By Brendan O’Boyle MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Eduardo Verastegui, an outspoken Mexican actor and right-wing activist who calls Donald Trump “my friend,” is hoping to unite his country’s conservatives with a long-shot presidential bid ahead of next year’s elections. In an interview in a Mexico City hotel on Wednesday, Verastegui, 49, said he wanted to […]
Former telenovela star looks to ignite Mexico’s right in presidential bid
By Brendan O’Boyle
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Eduardo Verastegui, an outspoken Mexican actor and right-wing activist who calls Donald Trump “my friend,” is hoping to unite his country’s conservatives with a long-shot presidential bid ahead of next year’s elections.
In an interview in a Mexico City hotel on Wednesday, Verastegui, 49, said he wanted to stop abortion – which is increasingly accessible in Mexico – and end child sex trafficking, the subject of a film he produced that became a breakout hit in the United States this summer.
He called doctors performing abortions assassins and said they should be imprisoned for “a minimum of 100 years.”
“We’re a Catholic country governed by an anti-Catholic government,” he said.
Verastegui has never held elected office and has no political party, but he has gained supporters through a series of films he has produced, and acted in, centered around themes influenced by his Catholic faith.
To get on the ballot he still needs to secure signatures equivalent to 1% of voters – nearly 1 million – and across at least 17 of Mexico’s 32 states by early January.
“I don’t think he is going to be able to gather the signatures,” said political analyst Carlos Bravo.
“I know he has a lot of money… Money helps, but you need a political infrastructure,” he added.
Although Verastegui is unlikely to come close to the presidency, his emergence has caught the attention of political observers in a country where the right wing vote appears wide open for the 2024 presidential election.
The favorite, ruling party candidate Claudia Sheinbaum, hails from the left-wing MORENA party while the main opposition candidate Xochitl Galvez represents the historically center-right National Action Party (PAN) but is herself more centrist and was a Marxist in her youth.
Polls show Sheinbaum, the former mayor of Mexico City and a staunch ally of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, as the favorite to win. Verastegui’s support is in the low single digits.
Bravo said Galvez “might be too progressive” to appeal to the PAN’s far right wing, but he thought it unlikely Verastegui would be able to capitalize on that.
However, early polls have frequently been poor guides in recent years. Outsider candidates have often fared well, including with the sudden emergence of Trump in the U.S. in 2016 and former President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.
Rumors have swirled for months about Verastegui’s political ambitions. In 2022, Verastegui organized CPAC Mexico, a local spinoff of the conservative political conference that has boosted hard-right leaders like Trump, Bolsonaro and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Verastegui told Reuters he looks to Orban, as well as Hungary’s President Katalin Novak and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, as models among global leaders.
“The Hungary model seems very good to me: country, family, freedom,” Verastegui said.
Orban, a right-wing populist and one of Europe’s longest-serving leaders, has been widely criticized for hardline stances on LGBT rights and immigration and for undermining democratic institutions.
“Mexico is a country that has been raped, raped for decades,” Verastegui said. International elites were trying to “destroy Mexico’s culture and values so that Mexico ends up disconnected from its roots,” he added.
In the interview, Verastegui also blasted “gender ideology” and repeated an unsupported claim that schools are putting out litter boxes for children who believe they are cats.
Verastegui grew his platform internationally this summer when a film he produced and acted in, Sound of Freedom, became an unexpected blockbuster.
Trump hosted a screening of the film at his New Jersey golf club, introducing Verastegui as “presidente.”
Verastegui’s film, which follows a U.S. government agent who rescues children from sex trafficking in Colombia, has received praise for shining a light on the problem of child trafficking.
Some critics say Sound of Freedom fuels conspiracy theories like QAnon, which claims that satan-worshiping Democrats and celebrities in the U.S. run a pedophilia ring.
Verastegui said he had heard of QAnon, but that he did not know anything about it.
Asked if he rejects the idea that Democrats are engaged in a pedophilia ring, Verastegui said “there are good people and bad people on all sides.”
On security, a hot-button issue in Mexico where around 30,000 homicides are recorded a year, Verastegui offered less detail.
Asked how he would improve security, Verastegui said he would fight corruption and pay soldiers and police more, but would not be drawn further.
“If I share the strategies, then they are also seeing me and reading me, and you don’t share your strategy with the enemy, telling him how you are going to defeat him.”
(Reporting by Brendan O’Boyle; Editing by Stephen Eisenhammer and Michael Perry)