Lydia Cacho: Predators and Power in Mexico
by George D.Colman
On February 14, 2006, the Jornada newspaper of Mexico seized the attention of the nation by publishing secretly taped telephone conversations between a Mexican businessman and a Mexican political leader regarding the arrest, detention and proposed sexual violation of the writer Lydia Cacho. Few if any revelations before or since have so captured the Mexican public’s interest and outrage.
The powerful businessman featured on the tapes was Kamel Nacif, a textile manufacturer and one of the wealthiest men in the country. The politician in the sordid affair was Mario Marin, the Governor of the State of Puebla. Within days of the publication of the governor’s conversations with Nacif, 40,000 men and women marched through the streets of Puebla demanding the governor’s resignation.
The object of Mario Marin’s and Kamel Nacif’s angry attention was Lydia Cacho, the founder and director of a shelter for women and children in Cancun and a journalist on the front lines of the world-wide struggle to protect women and children from sexual violence. Internationally recognized for her leadership in this work, Cacho was awarded the Francisco Ojeda Award for journalistic courage in 2006, the Amnesty International Ginetta Sagan Award for Women and Children’s Rights in 2007, and the UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize in 2008.
Cacho’s book “Demons of Eden”, published in 2005, revealed the depredations of pederasts in Cancun, Mexico. She provided evidence that Jean Succar Kuri, the owner of a hotel and 40 tourist villas in Cancun was a pederast and profiteer in the flourishing business of providing children for the international sex trade. Children who had been molested for years by Succar Kuri had come forward to tell their story to the Justice Department of Mexico which in turn arranged for secret videos to be made of Succar Kuri in which he talked about his sexual activity with children as young as five years old. Kuri is now in a maximum security Mexican prison.
Tapes also exist of conversations between Succar Kuri and Kamel Nacif in which Nacif asks Kuri to deliver two young women to him. Succar Kuri assures him one will arrive from the United States, the other from El Salvador and they will be delivered to his hotel in Cancun. The cost will be $2000 US each. Nacif is explicit in the taped conversation: he wants them in order “to fornicate” and plans a “menage a trois”.
In her book, “Demons of Eden”, Cacho referred to Kamel Nacif, a rich and powerful manufacturer, as one of Succar Kuri’s friends and protectors.
Nacif brought charges of defamation against Cacho. Governor Mario Marin, responding generously to the needs of a wealthy manufacturer in his state, sent Puebla state police to Cancun in December, 2005 to arrest Cacho and deliver her to a Puebla jail for judgement. She was put in a car with two policemen and followed by 3 policemen in another. She was sick, alone, vulnerable and knew she might be killed. Once released, Cacho described the trip of more than twenty hours during which time the police repeatedly asked if she was a good swimmer because they’d be driving close to the sea and a late night swim might be the best thing for her. They took a gun, forced her mouth open and threatened to pull the trigger if she coughed. When she asked for the medicine she needed for a respiratory problem, a cop stroked his penis and told her “this is the medicine you need.” And when they arrived in Puebla, they reminded her that they knew where she, her husband, her parents and her friends lived so if she said anything negative about the way they had treated her on the trip from Cancun to Puebla, there would be swift revenge.
Two months later taped telephone conversations were delivered to the Jornada newspaper and published. The following conversation between Governor Mario Marin and the manufacturer Kamel Nacif took place almost immediately after the arrest of Lydia Cacho in December, 2005:
Governor: “How’s it going, Kamel?”
Nacif: “My precious gober.”
Governor: “My hero, oh yes.”
Nacif: “No, you’re the hero of this movie, papá”
Governor: “Well, I gave the bitch a smack on the head yesterday. I told her that here in Puebla the law’s respected and nobody gets away with breaking it and she can’t play the victim to get more publicity. I’ve sent her a message and we’ll see what she does now. She’s just been fucking and fucking with us but now she’s been whacked and everyone ought to learn something from it.”
Nacif: “Yeh, I know. These assholes are always sucking around for something. I told’em what I think about all of it. I went on television.”
Governor: “That’s good. In Mexico or here in Puebla?
Nacif: “Here but they said they’re sending it to Mexico. It’ll go out from there. And I talked to Milenio (a national newspaper) in case you want to read it. I told’em the Governor of Puebla’s hand is firm, his hand doesn’t shake.”
Governor: “Not now and not ever.”
Nacif: “What a rat’s nest! What a mess, eh?” . . . . “Well, I called to thank you. I know I got you involved in this problem but . . ..”
Governor: “No, no, I enjoy these things and I agree with you about these motherfuckers. We’re not saints but if anyone has proof, let’em
present it. If not, they should keep their mouths shut.”
