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El Chamuco magazine pokes fun at PRI presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto's reading habits this week. It sends up the book "The Godfather" by having a cover entitled "The Godson," with Peña Nieto sitting in a chair with puppet strings above him. The author, instead of Mario Puzo, is Manlio Púzolas. The godfather is Don Salino Carleone and the godson, Enrico Copete. (Copete means crest, or tuft, and cartoonists in Mexico are having a field day with the crest of Peña Nieto's hair.)
Among the books the humor magazine says are in Peña Nieto's library:
• "El Retrato de Dorian Güey" (The Portrait of Dorian Grey)
• "Lo que Moreira se llevó" (Gone with Moreira, a play on "Gone with the Wind")
• "El Copete en Llamas" (The Tuft in Flames: "El Llano en Llamas" (The Burning Plain) is a book of short stories by Juan Rulfo)
• "A Sangre Fria" (In Cold Blood) by Truman Copete
• "La insoportable levedad del gel" (The unbearable lightness of (hair) gel.)
• "La Sombra del Cepillo" (The Shadow of the Hairbrush, a play on Martín Luis Guzmán's "La Sombra del Caudillo")
Another article lists one of Peña Nieto's favorite authors as Hank Christian Rhonderson, who presumably has moved from Denmark to Tijuana.
Enrique Peña Nieto, the leading candidate in next year's presidential election, stumbled at the Guadalajara book fair when he could not quickly name three books that influenced him. The Institutional Revolutionary Party official named the Bible, mismatched the author and title of a second and did not specifically name a third, although he said there was a book he enjoyed reading about caudillos in Mexico and had read Jeffrey Archer and other authors. He said he had not read all the Bible. He misattributed the book "La Silla del Aguila" written by novelist Carlos Fuentes to one of Fuentes' fiercest critics, historian Enrique Krauze. (What Archer books might Peña Nieto have read?)
Peña Nieto said when he has time to read he forgets names and titles, finally answering: "I really couldn't point to a book that has marked my life."
His daughter Paulina on Monday retweeted a Twitter message reportedly written by her boyfriend calling her father's critics a bunch of idiots who form part of the proletariat and only criticize those they envy. Peña Nieto apologized for that retweet.
Also Monday, Peña Nieto said the mistakes he made confusing authors and titles "could happen to anyone." In an interview with Oscar Mario Beteta for Radio Fórmula, the former Mexico state governor said, "I read occasionally, under the limits imposed by the responsibilities I have."
National Action Party presidential hopeful Ernesto Cordero said Peña Nieto's comments were causing some to have serious doubts about him, saying a general knowledge of culture was important. Then, when asked his own list of three books, Cordero had his own goof in saying they were "Animal Farm" by George Orwell, "Island of Passion" by Isabel Restrepo and "Alice in Wonderland." Upon prompting by journalist Sergio Sarmiento on a radio program, Cordero corrected himself to say that "La isla de la Pasión" was written by Laura Restrepo. Sarmiento also notes that anyone can make a mistake, noting that he called Cordero "Enrique."
How much can this damage Peña Nieto? Time will tell. But in general, Mexicans don't read, averaging one or two books a year. So would they punish a candidate for not reading? Mexico's cognoscenti blasted and teased Mexican President Vicente Fox for mispronouncing the last name of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, but did it affect Fox's overall popularity that much? Could it even have helped him?
Peña Nieto just came out with a political book. PRD candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador has written political books, and National Action Party front-runner Josefina Vázquez Mota wrote a self-help book before she became seriously involved in politics. She also has a new political book, “Nuestra oportunidad. Un México para todos.”
El Universal story, El Mexicano (PDF). Reforma story, in Frontera (PDF).
Story, New York Times.
Video and commentary
Sergio Sarmiento's column (PDF).
Update, Dec. 7: Follow-up story, El Universal (PDF). Jump.
Reforma writes about presidential books, in Frontera (PDF). Second page.
Update, Dec. 9: Televisa news anchorwoman Adela Micha came under fire for saying on the air that "Reading is irrelevant when it comes time for governing." After a torrent of Twitter messages criticized her, she responded:
"For those who want to burn me at the stake for thinking differently: What I said and what I think about the @EPN business is that being a voracious reader is no guarantee of being a good elected official!" Story in Frontera.
Update, Dec. 15: Enrique Krauze says anyone can mix things up, and that what is important is whether a politician understands the reality of Mexico and can act accordingly. Reforma story, in Frontera (PDF).
Former President Vicente Fox criticizes Carlos Fuentes for his criticism of Peña Nieto over the book issue, calling Fuentes arrogant ("soberbio"). Reforma story, in Frontera (PDF).
Update, Dec. 16: Proceso magazine's take on Fuentes' interview with the BBC over the matter. Story, Proceso (PDF). BBC interview with Fuentes.
Fuentes tells the BBC that Peña Nieto does not have the capability to hold a conversation as an equal with world leaders such as President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Update, Dec. 18: Peña Nieto seems to be finally moving toward taking better action to try to negate the effects of the book flap, saying Saturday that although he might forget an author's name, he cannot forget the violence, poverty and despair Mexicans are experiencing. Reforma's story in Frontera (PDF).
Update, Dec. 19: Leo Zuckermann says Peña Nieto is finally putting a positive spin on the book matter (see update, Dec. 18, above), noting that Vicente Fox's famous "Hoy, hoy, hoy" slogan was an outgrowth of a negative event for him in his successful 2000 presidential campaign. Zuckermann's column (PDF).
Now, which Jeffrey Archer book or books was Peña Nieto reading?
Update, April 27: The Mexican humor columnist Catón rhymes about news item that "Mexicans read little"
One or two books a year, sound the alarm,
Mexians read hardly any prose.
(And many politicans even suppose
That reading will actually do them harm)
The original, and far better, Spanish (PDF)