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O tempores, o mores!

26 April 2014

For those not up on Mexican politics, the scandal de jour in Mexico City is within the PRI, where party chair in the Federal District was accused of putting prostitutes on the payroll at party headquarters.  That years ago, the PRD controlled District Assembly made the area around the PRI headquarters a “zona de tolerancia” sort of makes this a “Lieutenant Reyault” type scandal (“I am shocked, shocked….”) and that Mexican classified advertisements still often include with a wink and a nudge the “other duties as required” for female workers (in which less is said about typing skills or familiarity with word processing than the age, “good appearance” and … ahem… “open-mindedness” sought), AND… that the accusations of sexual exploitation initially came not from the workers themselves but from the PRD made me dubious that this scandal would amount to anything.

After all, sexual exploitation by the powerful has long been a fact of life in Mexican politics, and tacitly accepted.  As I mentioned in Gods, Gachupines and Gringos, the rather absentious Aldolfo Ruiz Cortines (who, incidentally, push through the constitutional change providing for women’s suffrage during his term in office) was ridiculed for being the kind of man so uptight, that even his mistress was respectable. And, that while U.S. presidents are never particularly popular here, Bill Clinton’s esteem among Mexicans went up noticably after the “Monica Lewinsky” scandal… in good part because it gave form to the sense that the gringos are “God’s Frozen People”… sexually up-tight, puritanical, and hypocritical.

Times change, even in Mexico.   Certainly we have to factor in that Cuauhtémoc Gutiérrez de la Torre is almost a carricature of a political hack…” heavy-set as an ox” (to quote The Economist), his inheritied his other job as head of the garbage-collector’s union from his murdered father, the fabled “Trash Tzar” Rafael Gutiérrez Moreno.  Gutiérrez Moreno was something of a Jimmy Hoffa figure… on the one hand, earning respect (and decent wages) for the workers he represented (and garbage-collecting is not exactly a high-status occupation) … and on the other, earning himself a sizable personal fortune by offering the workers he represented as muscle for the  political establishment — which in his day, was the PRI.

But, with the PRI trying to present a “clean” image … and incidentally, break with its past as a labor party in favor of a more pro-business (and, specifically pro-foreign investment) party… the old-style union/party bosses are  something of an embarrassment to the establishment.  Not that corruption is so much a problem (see PEMEX union chief, Carlos Romero Deschamps), as corruption that inconveniences the party.  The PRI is only the third force in Mexico City politics, and in a bid to attract the more desireable (and growing) middle-class voters, as well as conservatives, it can’t afford a physically unattractive and quasi-comical figure like Gutiérrez de la Torre leading the party, and dominating the news cycle.

The real Hoffa of Mexican unions and politics, of course, was  Elba Esther Gordillo — another pol whose physical appearance was always ripe for comedy — and whose non-union activities made her a liability to the party.  That she was “corrupt” was never in doubt, but that would have been overlooked (as it is with Romero Deschamps) if she had been able to keep her union within the PRI fold, but… during their decade in the wilderness after Vicente Fox’s election… she had cosied up to the wrong party, and — when forced out of the Party — founded her own, client-based New Alliance Party.

And, like Rafael Gutiérrez Moreno (and Jimmy Hoffa for that matter) she had groomed an heir.

While the New Alliance Party is not, and probably never will be, more than a minor force in Mexican politics (useful mainly for throwing votes to PAN or PRi whenever the left appears headed for a victory), it does get enough votes to hold a few proportional seats in the Senate.  The Senate leader is Gordillo’s daughter, Mónica Arriola.

1526771_f520As a party founded by a woman, perhaps PANAL (the New Alliance’s Spanish acronym) is more attuned to women’s issues, and perhaps as one founded on labor clientage, it does feel some obligation to support workers’ rights, but what I found interesting was that it is Senator Arriola who is pushing at the national level for a better deal for prostitutes.

Not only to avoid scandals like the Gutiérrez de la Torre mess, but all too common situations like that written about in last week’s Sin Embargo, in which three men — two of them city employees — in Tabasco State were arrested for pimping out 13 year old girls, the Senator has introduced a bill that spells out the rights of sex workers, including those that would be imposed on their clients.

It’s actually not a bad bill.  The workers would be able to set their own rates, and would have to be paid in cash… and working conditions would have to be “hygenic, sufficient, and in conditions that protect the life and health of the worker”.  Clients would be required to “respect the wishes of the sex worker” during any transaction, and the Secretary of Health could impose such regulations as necessary.

One wonders, given that the strongest sex worker’s union in the country (here in Mexico City) sides with PRD, whether this isn’t a clever way of bringing back union clients to the parties… after all, politics is the oldest profession.

 

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