Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto could become embroiled in yet another scandal as a new journalistic investigation published Sunday night accuses him of plagiarizing “at least” 28.8% of his law degree thesis.
The report alleges that Peña Nieto “plagiarized at least 197 paragraphs of the 682 that make up the text” of the thesis he presented in 1991 to graduate from Mexico City’s Universidad Panamericana.
Peña Nieto's thesis analyzes the history and foundations of Mexico’s presidential system.
The investigation, which cross-checked copies of the thesis with books, original sources and other materials, claims Peña Nieto plagiarized the work of former Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid as well as several renowned Mexican historians and lawyers.
“Peña Nieto cited them occasionally, he didn’t attribute [to the original works] the paragraphs he copied as if he had authored them and rarely used quotation marks,” reads the report, published Sunday.
The investigation is coauthored by some of the same Mexican journalists who two years ago revealed that Mexico’s first lady had purchased a $7-million mansion from a prominent government contractor.
The spokesman for the Mexican presidency, Eduardo Sanchez, said his office wasn’t given a chance to properly review the materials to comment, but hinted that he views the report as cheap gotcha journalism.
“Apparently style errors like quotes without quotation marks or the lack of references to authors [Peña Nieto] included in the bibliography are, two and a half decades later, a matter of journalistic interest,” Sanchez said in a press release just minutes before the report was published.
In an interview Monday morning, Mexico’s Minister of Education said “there are far more important things” facing the country than an aging plagiarism scandal, but wouldn't comment on whether the allegations are true.
Though the administration is downplaying the importance of the plagiarism report, it has dominated the national news cycle since Sunday night as Mexicans take to social media to praise the journalistic investigation but also mock its most famous co-author, veteran Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui.
Aristegui is a bold and respected journalist who claims media executives were pressured into firing her from a popular radio broadcast after she published the investigation on the infamous Casa Blanca or “White House” that the first lady purchased from a government contractor. The 2014 investigation went on to win several awards and damaged the president’s popularity.
Hours before publishing the plagiarism allegations on Sunday night, Aristegui uploaded a video to her social media pages assuring her followers that the upcoming report would expose “clear and overwhelming evidence on the intellectual, academic and ethical profile of the current Mexican president.”
But some of her critics slammed the announcement as sensationalist, motivated by politics and a personal vendetta against the president.
“I thought the Aristegui report would be another thing. Journalism cannot be used as a tool for vengeance.”
“Enrique Peña Nieto didn’t cover his notebooks in elementary school, his mother did it for him.”
Some Mexicans also poked fun at the investigation through the hashtag #NoMamar, a vulgar phrase that can be roughly translated to something like “stop bullshitting” — suggesting that for some the scandal is not resonating as much as the journalists had hoped.
Still, the plagiarism allegations come at a time were the Mexican government is trying to resolve a deadlocked protest with thousands of teachers who are taking a stand against Peña Nieto’s education reform. The protests have often turned violent and chaotic, hurting local economies and displacing people in the south of the country.
The plagiarism allegations, if true, could complicate negotiations if the demonstrators use it to put into question the president’s moral authority to lead the improvement of Mexico’s education standards.
You can read the full investigation here.