Nacif: “Well. I want to thank you and I’m sending you a beautiful bottle of cognac.”
Public reactions to this display of crude, political subservience to wealth came swiftly.
The spokesman for Vincent Fox, then President of Mexico, called the content of the conversations “ brutal and outrageous”.
PRD, the Partido of the Democratic Revolution, said it would initiate impeachment proceedings against Governor Mario Marin.
The Mexico Chamber of Commerce called on the Supreme Court of the nation to investigate.
Felipe Calderon, candidate then and now President of Mexico, demanded a political judgement against the Governor.
And the New York Times offered its commentary on February 20, 2006, “The tape is seen by journalists and politicians here as fueling the worst suspicions about how wealthy people with ties to politicians can use the Mexican legal system, which lacks grand juries, juries or open trials, to harass their enemies.”
And when Joaquin Lopez Dóriga, a well know Mexican television journalist, interviewed Governor Mario Marin “on air” soon after the tapes were published, he began by calling the recorded conversation “obscene and ugly” and challenged the Governor to explain himself. The Governor was happy to do so. He agreed with Lopez Doriga. The Governor also thought the conversation with Kamel Nacif was vulgar and outrageous but said it didn’t have anything to do with him. He never had that conversation, that wasn’t his voice on the tape, he’d never say things like that. In later months, the Governor came around to agreeing that it might be his voice on the tape but the content had been edited to make him look bad.
An equally illuminating, even more offensive conversation with Kamel Nacif took place on the day immediately before the arrest of Lydia Cacho in Cancun. On this tape, Nacif is talking to an unidentified friend.
Nacif: “Tomorrow there’s going to be a full blown, fucking scandal.”
X: “Will it help Succar?” (the accused pederast Succar Kuri)
Nacif: “That fucking woman (Lydia Cacho) said I organize my own parties.”
X: “Right! What a bitch she is!”
Nacif: “And she’s saying I’ve got 100 complaints against me for sexual abuse! Fucking hija de tu chingada madre. Where’s the proof?”
X “Now we pay some woman to rape her in jail.”
Nacif, “No, no, that’s already recommended.”
X: “OK, great!”
Nacif: “Right, throw her in with the lunatics and the lesbians.”
Lydia Cacho has confirmed that while in the Puebla jail a woman guard told her the plan was to have her beaten and raped but the same guard helped her avoid harm. During a moment alone with Cacho, another young woman told her, “You messed with Kamel Nacif? You’re not going to get out of here. He rules this place. Many of those here are locked up for complaining about mistreatment in his factory.”
And immediately after Cacho’s arrest in December, 2005, the following conversation was recorded between Kamel Nacif and Nakad Beyeh (“Juanito”), a friend who is also a manufacturer of texiles in Puebla. In this period, Nacif’s most frequent phone conversations were with “Juanito”. This conversation took place just as the police delivered Cacho to the jail in Puebla.
Nacif, “What’s going on, Juanito?”
Nakad, “Listen, I’m here in the justice office. I couldn’t see Karam (Director of Judicial Police in Puebla) ‘cause he’s in a press conference but I talked to the judge.”
Nacif, “What’d she say?”
Nakad, “She said, ‘Juanito, don’t come to me today’. So I asked, ‘Why not?’ and she said, ‘Later, I’ll talk to you later.’ It looks like someone’s talked to her. She told me ‘I don’t want to see you around here . . . but don’t worry about it. You’re in good hands.’”
Nacif, “What’s that all about? They’re going to let her (Lydia Cacho) out on bail?”
Nakad, “I don’t think so. Listen, she (the judge) said they were going to talk. I don’t know what word came down from above. I’ll get hold of Alfonso Karam (Director de la Policia Judicial) and call you back in a few minutes.”
A few minutes later Nakad called as promised and told Nacif, “Listen, she’s (Lydia Cacho) arrived, she’s here. They’ve got her a la chingada.”
Nacif, “A big ruckus?”
Nakad, “Not too much, no. Her husband’s here. Televisa came and everything’s going on. They all went down where they got her in a cell by order of the Governor. I tell you they had her in a cell five minutes after she got here. They took her down there and they took photos and I don’t know what else. The judge said she’d talk to me later. So it’s good, they got her. It’s done. They say she’s a wreck. Carried her in a miserable car, took’em 24 hours to get here and let her eat once. We’ll see what happens now.”
