Cuauhtémoc Gutiérrez de la Torre was not only running Mexico’s ruling PRI political party in the nation’s capitol, he was also running a secret network of prostitutes at the party’s premises until he was publicly exposed last month by Noticias MVS, Mexico’s City’s top-rated morning radio newscast.
But while the PRI leadership temporarily suspended him from his duties, Gutiérrez remains a member of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s party. When I asked Cesar Camacho, the PRI’s powerful National Chairman, why he has not been expelled, he answered: “Cuauhtémoc’s criminal behavior is his personal behavior; it is not the PRI’s business.” He brushed off any negative effects the scandal has had on the PRI’s reputation. “It seems to me that the Cuauhtémoc issue is for Cuauhtémoc to fix,” he told me while visiting Washington on Tuesday.
While it is not uncommon for politicians to divorce morality from politics, it’s nevertheless mind-boggling to hear Camacho describe his colleague’s alleged illegal behavior as a private matter. At first glance, the case is all but a private matter. There is evidence that he used and abused his position and the party’s funds and infrastructure to sexually exploit vulnerable women during working hours. “In the U.S., if this happened, the political party would be facing a multi-million dollar suit,” Martina Vandenberg, Chairman of the New York-based Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center, told me. “The allegations indicate a sexual harassment on steroids. I have never seen anything like this in the U.S.,” added Vandenberg, who has spent nearly two decades fighting human trafficking, forced labor, rape as a war crime, and violence against women. She opined that Gutierrez’s case “confirms everyone’s worst fears about corruption and abuse of power.” In regards to Camacho’s assertion, Vandenberg said that if the women were on the PRI’s payroll, “Then it is not a personal matter.”
Reached by phone, Amber Trzinski, an attorney at U.S. law firm Outten & Golden LLP and co-chair of the firm’s Sexual Harassment Practice Group, agreed with the seriousness of the case. “If the allegations are true, this would certainly be a case of sexual harassment, in addition to other types of claims. In the civil system, the standard for a sexual harassment claim is severe or pervasive and here, it seems to me, these facts would easily meet both of those standards. The law suit would then be against the employer.”
Gutiérrez’s case is perhaps the biggest and most blatant expression known publicly of abuse of power and influence peddling in the PRI’s tumultuous 85-year history. Gutiérrez, as heavy‑set as an ox, took advantage of his position to keep a network of prostitutes on the PRI’s payroll, used the PRI’s offices to have sex with them and the PRI’s image to lure potential victims (mostly single mothers, divorced young women and students) into applying for jobs that were misrepresented in the classified pages of a major newspaper.
Acting on a tip given by one of the victims, Noticias MVS, (for which I am the Washington D.C. correspondent), sent an under-cover female reporter to apply for the job at a “government office,” offering a salary up to 14,000 Mexican pesos (around $1,000) a month. The reporter, whose identity has been kept confidential to protect her, secretly recorded the interview with Priscila Martínez Gonzalez, Gutiérrez’s recruiter. The candidates for the job (ages 18 to 32) where asked by Priscila to specify their weight, height and availability, and change into short skirts and high heels. Those hired were later given a blazer with the PRI logo.
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Gutiérrez demanded sex from the new recruits on the first day. Around 12 to 15 women were permanently at his service. If they gained weight or resisted following his orders, they were fired.
Gutiérrez, who has accused Noticias MVS of trying to destroy his reputation, has denied the accusations, claiming that they are part of a political vendetta against him.
The case is currently being investigated by the Attorney General’s office of Mexico City. Prominent NGOs are demanding that Peña Nieto’s Attorney General take over the investigation, but the PRI is resisting because they want to keep the scandal out of the national spotlight. PRI Chairman Camacho told me that he believes the Mexico City Attorney General’s office is the appropriate venue. Whether a local or a federal matter, in a country with pervasive impunity, 80% of all Mexicans said in a recent poll that they do not believe Gutiérrez will ever be punished.