Mexico’s Peña Nieto hires US propaganda firm

CLSA is same media-spin company used by Honduran coup regime

The de facto president-elect of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto has hired Washington, DC-based public relations firm Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter & Associates to help him spread positive propaganda during the transition period prior to his official swearing-in as the majordomo of Mexico on Dec. 1 of this year.

Pena Nieto’s choice of CLSA is interesting in light of current allegations of vote buying and money laundering that have been leveled against him and his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI in its Spanish initials) by the opposition parties in Mexico. 

CLSA is the same US image-building firm that was retained in the fall of 2009 by the Honduran regime led by “de facto” President Roberto Micheletti in the wake of its coup d'état in that Central American nation.

CLSA’s Foreign Agents Registration Act filing with the Department of Justice described its mission in Honduras as promoting Honduran President and Usurper Roberto Micheletti’s dictatorship as a democracy “through the use of media outreach, policy maker contacts and events, and public dissemination of information to government staff of government officials, news media and non-government groups” all with the goal of advancing “the level of communication, awareness and attention about the political situation in Honduras.”

The mission outlined in the July 6 FARA filing made by CLSA on behalf of Peña Nieto contains strikingly similar language, describing the objectives as providing “communications counsel and assistance to the transition team [of Peña Nieto] including dissemination of news/announcements from the transition team, monitoring of news and policy developments related to Mexico-U.S. interests.”

Foreign entities, including political parties, that conduct lobbying or propaganda campaigns in the US are required to register with the US Department of Justice under the FARA.

PRI candidate Pena Nieto emerged as the leading vote getter in Mexico’s July 1 presidential election, winning a fraction more than 38 percent of the vote, according to Mexican media reports. However, the election was marred by accusations of corruption and media manipulation on the part Peña Nieto and the PRI — often dubbed the dinosaur of Mexican politics given it ruled Mexico for some 71 years prior to 2000. During that reign, the PRI assured its grip on power through an engrained system of patronage, propaganda and corruption that included quid-pro-quo relationships with narco-traffickers.

But CLSA is used to massaging the credentials of illegitimate world leaders, particularly those in Latin America. It’s Honduran client in 2009, the Micheletti regime, grabbed power in June of that year after using the military to force the democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya, from power under the pretext that he had violated the nation’s constitution.

Zedillo/Uribe Connections

In addition to the Micheletti putsch regime, CLSA’s past clients have included former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, who ruled Mexico from 1994 to 2000 as a member of the PRI and now lives in the US and teaches at Yale University. Zedillo is the target of a pending lawsuit in US federal court that accuses him of committing crimes against humanity for his alleged complicity in the butchering of 45 people as part of the 1997 Acteal Massacre in Mexico. Zedillo’s attorneys have asserted he is entitled to “head-of-state” immunity in the lawsuit and contend that the Mexican government supports that immunity claim. 

The judge in the case has asked the US government to file a “statement of interest” in the case,” with respect to its position on Zedillo’s immunity claim.

Another of CLSA’s past clients is Álvaro Uribe, who served as president of Colombia form 2002-2010. Six associates of CLSA have so far registered under FARA indicating they will be providing propaganda services to Pena Nieto and his transition team. Among them is CLSA partner Shannon Hunt, who, in a bio posted on the firm’s Website, claims credit for playing a role in orchestrating Uribe’s “landside presidential victory” in 2002 while serving as his advisor at that time.

Coincidentally, Peña Nieto has tapped Uribe’s now retired national police chief, General Oscar Naranjo, to serve as his security advisor in Mexico’s war on drugs. Though Naranjo is deemed a “super cop” by the US political establishment for his past successes in the fight against Colombia’s narco-traffickers, he is not without his critics.

Former CIA asset Baruch Vega, who has done work for multiple U.S. law enforcement agencies over the years in major undercover operations targeting narco-traffickers in Colombia, contends Naranjo is part of the problem.

"[He] is part of the corruption,” Vega told Narco News in a past interview. “All the traffickers that were surrendering and talking to the U.S. government [at the time Vega was working as a U.S. government asset] spoke of … CNP [Colombian National Police] corruption — especially Colonels Danilo Gonzalez [who was assassinated in 2004 in Colombia after being indicted in the US on narco-trafficking charges], and Oscar Naranjo [then head of intelligence for the CNP].”

