Mexicans took to Twitter with a barrage of jokes, memes and angry messages on Tuesday night after first lady Angelica Rivera released a video in which she defends her husband from corruption allegations that have been dogging the Mexican presidency for the past two weeks.
Rivera — who is known in Mexico as “La Gaviota”, for her leading role in a telenovela about love in the tequila industry — released a YouTube video in which she attempted to explain how her family acquired a
$5 $4 million mansion in one of Mexico City’s most exclusive neighborhoods.
Mexican newsite Aristegui Noticias reported earlier this month the presidential couple had been living in the luxurious mansion now known here as “The White House,” since 2012 even though the home is publicly listed as a property belonging to Grupo Higa, a Mexican construction company that has bid for several government contracts.
In the seven-minute video, Rivera talks about being “transparent” and “defending the integrity of her husband and her children” and denies the house was a gift from Mexican magnates seeking government favors.
Instead, Rivera said she bought the mansion herself with money she earned as an actress at the Mexican TV network Televisa. Rivera said Grupo Higa is listed as the mansion’s owner until she can pay off her mortgage.
“I’ve got nothing to hide,” Rivera said in a sultry telenovela tone. “I’ve worked all my life and that’s allowed me to become an independent woman.”
Rivera said that in 2010 Televisa paid her 88 million pesos [$7million] to terminate a six-year contract. She said that in her 2010 tax forms, she reported an annual income of 131 million pesos [$11 million].
The first lady also posted her 2010 tax forms, and a copy of her mortgage online.
But her announcement was met with a mix of outrage, laughter and skepticism in Mexico’s Twittersphere. Mexican social media has been sharply critical of Pena Nieto as protests have rocked the country since last month’s disappearance of 43 college students.
Many Twitter users did not believe that Rivera, a moderately popular actress, could actually command a $7 million salary at Televisa. One user joked that Chabelo, the host of a popular kids show with huge ratings, would be upset with the news of Rivera’s salary.
Other Twitter users noted that Rivera’s house is worth more than the homes of A-list Hollywood actresses who’ve won Oscars, and are famous not just in Mexico, but all over the world. “Do they really think we’re idiots?” one tweet read. (Note that the meme lists the value of the house at $7 million, which is the estimate Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui obtained when she first broke the story - Rivera has since said she paid about $4 million.)
Mexican newspaper Publimetro noted that actresses who are more famous than Rivera and also worked at Televisa have signed contracts worth much less than what the first lady said she earned.
Publimetro says that in the 1990s and 2000s, actresses like Gloria Trevi, Talia and Veronica Castro signed five-year deals with Televisa worth $500,000 to $600,000 a year. That’s a fraction of the $7 million Rivera says she earned at Televisa in 2010.
If her statements are true, Angelica Rivera would be the best paid actress in Mexican television history, some journalists argue.
Rivera said that she will sell her rights to the house — she’s only paid 30% of the mortgage — because she doesn’t want the mansion to continue to be a pretext that journalists can use to “offend and difame” her family.
The living room of the First Lady's mansion. [via Aristegui Noticias]
But Aristegui Noticias, the news site that first broke the story on the mansion, says Rivera’s statement still leaves many questions unanswered.
For starters, the statement does not explain why the presidential couple was making private real estate deals with Grupo Higa, a company that bid for major federal government contracts, including a project to build Mexico’s first bullet train, which was first awarded to Higa but recently cancelled.
News reports suggest Grupo Higa has a lengthy relationship with Pena Nieto. According to CNN Mexico, the company won construction projects worth $615 million in the State of Mexico while Pena Nieto was governor.
The construction conglomerate also rented airplanes for Pena Nieto’s presidential campaign, Aristegui Noticias reports.
Aristegui Noticias notes that in her statement Rivera confirmed she met the president of Grupo Higa and asked him to find a suitable terrain for her to build a house. “But Rivera does not explain the conflict of interests between Pena Nieto and the group,” Aristegui concludes.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.