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Declined table at Mexico City cafe, woman sparks political drama

April 29, 2013|By Daniel Hernandez

MEXICO CITY -- Talk about a tough customer.

Indignant that she didn't get a sidewalk table during the busy lunch hour at a swanky Mexico City bistro, the daughter of a chief federal regulator threatened to call her father and have the place shut down.

Two hours later, according to reports, inspectors from Mexico's consumer protection agency, known by its Spanish acronym, Profeco, showed up in the trendy Roma district and attempted to close the cafe for alleged "anomalies" in its reservation system and in its offerings of mezcal.

But at Maximo Bistrot, a sort of "local-fare" corner cafe where a sit-down meal can cost about $25, the customers apparently wouldn't give up their tuna and wine without a fight. Armed with cellphone cameras, diners reportedly accosted and intimidated the inspectors so severely that the government workers fled, unable to halt operations at the cafe.

"All of this due to the dissatisfaction of one girl, to whom I couldn't give the table she wanted, at the hour she wanted, and well, that's how things are in this country: People with influence can call their daddy and ruin your afternoon," Gabriela Lopez, a co-owner of the restaurant, told one news outlet.

The incident was the latest class and corruption scandal to spark up social media in Mexico.

The so-called "Ladies de Polanco" made headlines in 2011 after two women were caught on amateur video berating and assaulting a pair of police officers near one of the fanciest streets in town. Last year, a wealthy businessman was jailed after video emerged of him knocking out the teeth of a valet parking attendant who did not obey him.

The Friday tussle at the Mexico City bistro comes as the public's honeymoon with the return of the former ruling party has shown increasing signs of cracking. Dissident teachers have blocked highways in Guerrero state and a vote-buying scandal unfolding in Veracruz  threatens to derail a national reform agenda.

Under the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico with a heavy hand for decades and returned to power last year with the election of President Enrique Peña Nieto, connections and privileges related to political appointments were a social norm. Peña Nieto promised "a new PRI," although most of his Cabinet picks came with extensive experience in previous PRI administrations marked by corruption and abuse.

On Sunday, Andrea Benitez Gonzalez, daughter of the Profeco chief, PRI appointee Humberto Benitez Treviño, apologized on Twitter for any "discomfort" caused by the incident she started at Maximo Bistrot. Her father later followed with his own online apology.

"My sincere apology for the inappropriate behavior of my daughter and the overreaction of my Profeco inspectors," wrote Humberto Benitez, who served as an attorney general under former PRI President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

Early Monday, it appeared the "Lady Profeco" drama, as it was quickly dubbed on Twitter, had grown political legs. In a terse statement, a separate federal agency announced it would start an investigation over the Profeco inspection at the cafe, on orders, it said, from the president of the republic.

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