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As the rest of the world turns, Mexico's eyes are riveted on a wedding

The marriage of Enrique Pena Nieto, governor of Mexico state and potentially the country's next president, to soap opera star Angelica Rivera is Topic No. 1.

November 26, 2010|By Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Mexico City — If it were a soap opera (and it sure feels like one), Saturday's big event would be the pull-out-the-stops season finale. The script calls for wedding bells.

After months of buildup, the man who could be Mexico's next president, Enrique Pena Nieto, is to marry a real-life soap opera star, Angelica Rivera, in a ceremony some hype-mongers here have dared dub "the wedding of the century."

Chatter over the nuptials is all over Mexican magazines, Twitter and Facebook, where the handsome couple posted a Brady Bunch-style photo of themselves and the six children they will soon blend into a family. (Pena Nieto, 44, is a widower; Rivera, 41, is divorced. Each has three children.)

The wedding in the city of Toluca, outside Mexico City, is draped in glamour and power, with political meaning twined in the romance.

Early polls have the photogenic Pena Nieto, of the once-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, favored to win the presidency in 2012. Rivera has her own big following, and is known to many simply as La Gaviota, or Seagull, for her character in a soap opera on the country's dominant network, Televisa.

Coverage of the marriage has been fawning. (One normally staid newspaper labeled the relationship "a telenovela love.") That's a potential public relations bonanza for Pena Nieto on the eve of a presidential run. His term as governor of the central state of Mexico ends next year.

Analysts are watching the affair less for the cut of Rivera's dress than its effect on the 2012 election, which the PRI hopes will vault it back into the presidency, which it lost in 2000.

"The 'princely event' will produce tons of commentary and photos in gossip magazines that will stir the romantic hearts of many Mexicans," columnist Eduardo Holguin wrote in the Milenio newspaper.

George W. Grayson, a Mexico scholar at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., said the ceremony was designed to create a "Kennedyesque Camelot" image.

"Televisa will make certain that the nuptials thrum the heartstrings of viewers, especially women, whom the PRI is courting," Grayson said.

The broadcasting giant isn't planning to televise the wedding, but it's hovering like a giddy bridesmaid above the proceedings.

In the eyes of many observers, Mexico's biggest network has all but declared Pena Nieto its pick for president in two years. Televisa produced the governor's state-of-the-state address a few months back, and a Televisa-owned magazine devoted a 25-page photo spread to the couple and their children.

The muckraking Proceso news magazine offered a snarky take, calling the wedding a "front" aimed at marketing on behalf of a lightweight candidate.

Still, everyone loves a love story, and many ordinary Mexicans are drawn to the tale of a romance blossoming between celebrities.

The two began working together in 2008, when Pena Nieto hired Rivera as the public face of a promotional campaign for the state of Mexico. Last year, he went public with news that they were an item.

In December, Pena Nieto announced that the couple's plans to wed had been blessed by the pope during a visit to the Vatican. (Rivera's previous marriage was not officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church because she got married on a beach instead of in a church.)

Like any good drama, this one comes edged in intrigue.

When Pena Nieto's wife, Monica Pretelini, died in 2007, the death was ruled an epileptic episode. Some detractors, though, have never abandoned suspicions that Pretelini killed herself, after initial media reports said she had suffered a drug overdose.

"Gaviota, be careful of this man," someone warned on Rivera's Facebook page.

Well-wishers, meanwhile, are too busy savoring the Big Moment for dark talk.

"Please broadcast the wedding on TV," one admirer pleaded on the same Facebook page. "I don't want to miss the wedding that all Mexico is waiting for."

ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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