Lydia Cacho was released from jail in Puebla on bail and the charges brought against her by Kamel Nacif were eventually thrown out by a judge in Cancun. Cacho then brought charges against Governor Mario Marin for violation of her rights and the Supreme Court of the nation voted to investigate the entire affair. The Court selected one of its own, Supreme Court Judge Silva Meza to conduct the inquiry. Months later Judge Silva Meza reported the committee’s conclusions: Governor Marin and his associates had indeed violated the rights of Lydia Cacho by coordinating her arrest and torture in order to benefit the businessman Kamel Nacif.
Then in November, 2007 the Supreme Court of Mexico rejected the conclusion of its own committee that Mario Marin and 29 other state officials had conspired to violate Lydia Cacho’s rights. In a 6-4 vote, the majority of the Court ruled that although there was evidence of criminal actions and some rights violations, they did not meet the standards nrecessary for the court to recommend action.
Lydia Cacho looks back on all this in her book, Memorias de Una Infamia, published in the last months of 2007. The following are among her conclusions:
In spite of all the talk about a new day in Mexican politics since PRI, the Partido Revolucionario Institutional, lost a Presidencial election after some 70 years in power, there is no new, flourishing democracy in the country, no slow break with the old authoritarian mold. Things remain entirely the same but now in a nation of over a hundred million citizens living in 32 states, each state governor rules each state the way the old PRI presidents used to rule the nation.
Cacho argues that when the President controlled all political activity in Mexico he had the undisputed power to remove any state Governor judged to be too far out of line. She notes that since PRI lost its hold on total power, state governors have become far more powerful. Never, she argues, have state governors ruled as autonomously as they do now. In theory their power is limited by a state’s independent judiciary and legislature but the case of Mario Marin, Governor of the State of Puebla, illustrates the Governor’s continuing, clear and complete control over all branches of the state government. She reminds us that in spite of the massive local and national protests against the policies and practices of Mario Marin of Puebla and Ulisis Ruiz of Oaxaca, each governor remains securely in power.
Governor Marin’s conversations with businessman Kamel Nacif illustrate and confirm what many Mexicans assumed: that politicans seek the favor of the rich, depend on their money and support, and are prepared to fall on their knees as necessary while calling them “papito” or “papá” o “mi heroe”.
And as it goes in the states, so it goes nationally. A few lines from a taped telephone conversation between Kamel Nacif, the wealthy businessman, and Emilio Gamboa, one the most powerful Senators in the national legislature, was published by the newspaper Universal and makes the point.
Senator Gamboa, “Papito, where have you been?”
Kamel Nacif, “Well, I’m just here in this lousy city. . .”
Senator Gamboa, “We’re bringing up the reform of the hipodromo. . .” (regarding gambling legislation)
Kamel Nacif, “Why?”
Senator Gamboa, “To play there. . .What do you think about it?”
Kamel Nacif, “No, don’t do it.”
Senator Gamboa, “Whatever you say, whatever you say is the way we’ll go.”
Kamel Nacif, “No, don’t go there, papá”
Senator Gamboa, “Well then we won’t go there. It’ll never pass the Senate now.”
Consider it: Kamel Nacif tells Governor Mario Marin about a problem he’s having with Lydia Cacho and the Governor sends police a thousand miles to another state to arrest her, threaten her with rape, drive her across country for 20 hours and lock her up in a Puebla jail. The same Kamel Nacif calls Senator Gamboa on the phone, hears about proposed legislation, tells Gamboa not to do it and the deal is done. Who’s in charge here? And how did Kamel Nacif get so such power?
To understand, begin here: on March 10, 1999, the New York Times reported that the “Tarrant Apparel Group, a maker of women's casual clothing, agreed yesterday to buy a denim mill in Puebla, Mexico for $107 million in stock and cash to improve the efficiency of its Mexican operations. Tarrant, which is based in Los Angeles and which makes clothing for men and children, will pay two million shares of its stock and $22 million in cash for the mill. Kamel Nacif, who is selling the mill, will become president of the company's Mexican operations. Shares of Tarrant rose 50 cents yesterday, to $43.” Not a bad day’s work: $22 million in cash and $86 million in shares.
Nacif is a very rich man. He is also a shrewd man who uses his wealth in ways calculated to advance his power in the highest political circles of the nation. The following interesting reflections about Kamel Nacif are taken from an article by Miguel Picard published in the June 10, 2003 issue of “Corp Watch”.
“On April 11, 2002, President Vicente Fox flew in his presidential jet to San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, in order to inaugurate the new and, to date, the only maquiladora in the city, Trans-Textil International (TTI). Fox’s visit underscored the importance that his government is placing on initiatives such as TTI, spawned by a direct grant of US$1.65 million in public funds for the establishment of the factory, which is part of the federal governments March Towards Development program. Its stated goal is, according to Fox, to close the development gap between the southern and northern halves of Mexico.
