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Stolen Andrew Zimmern Photo Ignites Major Political Scandal in Guatemala

The Guatemalan president's son re-purposed Zimmern's anti-poverty message as a political campaign photo.

Zimmern's original photo
Zimmern's original photo
Andrew Zimmern/Twitter

Today in bizarre Internet coincidences, a photo stolen from Andrew Zimmern's Twitter account has fueled a major political scandal in Guatemala. The photo, originally taken by Zimmern to support an anti-poverty campaign, was re-purposed to serve as a political campaign message for the son of the embattled Guatemalan president. A prominent local chef spotted the theft and exposed the copy-and-paste campaigning, adding fuel to the fire of the country's major corruption scandals.

"Three days ago my Twitter feed blew up in Spanish," Zimmern said to Eater in an email. The TL;DR on the situation: a few weeks earlier, Zimmern visited Guatemala on behalf of the ONE nonprofit, and posted a photo of local women posing for ONE's "#strengthies" series. A few weeks later, the photo re-surfaced on the social media accounts of Otto Perez Leal, mayor of the town of Mixco and son of current president Otto Perez Molina (a headline refers to him as "Otto Jr."). The account passed the photo off as women supporting Perez Leal's candidacy as mayor — the raised fists resemble a show of support for his political party.

Prominent Guatemalan chef Mirciny Moliviatis spotted the photo theft and called Perez Leal out on Twitter. Zimmern tells Eater the photo theft was the number one trending topic in Guatemala for a day, in part due to its resonance with far more major allegations of theft and corruption by Perez Leal's father. According to soy502.com, Perez Leal claims the photo was uploaded by a social media manager; it was quickly taken down.

"I knew the country was going through some massive Central American Spring, the Vice President had resigned, and the people were calling for massive reforms," Zimmern told Eater. But he had no way of knowing his photo would wind up being a major political touchstone. "For three days more and more attention in the country swirled around the photo," he said. "I was stunned at the outpouring on social media. Last night the mayor finally apologized, but it seems like this has really hurt him and his father politically."

President Otto Perez Molina's administration boasts "a long list of senior officials embroiled in graft scandals" according to Reuters. Guatemalan journalist Dina Fernandez notes the irony that the stolen photo was originally intended to support (via Google Translate) "a campaign against extreme poverty suffered by millions of women worldwide and particularly in Guatemala."

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