Two Sides of Mexico Clash in the #LadyProfeco Case

Officials Daughter Tried to Get Restaurant Shut After She Was Denied Table

May 1, 2013, 1:33 PM

May 1, 2013— -- Andrea Benitez has a lot of money. Her father, Humberto, runs Profeco, Mexico's consumer watchdog agency. So last week, when Benitez was forced to wait outside a trendy Mexico City restaurant, and denied her table of choice, one of the first things that came to mind was her social status.

"You don't know who you're messing with," Benitez allegedly told restaurant staff. She stormed out of the place. But shortly afterwards, the restaurant was visited by inspectors from her dad's agency, who slowly began to inspect the restaurant.

Twenty years, ago, maybe even ten years ago, this restaurant called Maximo's Bistrot, may have been shut down because its staff dared to anger a member of the Mexican elite.

But in 2013, Mexican citizens have a weapon against this behavior: Mobile cellphones, with cameras, connected to the internet.

As inspectors from Profeco began to shut down Maximo's, several outraged dinner guests began to take pictures with their mobile phones. The unwanted attention apparently forced inspectors to quickly withdraw from the restaurant, but the damage was done.

Benitez became famous on Twitter, where a hashtag called #ladyprofeco was created to make fun of her and denounce her abusive conduct. Local media picked up the story over the weekend, and on Monday, it went all the way to the Mexican congress, where opposition legislators asked that an investigation be launched against Humberto Benitez, Andrea's dad.

But why such a big fuss over threats to a restaurant in a country that has to deal with corruption cases that involve millions of dollars stolen from public funds? One of the reasons that this case has resonated, according to observers, is because it involves the daughter of a high level official from the PRI, Mexico's longtime ruling party.

Many Mexicans are tired of the alleged abuses committed by officials from this party, its allies, and family members. Some of them are famous for displaying their ill acquired wealth in public, or abusing their status in an a quasi-offensive manner.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto won last year's election on promises of "renovating" the PRI and he seems to sense the discomfort caused by Andrea Benitez's attitude. He has ordered his minister of economy to investigate the Profeco agency and its director, Humberto Benitez.

But the #ladyprofeco case also symbolizes a deeper struggle that is constantly taking place within Mexican society.

"What you have here is a clash between two worlds," said Alfonso Tames a web marketing expert, and political activist in Mexico City. "It's the Mexico that values improving your lot in life through hard work, against the Mexico of privilege and arrogance, where family connections get you what you want."

Tames pointed out that relatives of powerful politicians from other parties have also been involved in incidents where they made almost surreal displays of arrogance.

Back in 2009, for example, the son of a senator from Mexico's National Action Party tried to get into a club run by a friend of Tames'.

He was denied entry because he was too drunk and reacted by taking off his belt and whipping the bouncer of the club. But that was before iPhones and Androids were widely available in Mexico.

"Imagine what would've happened if someone took a video of that and put that up on social media," Tames said.

So will social media and the fear of being exposed change how the Mexican elite behave?

Luis Cesar Torres a sociologist at Mexico's National Pedagogical University said that tools like Twitter and smartphones can help to decrease corruption and abuse of power.

"Its good that we are watching each other [and watching the powerful]" said Torres, who has done several studies on the political impact of Twitter in Mexico.

But he added that social media cannot stamp out acts of corruption on its own. A judicial system that effectively punishes those who abuse of their power is also required for that, Torres said.

In the #ladyprofeco case, for instance, it is not certain yet whether Andrea Benitez or her father will receive any actual punishment for the unwarranted inspection and threats to shut down Maximo Bistrot.

Both have apologized via Twitter for what happened last week. And the embarrassment and shame brought about by this incident may well discourage Andrea Benitez from doing the same thing again.

But Torres thinks that this is not enough. "I think there must be consequences," he said. "If not, it is just a sensational story that goes by, it quiets down, and then maybe they will continue to do the same things."

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