“For the governor of Chiapas, Pablo Salazar, the inauguration of TTI was nothing short of the launch of the states industrial development. In the face of the unemployment generated by 20 years of neoliberal policies, and in the wake of intense and growing campesino out-migration, governments at all levels are urgently seeking to create jobs, and have thus pinned high hopes on the maquiladoras. This explains Fox’s gesture to preside over TTI’s inaugural ceremony, since both he and Governor Salazar see it as an inroad, an example to follow, proof for entrepreneurs that Mexicos southeast can be an alternative for their investments, spreading to the southeast the maquiladoras that up to now prevailed in the north.
“For a factory such as TTI to be installed, the federal, state and municipal governments must grant incentives, in other words, transfer taxpayers funds to companies, or grant exemptions for fees and taxes that otherwise would be collected. In the case of TTI, the transfer was (at least) US$1.62 million, consisting of US$571,429 from the March Towards Development program, and another US$1.05 million from the state government.”
“Who is benefiting from all this? His initials, KN, 3-feet high in bas-relief, are etched on the front wall of the Trans-Textil plant in San Cristobal. He is Kamel Nacif, Mexican of Lebanese origin, the powerful and wealthy king of denim (full name: Kamel Nacif Borge). Nacif owns a textile empire in Mexico, United States and Hong Kong, and the maquiladora in San Cristobal is a relatively small piece in his industrial complex, known as the Tarrant Apparel Group (TAG). Just in the city of Tehuacan, Puebla, TAG has seven maquiladoras, plus a plant that produces almost 20 million yards of denim per year . . . in addition to offices in China, Thailand, Korea, New York and Los Angeles.
“The connection between maquiladoras, hotels, relations with Vamos Mexico (a charity promoted by Marta Sahagun, the wife of Vincent Fox, President of Mexico), Nacif’s past as a big-league bettor, the suspicions of his participation in drug trafficking and money laundering, all point to a possible conclusion: more than a sound bottom-line decision, the maquiladoras in Mexico’s southeast are an agreement between Mr. Nacif and President Fox, keen as the latter is to show results for his motley assembly of programs such as the Plan Puebla Panama or the March to Development. Nacif is a bettor, a gambler by nature. To invest what is for him a token amount in a pet project of the President’s (the maquiladoras in San Cristobal and Chetumal), and in exchange influence the inner circle of power, might be fairly insignificant in monetary terms, and yield enormous rewards. The coveted prize would be a concession to operate a casino in his (Kamel Nacif’s) recently-acquired hotel in the Cancun hotel strip.”
Whatever his future in the casino business, Nacif’s present work is as a manufacturer of textiles with plants in the state of Puebla where his “precious gober” Mario Marin presides over the state in ways that accrue to his own and to his friend’s advantage.
For example, the “U.S.Labor Education in the Americas Project” reports that in June, 2003, workers at Kamel Nacif’s Tarrant-Ajalpan plant initiated work stoppages to protest working conditions. In July, workers at the Ajalpan plant organized a union with 75% of the workers participating. In August, 220 workers were fired. In October, the union filed for official recognition but was denied by Puebla’s Conciliation and Arbitration Board. Workers then called for support from United States allies and denounced the intimidation and physical attacks on workers favoring a union who reported they were being followed to their homes and receiving emails warning them not to try to organize any factory owned by Kamel Nacif, “the infamous leesee and manager of Tarrant’s Mexican facilities”. That fall, Tarrant announced a major restructuring under which Tarrant ceased to be a direct manufacturer and instead leased its facilities to Kamel Nacif, one of its major shareholders. The union’s organizing efforts continued until Febuary, 2004 when the Tarrant/Ajalpan Plant in Puebla closed its doors.”
Whether it’s children or workers being denied rights and discarded once used, rich exploiters are now and will remain protected in Mexico by a network of the financially and politically powerful, a network in which the predators’ dues are always paid and their favors always sought. It’s an old story which loses none of its jarring ugliness for all the times it’s been told. It is also a story that inspires a fearful, understandable silence among many. Cacho has broken that silence and will continue to do so. She has been joined, surrounded, supported and to a considerable degree protected by an international network of women and men, writers, reporters and human rights organizations. If that were not the case, it is all but certain that Lydia Cacho would now be remembered as a brave woman who was killed because she told the truth about predators and the powerful who serve them in Mexico.
For more information, Lydia Cacho’s books, Demonios de Eden and Memorias de una Infamia, are available in Spanish. A web search for “Lydia Cacho” provides links in Spanish and in English. “You Tube” carries videos of Lydia Cacho, Kamel Nacif, Succar Kuri, and Mario Marin.