REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- The front-runner in Mexico's presidential race stumbled in a high-profile way at a world-class book festival on Saturday, when, over several minutes, he appeared unable to correctly name a book that's influenced his life, besides the Bible.
And even then, Enrique Peña Nieto fumbled, not citing an "author" or a prophet whose biblical verse has particularly touched him. Instead, he merely made a vague reference to "some passages of it."
He also confused the names of two well-known Mexican authors, Enrique Krauze and Carlos Fuentes, in a four-minute episode that ended with the candidate red-faced, saying, "The truth is, when I read a book I often don't fully register the titles." (Link in Spanish.)
Peña Nieto's gaffe at the Guadalajara International Book Fair -- a deeply respected cultural platform in Mexico that is billed as Latin America's largest literary event -- continued resonating on Monday, with Peña Nieto defending himself in several tweets.
Adding to the embarrassment, Peña Nieto's teen daughter, Paulina, used a slur and a separate offensive term for poor people while defending her dad in two late-night tweets. Paulina's Twitter profile has since disappeared, and her father issued an apology Monday morning.
The episode has sparked a flurry of reaction on social-networking sites, including satirical "trending topics" on Twitter, such as #LibreríaPeñaNieto, or "Peña Nieto's Bookstore." Users are inventing the titles of books the candidate has "read" full of political mocking and double or triple meaning.
Peña Nieto, 45, is the presumed candidate for the formerly ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party as it seeks to recapture the presidency in 2012.
He was at the FIL, as the festival is known, partly because he's a freshly minted author himself, of "Mexico, the Great Hope." Releasing books at the start of the political season is a standard practice for presidential candidates in Mexico, and the practice attracts little scrutiny.
On Saturday, Peña Nieto was responding to a reporter who asked him to name three books that have marked his life. The candidate stammered and smiled nervously as he confused the author of a title he could name, the novel "The Eagle's Chair," saying it was by historian Krauze. It was written by Fuentes, perhaps Mexico's most noteworthy living novelist.
"There's another book by him [Krauze] that I want to remember the name, about caudillos, but I don't remember the exact title," Peña Nieto said.
Peña Nieto's wife, actress Angelica Rivera, sat in the front row and "appeared to suffer more than her husband," according to one local report (link in Spanish). Giggles and then laughter can be heard in this amateur video. Here's another video by El Universal, with a reporter's narration in Spanish.
The episode at the FIL came with the kind of allegorical coincidences that are the bread-and-butter of Mexico's chattering classes.
"The Eagle's Chair" is a political tale set in 2020, in which the United States has cut off Mexico's telecommunications -- radio, television, Internet. The president's Cabinet is filled with stealthy characters, as the book's jacket describes, and a mysterious female figure tells a young man, "You shall be president of Mexico."
Peña Nieto also managed to make reference to another author in Guadalajara, the British conservative politician Jeffrey Archer, author of "Kane and Abel." In real life, Archer has served prison time for perjury and conspiracy to pervert justice.
-- Daniel Hernandez
Photo: Mexican presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto at the International Book Fair in Guadalajara, Mexico on Saturday. Credit: EnriquePenaNieto.com