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Mexican President Calderón Hires US Propaganda Firm for Drug War

May 31, 2012

This article was re-posted from Narco News.

The administration of Felipe Calderón has retained a politically connected US advertising and public relations firm to promote the political and economic agenda of the Mexican president in advance of the upcoming G20 Summit, which will be held in Los Cabos, Mexico, only a few weeks prior to the July 1 Mexican general election.

The move raises serious questions about whether Calderón is skirting, possibly even violating, a Mexican constitutional provision, Article 41, that prohibits the Mexican government from engaging in political promotion and advertising prior to a national election.

The Group of 20 (G20) Summit, a gathering of the leaders from the dominant global economies to be chaired this year by Mexico, will take place in Los Cabos, located on the southern tip of the Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, in mid-June at a plush convention center built for the occasion by the Mexican government at a cost exceeding $100 million. The Mexican government also is kicking in some $47 million to stage and promote the convention itself.

The marketing firm that has been hired by Calderón’s administration is Las Vegas-based R&R Partners, which has deep connections to Nevada’s political royalty and gained national fame by coining the slogan: “What happens here, stays here” — as part of a promotional campaign for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

R&R, according to a copy of the “media plan” obtained by Narco News through the Foreign Agents Registration Act database, “has been engaged to assist the Mexican government with the promotion of President Calderón ‘s objectives for the G20 as well as the progress of the meetings leading up to and during the summit through consultation services for earned media outside of Mexico, social media and the G20 website.” [Emphasis added.]

R&R Partners’ contract for the five-month stretch it has been retained to promote Calderón’s political and economic achievements, totals $500,000, according to FARA records.

That “promotion” includes touting “the country of Mexico and its progress … in particular during the Calderón administration,” utilizing, in part, “spokespeople” drawn from Mexican embassies and consulates as well as from “Los Pinos” — the official office and residence of the president of Mexico.

Among the pitches to be used, the media plan shows, include the following:

• The success of the G20 & President Calderón’s legacy are indelibly linked through June;

• The country of Mexico and its progress in the past 10 years — and in particular during the Calderón administration;

• President Calderón is the perfect spokesman at this time in history…;

• Mexico has an unprecedented opportunity to tell the world about its great successes in: public education, accessible health care, investment in infrastructure (schools, universities, roads, ports, manufacturing, exportation, and social responsibility).

Sin City

R&R Partners plays both sides of the aisle in US politics, with one of its principals, Billy Vassiliadis, having close ties to US Senator Harry Reid, D-Nev. But, it appears the media pact inked with Calderón’s administration is being run out of the Republican side of the R&R house.

Peter Ernault is the R&R executive charged with overseeing the G20 Summit campaign for the Calderón Administration, according to federal documents obtained by Narco News. Ernault, a former three-term Republican Nevada State Assemblyman with close ties to former Republican US Senator John Ensign — serving as his campaign manager in the 2000 and 2006 Senate races.

Ensign resigned from office in 2011 in the wake of a sex scandal (he had an affair with staff member’s wife) and subsequent cover-up, which implicated an R&R executive — while he was serving as Ensign’s chief of staff, prior to joining R&R.

Ernault himself, though never accused of any wrongdoing in the Ensign affair, was subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Ethics Committee about the scandal.

Another R&R executive, who serves under Ernault in Washington, D.C., as managing director of government and public affairs, is Michael Pieper. He provides R&R with reach inside Capitol Hill — having previously, according to his Linkedin page, served as president of the national Republican Governors Association. Pieper also worked for a short while (2007-2008) on the Finance Committee for the political action committee Romney for President Inc. — during Mitt Romney’s presidential run in the 2008 election cycle.

R&R, which boasts revenues exceeding $40 million, has done work for a long list of clients, including major US corporations such as NV Energy, Newmont Mining and Western Lithium Corp. However, its Web site lists no international clients and Narco News could find no evidence that the firm has ever done prior work for the Mexican government. So why Calderón chose R&R for the G20-promotion contract is not clear.

Narco News contacted Ernault seeking, among other things, to verify that R&R has not worked in the international arena previously and to get a clearer explanation of why it was chosen for the Mexican G20 promotion contract — given there are many qualified Mexican advertising agencies that could have handled the job.

Ernault replied via email with the following cryptic response: “We’ll handle. Thank you.”

Narco news also contacted Ricardo Alday Gonzalez, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., for comment, but he did not reply by press time.

John Ackerman, a professor at the Institute for Legal Research of the National Autonomous
 University of Mexico (UNAM) as well as a columnist for Mexico’s La Jornada newspaper and Proceso magazine, however, seems clear as to what Calderón’s intentions are with the G20 Summit.

In a column he penned for Britain’s Guardian newspaper in November of last year, Ackerman states the following:

The G20 committed a big mistake by naming as its chair for 2012 a possible war criminal [Calderón] who is in the midst of an intense electoral battle in his home country.

… Calderón has already convinced the G20 to move up its 2012 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, so that it takes place only a few weeks before the 1 July presidential elections. The Mexican president hopes to use the presence of the international leaders to boost his failing credibility and overcome his party’s weakness in the polls.

