When he ran for the Latin American nation’s highest office in 2012, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto campaigned on the promise of transparency and a war on government corruption. Little did voters know, some very questionable techniques were rocketing Enrique to the front of the race, according to a new piece from Bloomberg.
That is, if you believe Andrés Sepúlveda, who is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence in Colombia for “malicious software, conspiracy to commit crime, violation of personal data, and espionage.” None of these charges relate to his alleged history with Peña Nieto. Andrés was locked up for assisting the presidential campaign of Colombia’s Oscar Iván Zuluaga in 2012. In addition to Zuluaga and Enrique, he also claims to have had a hand in the outcome of elections in Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Venezuela.
Still, Sepúlveda gives his duties for Peña Nieto a special distinction. Andrés had a $600,000 budgets for the operations that he claims to have carried out for Enrique’s campaign. With a team of hackers, Sepúlveda mined through the opposition’s electronic devices with spyware, uplifted campaign strategies, and, perhaps most shocking of all, controlled social media by creating waves of fake accounts to sway public opinion.
“When I realized that people believe what the Internet says more than reality, I discovered that I had the power to make people believe almost anything.”
In Peña Nieto’s hacked-out campaign, that social tool turned out to be indispensable. Andrés created a 30,000-strong swarm of fake profiles that posted a virtual wave of dissent, or agreement — depending on which way Enrique needed it to tilt. Other methods were more specifically tailored to smaller races, wrote Bloomberg.
“On election night, he had computers call tens of thousands of voters with prerecorded phone messages at 3 a.m. in the critical swing state of Jalisco. The calls appeared to come from the campaign of popular left-wing gubernatorial candidate Enrique Alfaro Ramírez. That angered voters—that was the point—and Alfaro lost by a slim margin. In another governor’s race, in Tabasco, Sepúlveda set up fake Facebook accounts of gay men claiming to back a conservative Catholic candidate representing the PAN, a stunt designed to alienate his base.”
The cut-throat methods paid off. Peña Nieto won the election by more than three million votes in July 2012. Throughout his campaign, Enrique was typically between 10 and 20 percent ahead of his closest rival — Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). In his victory speech, he spoke of a new horizon for Mexico, reported Fox News Latino.
“We’re a new generation. There is no return to the past. It’s time to move on from the country we are to the Mexico we deserve and that we can be… where every Mexican writes his own success story.”
Sepúlveda’s hacking services were employed exclusively by right-wing parties. Andrés himself had experienced the violence of left-wing Marxist guerrilla forces in Colombia as a child, which later shaped his political ideas. Some of his most high-profile targets included the populist presidents of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro. Although he was not successful in bringing down their campaigns, he employed similar methods to those he brought to Peña Nieto’s presidential run.
Andrés Sepúlveda’s services may have been limited to the Latin American market, but he doesn’t believe they stop with regional leaders like Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. When asked if he thought the practice was taking place in the United States, he answered without hesitation.
“I’m 100 percent sure it is.”
[Photo by Matt Dunham – WPA Pool/Getty Images]