Mexico City — One day after the decriminalization of abortion was announced, Eduardo Verastegui took out a black suit from his closet and dressed in mourning to go out to seek the presidency of Mexico.
“It’s a reminder so I don’t forget why I’m doing what I’m doing.”“said the film producer at a recent rally when recalling his registration as an independent candidate for the 2024 elections.
The candidacy is a million signatures away and its strategy to gather them is kerosene in a country where Catholicism, feminism and the defense of the rights of LGBT community.
Sometimes he prays on TikTok, other times he invites Mexicans to write a love story under his project of “God, Country and Family”—governing with Christian values, he says—and on one occasion—which according to him was a satire—it was recorded firing an assault rifle to portray how he would attack the “terrorists of the 2030 agenda, climate change and gender ideology”.
Politics barely appears on his resume and that, he says, is muscle.
In the 90s he danced shirtless in a pop music trio and soap operas made use of his gallantry, but now—at 49—God sneaks into his presentations, repeats that he defends life because Mexico is conceived in the wombs of its mothers and kneels at rallies to ask forgiveness on behalf of all men from all women.
“I like that he is a citizen and not a politician,” says Alejandra Hernandez, 46, during a signature gathering event.
“I also agree with his values, with his Catholic faith. As he says: the right to life is the first right and, if we do not have it, we have nothing”.
A few meters away, wrapped in a shawl printed with the Virgin of Guadalupe, Felicitas Diaz says that she supports him because he is the only pro-life candidate.
“Killing innocent beings is not worth it. “I was sad, worried, thinking ‘who am I going to vote for?’, and when they told us about him, a light opened up for me.”.
The 65-year-old woman says she sympathized with a right-wing party that shared her ideology, but the decisions of that bloc ahead of the elections dismayed her.
With no options to confront Claudia Sheinbaum, former mayor of the capital and who leads the polls to succeed President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the National Action Party (PAN)—which Diaz favored—created a coalition with previously enemy parties and launched as a contender. to Senator Xochitl Galvez, whose progressive ideas do not represent the conservative sector of Mexico.
Raul Tortolero, a writer who sympathizes with Verastegui, says that the candidate champions a new right that defends values similar to those of Jose Antonio Kast in Chile and Santiago Abascal in Spain.
This current, says Tortolero, is totally religious and has seven pillars: God at the center of life, the rejection of abortion and the LGBT community, the defense of private property, the country, freedoms and universal rights.
There are also young people who support it because it supports other priorities for them.
“More than far-right, as the media calls us, we are patriots”says Isaac Alonso, a 31-year-old entrepreneur who leads a group of young people in support of Verastegui.
Their fight pursues well-paying jobs, ending impunity and eradicating poverty through the promotion of economic development.
“We are brave women and men who cannot leave our future in the hands of corrupt politicians who are incapable of governing themselves and intend to govern a nation”.
Frida Espinoza, 23 years old and co-founder of a pro-life organization, says that she connected with Verastegui after listening to his life testimony—how he renounced fame and vices when he met God—but now she gives him a more critical vision of local politics. .
“There is a tiredness that the parties are allying themselves with values that do not represent me,” he says. “I am not going to be in favor of the useful vote because I am not going to legitimize a person who opposes everything I believe.”
And that is why, even if Verastegui does not strengthen his candidacy, supporting him is worth it.
“It’s very authentic. He is not looking to be a Mexican Trump or copy other personalities. He simply realized that the causes he had already taken up needed to be brought into politics.”
The “outsider” or common man who calls himself different from traditional politicians is old news in Latin America. Guatemala elected a television comedian as president in 2015, but recent Mexico had not seen an actor pursuing the position.
After the erosion of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which governed for 70 years, a businessman promised in 2000 that the PAN would solve national ills in the blink of an eye. The electorate granted him two six-year terms of patience and in 2012 he returned power to the PRI.
The corruption scandals of that last period left such a bitter legacy that it is difficult to know whether hope or fury led millions to vote for Lopez Obrador in 2018, but his victory was decisive.
At that time, explains editor and writer Diego Fonseca, who recently published an extensive book on populism in Latin America, Lopez Obrador occupied the space of the “outsider” because he and his party—Morena—challenged party structures.
“Morena is now a more institutionalized space, an apparatus that found a way to structure itself in the PRI, but lives off a leader,” he says, and his exit opens marginal spaces.
“Verastegui tries to thrive in those margins,” adds Fonseca. “It seeks to be a messianic reference to replace another populist discourse based on simple, easily digestible ideas.”
Many of these ideas are incendiary — such as when he said that homosexuality is linked to pedophilia — and not only arouse criticism on networks or the interest of media that verify fake news, but also concern among human rights organizations.
”says Cristian Gonzalez, researcher at Human Rights Watch.“In many democratic countries we have seen politicians like Verastegui cynically campaign to conservative voters with the promise of recovering ‘Christian’ or ‘traditional’ values.
However, he adds, these same politicians work on other projects that undermine democratic norms and the rule of law.
Leaders similar to Verastegui —such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and the former presidents of Brazil and the United States, Jair Bolsonaro and donald trump — have acted against the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, equal marriage and abortion in parallel to their attacks on press freedom, judicial independence and confidence in the electoral system, says Gonzalez.
“They tend to scapegoat groups such as women and LGBT people while threatening the civil, political and social rights of all citizens.”
The Associated Press requested an interview with Verastegui several times, but he was not available.
When the candidate who dresses in mourning for unborn babies leads a rally, attendees at his events say they feel a lump in their throat as they hear—over and over—his personal story.
Verastegui says that he was born in Tamaulipas, in northern Mexico, and learned to swim in a river with his faithful dog. He tells that he was happy and then he moved away from happiness. He says that he moved to the capital defying his parents, because they wanted him to be a lawyer and he wanted to be an actor, and he says that, after having achieved success and being a victim of assaults, he decided to migrate like any neighbor’s son in search of the dream. American. He says that when he arrived in the United States he did not speak English, but a teacher—whom no one knows, but that doesn’t matter, he says—taught him the language and one day asked him: “What is the purpose of your life?”
And so, he says, he stopped complaining without proposing solutions, seeing women as sexual objects and made a promise to his parents: I will never work again on any project that affects my faith, my family or my country.
In order not to be unemployed, he says, he founded a production company that finances projects in line with his values - two pro-life films stand out and one that denounces the trafficking of minors – and he assures that his experience is enough to govern: a producer hires the best team and a politician does the same.
“A president is not obliged to know everything, but he is obliged to bring together the best in each area”he said at a recent rally.
Populism, explains Fonseca, is a political religion. It is linked to the exercise of faith and its operation is charismatic.
“There is a story, rituals and liturgy for a community morally built around the idea that the leader is a redeemer committed to rescuing the soul of the nation from the hands of its enemies.”
At Verastegui’s rallies, applause drowns out his speeches, dozens of women take photos of him non-stop and interrupt him with shouts of: “You’ll see, yes!”
“I like how he was able to give up certain things that his convictions told him to do; “How he was able to persist in his fight and see how he could contribute to Mexico,” says Marisol Hernandez, 24 years old.
“He himself says ‘I’m not a saint, I’ve made a mistake’, but he recognizes that God has acted in his life and that is the most fundamental thing”.