said there were some growing pains during the showcase that led to poor participation in some of the events. It also had difficulty attracting people from other showcases. Other setbacks included musical acts not arriving in time for their scheduled sets. Famed Mexican DJ Toy Selectah, for example, missed his set playing the inaugural ceremony Friday and was rescheduled to play Saturday.
González Gutiérrez said some of the logistic failures were due to a rushed preparation. The organizing committee for the event planned Casa México in three months.
“I think we learned a lot from our mistakes,” he said. “We needed to jump into the water to learn how to swim and I think we demonstrated that Mexico has a very important role here and a very strong presence.”
Still, the event also had significant success. It attracted big names in the technology field such as Mario Valle Reyes, director of business development in emerging markets for Electronic Arts, and high-ranking Mexican diplomats like Carlos Perez-Verdía, the country’s undersecretary to North America. And the showcase was also the site of the announcement of a new $30 million venture fund in Austin that will help develop foreign-born entrepreneurs.
González Gutiérrez said that in 2017 the event’s organizers will look to include discussions with SXSW organizers so that its panels can take place inside the Austin Convention Center or in another venue downtown, where much of the festival’s foot traffic is. Next year’s event, González Gutiérrez said, will likely be shorter than four days and the marketing and promotion will be improved. The space for networking sessions, which was one of the most popular features of the showcase, will likely be enlarged, he added.