… Calderón is particularly desperate for international recognition because on 25 November 2011, a group of lawyers, journalists, activists and academics, let by human rights lawyer Netzaí Sandoval, will bring a formal petition to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Calderón for war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

… More than 40,000 soldiers who today occupy Mexico’s streets under Calderón’s command are not exclusively dedicated to keeping the peace. The military is trained to kill, and they have done so on hundreds, if not thousands, of occasions over the past five years while serving in the “drug war”. Extra-judicial killings have become standard operating procedure and the military has been known to mutilate the bodies of its victims, in clear violation of the Rome Statute.

The Calderón administration denies the charges raised in the peitition, which was filed with the ICC last November after being signed by some 20,000 people, including academics, lawyers, journalists and human rights activists. It also threatened to take legal action against those lodging the complaint.

From a press release issued by the Calderón administration:

The accusations against the Mexican government are groundless and unfounded, as noted by experts on the issue. However, they constitute slander and rash accusations that not only damage persons and institutions but also seriously affect Mexico’s good name.
The Mexican government is therefore exploring every possible means of taking legal action against those who have made these accusations at national and international forums.

Los Pinos Sheen

The Mexican state-owned petroleum giant Pemex, according to a May 2 Bloomberg news-service story, recently “canceled a quarterly call with analysts and investors, citing an election law that bans the government from promoting achievements during a campaign.”

A number of pages on Web sites sponsored by the Mexican government that were previously public are now blocked and instead display a notice that indicates: Per the requirements of Article 41 of the Mexican Constitution, from March 30 to July 1, 2012, sections of certain Web sites are “suspended” because they contain information promoting the programs, actions, works or achievements of the government. [See link for an example of the notice in Spanish.]

So, it seems, some in the Mexican government take seriously the obligation to comply with Article 41 during the course of a national election. And that section of the Mexican Constitution seems quite clear in its directions [translation]:

During federal and local election campaigns, all governmental advertising, whether by federal, state or local government, offices of the Federal District [Mexico City], its representatives, or any public entity, shall be suspended until the date of the election. The only exceptions to the above shall be: a) information disseminated by election officials, b) information regarding education and health services or c) in the event of emergencies, information regarding the protection and welfare of citizens. [Emphasis added.]

With his party [the National Action Party, or PAN in its Spanish initials] trailing in the presidential polls by a wide margin, and the control of the Mexican Congress hanging in the balance, it would seem Calderón has every incentive to use any means at his disposal to not only preserve his “legacy,” but to assure the PAN maintains, to the extent possible, its power base in the country.

By turning to a US marketing and lobbying firm (with no known prior ties to Mexico and whose charge is to promote Calderón and his government’s achievements “outside Mexico”) it seems Calderón has found the perfect vehicle for skirting the prohibition on government-sponsored advertising and propaganda during an election cycle, a prohibition that is, again, established under the Mexican Constitution.

But there are clearly some holes in that line of rationalization. Among them is the fact that we live in a global media world, and any mainstream news coverage or advertising related to the upcoming G20 Summit to be held in Mexico in June (even if that propaganda is published or broadcast by and in media based outside of Mexico) is certain to blow back into Mexico and circulate inside the country.

Many Mexicans have cable TV and Internet connections and watch Univision and CNN Español and even English-language channels. In addition, Mexicans living along the Mexican/US border, in places such as Juárez, Tijuana or Nuevo Laredo, watch TV broadcasts from US stations.

R&R Partners’ media campaign for Calderón’s government also is making use of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, which flows easily across international borders.

So it seems a thin conceit to claim that the R&R Partners’ media blitz (which also is employing Los Pinos and Mexican embassy officials as spokesperons) is not violating the spirit, if not the letter, of Article 41 of the Mexican Constitution.

But regardless of where Mexican legal scholars come down on that call, it is clear that R&R Partners’ media campaign and the $150 million or more that Calderón is spending to host and promote the G20 Summit, is masking an ugly reality that will endure in Mexico regardless of the outcome of the elections in July. And that reality is the ongoing drug war, which was escalated by Calderón upon taking office in 2006, and to date has claimed more than 60,000 Mexican lives and resulted in hundreds, if not thousands, of human rights violations since he took office.

On the subject of the drug war, R&R Partners’ “media plan” for the Mexican government includes only a few words — listed under a section for preparing “fact sheets,” or talking points:

• Crime and Security (for reactionary purposes if needed).

In other words, nothing will be said about the drug war, unless it is needed, should the issue be broached by somebody who isn’t on script.

But regardless of the Calderón administration’s efforts to put a sheen on the drug-war bloodshed with the help of a professional propaganda firm, or its seeming willingness to contort the Mexican Constitution in an effort to help sanitize the tragedy of it all, the truth of that drug war will continue to be exposed daily, with every bullet spent.

What happens in Los Pinos may well stay in Los Pinos — when it comes to the manipulations hatched by the government’s inner court.

But what happens in Mexico eventually happens to all of us — if we buy their hype.

Stay tuned…..

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