Known for their appetite for corruption, the latest scandal to hit the Mexican government all started when a socialite could not get the VIP treatment.
Over the weekend, the daughter of one of Mexico’s government officials had her father send inspectors to shut down a restaurant that didn’t give her the exact table she wanted.
Andrea Benitez, the daughter of the federal attorney general for consumer protection, Humberto Benitez Trevino, went to the Maximo Bistrot in Mexico City’s trendy Roma Norte neighborhood and apparently didn’t get the table she wanted or had been promised. Just hours after the incident, inspectors showed up with official “suspended” signs to punish the restaurant.
Benitez Trevino issued a statement apologizing for “the inappropriate behavior of my daughter Andrea.” While he didn’t explicitly say his daughter sicced the inspectors on the eatery, his apology implied she did.
“She exaggerated the situation and the officials of the Attorney General’s Office for Consumer Protection, which I head, overreacted because it was my daughter,” he wrote. “Immediately upon hearing of the situation, I ordered the raid (on the restaurant) suspended, to avoid any excesses.”
The Economy Department, which oversees Benitez Trevino’s office, said President Enrique Pena Nieto had ordered the federal comptroller’s office to open an investigation into the case on Monday.
The restaurant was able to open for business on Sunday, and Benitez Trevino’s office said the inspectors had suspended only two of the bistro’s permits: one governing reservations and one covering liquor sales, because volume contents of bottles were not appropriately listed.
This is just the latest of several cases of perceived arrogance by the wealthy and well-connected that have caused anger recently in a country with deep class divisions.
Many people say string-pulling and influence-wielding are all too common in Mexico, where arguments with politicians’ relatives often end with the threatening phrase, “You don’t know who you’re messing with.” The difference now is that with social media, such incidents go viral and force immediate reaction.
“As a society, we are fed up with, disgusted with this,” said writer Guadalupe Loaeza. “This is an attitude of the past; it doesn’t fit with the times.”
Pena Nieto has to be particularly careful about such incidents since his Institutional Revolutionary Party, which regained power last year after 12 years out of the presidency, had become infamous during its 1929-2000 rule for breeding an extended clan of arrogant, inexplicably wealthy politicians known as the “Revolutionary Family.”
Pena Nieto’s own daughter Paulina was involved in an embarrassing incident in late 2011. Reacting to social media critiques of her father, the teenager re-tweeted a comment that described people gloating over his gaffes as “the bunch of idiots who form part of the proletariat and only criticize those they envy.”
Pena Nieto quickly apologized on his own Twitter account, and the daughter later wrote, “I apologize with all my heart ... I recognize what I did was wrong and I am sorry.”
In 2012, the daughter of the head of Mexico’s oil workers union, Carlos Romero Deschamps, posted Facebook photos of her trips to Europe aboard private jets and yachts. The photos showed her designer handbags and her three bulldogs sleeping in luxury hotels rooms.
While somewhat more muted, politicians’ families continued to pull strings under the conservative National Action Party, which governed from 2000 to 2012.
“It never went away. If we recall, there were incidents like this under National Action,” said Jose Antonio Crespo, a historian at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching in Mexico City, referring to government contracts handed out to the sons of former first lady Martha Sahagun in the early 2000s. “There is nepotism and political privilege in all the political parties.”
Loaeza said she is confident the times are changing, in part because social media are capable of focusing a huge amount of attention, instantly, on such bad behavior.
In the latest case, diners at the restaurant photographed the inspectors’ raid and posted comments on social media sites. Andrea Benitez found herself a trending topic on Twitter with her own hashtag and thousands of negative tweets.
“Just look at Pena Nieto’s daughters, and what a low profile they keep. They’re not out in public anymore,” Loaeza noted. “Mexican society is not going to put up with this anymore. Now people complain, now it becomes a scandal.”
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.