Naranjo denies the allegations and, according to a US State Department cable surfaced by WikiLeaks, claims that Vega is a “drug trafficker.”

More Players

Another CLSA partner assigned to the Peña Nieto contract is Juan Cortiñas Garcia, who describes his role as that of a “consultant” providing “public relations, communications and media relations” services to Peña Nieto’s transition team, FARA records show.

Cortiñas Garcia, besides his new work for Peña Nieto (who has promised to explore privatization opportunities for Mexico’s state-owned oil company Pemex), also has lent his PR expertise to a group of U.S. and Latin American companies that have a stake in the Camisea gas pipeline in Peru.


 … The Camisea Project is owned by two consortia of small companies with poor environmental records led by Hunt Oil — a Dallas-based company with close ties to the [former] Bush administration. Chief Executive Ray L. Hunt contributed to President Bush's presidential campaign and also sits on the board of Halliburton, the company formerly headed by Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Hunt Oil, by the way, shows up on CLSA’s Web site in a listing of “clients.”

One of the founding partners of CLSA and the resident Latin American guru for the Inside-the-Beltway firm is Peter Schechter. He knows how to sell political fiction and has “counseled political parties and candidates” in the past for “every Latin American country save Costa Rica and Panama,” according to his CLSA bio. Schechter also is a published fiction writer as well as a regular commentator on the Spanish-language networks Univision and Telemundo. That is a comfortable connection for Peña Nieto, given his wife, Angelica Rivera, is major telenovela star for Mexico’s Televisa network, which has business linkages with Univision and Telemundo and has been accused of selling favorable election coverage to Peña Nieto.

Bad Press

CLSA’s main contact on Peña Nieto’s transition team, the FARA filing shows, is Diego Gomez, head of international press for the de facto president-elect. Though Gomez is not named in a recent lawsuit accusing members of Pena Nieto’s presidential campaign of corruption, other members of Pena Nieto’s communications team are embroiled in that litigation.

The lawsuit, filed in US federal court against several Mexican companies and three of Peña Nieto’s top campaign officials, alleges the parties engaged in a conspiracy to convert campaign funds derived from narco-traffickers to their own persona use by employing a scheme to defraud a US media company supposedly hired to promote Pena Nieto in the US press.

US-based Frontera Television Network filed the lawsuit on June 7 in the US District Court of Central California against the alleged front companies plus three high officials in the presidential campaign of Enrique Peña Nieto: Erwin Lino, the candidate’s personal secretary, David López, the candidate’s communications director and Roberto Calleja, spokesman for the PRI.

What is not mentioned in the litigation is FARA, the US law requiring agents representing foreign entities (such as political parties like the PRI and its candidates) to register with and make specific disclosures to the US Department of Justice.

Narco News checked the online filing database for FARA registrants and also contacted the DOJ FARA office to determine whether any of the parties central to the Frontera lawsuit had registered under the act. The online database check revealed no such filings and a spokesman for the FARA office indicated he also was unaware of the litigation — and even asked for the case number for the Frontera lawsuit.

Based on a reading of the FARA statute, it would appear a case could be made that, at a minimum, Frontera Television Network, as well as the companies alleged to have links to Pena Nieto’s presidential campaign and who were signatories to the media propaganda contract inked with Frontera (included as an exhibit in the lawsuit) should have registered under FARA — assuming the allegations in the court pleadings are truthful.

But CLSA’s mission for Peña Nieto, at least until he assumes the presidency of Mexico officially, is to massage or otherwise discredit all this negative press in exchange for money, the grease that lubricates the wheels of disinformation.

The principal aim of CLSA, via the Peña Nieto contract, is to conduct “monitoring/outreach to US audiences re: Pena Nieto,” the FARA filing states.

More from CLSA’s recent FARA filing:

The nature of the performance of the above indicated agreement is monitoring, advice and counsel related to Mexico-U.S. relations during the presidential transition period. The method of performance will be through the preparation of information in written and other related forms. The information will be disseminated, as needed, in meetings, events, speeches, interviews or other related forms. This work shall be performed on a month-to-month basis beginning July 1, 2012 for a monthly retainer of $50k. Incidental expenses to be billed only if incurred.

Stay tuned ….

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