Geopolitics

They Call Her 'The Seagull' - Meet Mexico's Glamorous Next First Lady

Mexico's President-Elect Enrique Peña Nieto is a handsome guy. Stand him arm-in-arm with his second wife, actress Angélica Rivera, aka "La Gaviota," and it all gets quite stunning.

Angélica Rivera with Enrique Peña Nieto in October 2011 (Angélica Rivera de Peña)
Angélica Rivera with Enrique Peña Nieto in October 2011 (Angélica Rivera de Peña)
Augusto Assía

MEXICO CITY – "Thank you for being here my love..." Then presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto shared those words just as he was finishing up an appearance this past Mother's Day.

The message was directed squarely at his wife, yet it still triggered a frenzy among the thousands of women in attendance, some of whom responded to the photogenic candidate with catcalls like "Peña, you're hot," and "I want you on my mattress." In reality, there were shouts to both – to Peña Nieto and his glamorous wife, Mexico's it couple more than ever.

Over the past two years, Peña Nieto – Mexico's now president-elect – has never been alone. And not just because he's surrounded at every political event, meeting or television appearance by a legion of advisors, consultants and marketing specialists. He's also been accompanied at all times by his wife, Angélica Rivera, aka "La Gaviota" (the Seagull), a beautiful soap opera star who's every bit as much of a celebrity as him.

Rivera, 41, and Peña Nieto, 45, didn't separate for even an instant during the three months of the campaign. While he demonstrated Franciscan patience, obliging the thousands of people who wanted to touch him or use their cell phones to take photos with him, she took advantage to film some of the campaign's more emotional moments. Later she'd post the clips on YouTube.

The videos, part of a series called "what my eyes see and my heart feels," took would-be voters into the couple's living room, or inside their pickup truck on the way to a campaign stop, giving Peña Nieto's campaign a touch of "reality." Some of the videos have more than half a million views.

Analysts say "La Gaviota" ended up playing a key role in the return to power of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. Angélica Rivera was the hook the PRI needed to reel in the voters of Mexico, where ideas about family have such enormous importance.

This past Sunday – election day – the actress went together with her husband to cast their votes. The soon-to-be first lady was already dressed for the part: in a smart pastel-covered suit jacket covering her normally suggestive cleavage. In Mexico's collective unconscious, Peña Nieto and his wife are the successful and handsome protagonists of a real-life telenovela.

Skeletons bound to crawl out

Angélica Rivera was married for 14 years to television producer José Alberto Castro. The couple divorced in 2007. Three years later, Rivera met Peña Nieto while filming a promotional video for the state of Mexico, where Peña Nieto was the governor at the time. Rivera was the star of "La Gaviota," a popular soap opera and the origin of her nickname. Not long after, the future Mexican president acknowledged during an appearance that he was dating a TV star.

With a huge crowd in attendance, the couple married in 2010 in Mexico City"s historic Toluca Cathedral. Each has three children from their previous marriages. Peña Nieto has a fourth child from an extramarital relationship.

Like any good telenovela, the Peña Nieto-Rivera show also features villains and murky pasts that threaten to overshadow their happiness. Since declaring his candidacy, Peña Nieto has been hounded by his former lover, the beautiful Maritza Díaz, also of the PRI, who regularly posts insulting Facebook updates accusing him of neglecting their son. He denies the claims.

"Just like he is accused of lying in his last government report, altering figures… he does the same thing in his personal life," Peña Nieto's "ex" wrote on her Facebook wall, which – to the delight of his political opponents – is open to the public.

Read the original article in Spanish.

Photo - Angélica Rivera de Peña

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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