President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has faced criticizism for his excessive cordiality towards Donald Trump, despite the president's bitter attacks against Mexican immigrants.
Now, immigration records have cast light on a little know personal link between the two leaders: Irene Esser Quintero, a Venezuelan model and the girlfriend of López Obrador's son.
Esser, who is engaged to Andrés Manuel López Beltrán, owes a couple of favors to the president of the United States and has maintained a very good and discreet relationship with him, according to documents and sources consulted by Univision News.
Thanks to Trump's intervention, the Miss Universe finalist obtained a work visa from his modeling agency and a scholarship to study acting in New York in 2013. Since then, there has been a "close friendship" between the president and the charismatic Venezuelan, according to a modeling world source who asked not to be identified.
"Very lovable and talented"
Michael Wildes, an immigration lawyer who has worked with Trump's modeling agency for more than a decade, confirmed to Univision News that his firm obtained Esser's O-1 talent visa at the end of 2014. Wildes explained that the process was paid for by Trump Model Management LLC when the firm belonged to the current president.
"She is a very lovable and talented girl," Wildes said.
Wildes was the lawyer who the White House also chose to defend the legality of First Lady, Melania Trump's controversial immigration process.
When asked if he had any further information about Trump's friendship with the 27-year-old Venezuelan ex-beauty queen, the Democrat lawyer who is now mayor of Englewood, New Jersey said he was not authorized to comment.
On December 5, 2014 the website of the firm Wildes and Weinberg promoted news of the Esser visa with a press release and a video of the model thanking the firm.
Esser, who was the second runner-up in the 2012 edition of Miss Universe, obtained the visa thanks to "her extraordinary abilities in the arts," the statement said. Esser also recorded a promotional video for Wildes.
To qualify for the O-1 visa, the applicant must submit documentation proving that the person has been "acclaimed nationally or internationally in their field," it added.
The Univision News source said that a small circle close to Esser is aware that the Venezuelan model has maintained a friendship with Trump, but that she has been very discreet. On the model's Twitter account there is only a fuzzy photo of her with Trump. It was displayed by her fan club with the caption: "Our Irene Esser, along with Donal Trump, at a cocktail party where our Venezuelan was the special guest."
In a brief interview with a Venezuelan media, Esser regretted that she had not been able to see Trump because he is campaigning.
Trump to the rescue
The story of the friendship between Trump and Esser apparently began in December 2012, shortly after the Miss Universe contest ended.
During the selection of finalists, the Venezuelan candidate, who was among the favorites, had responded in a nervous and incoherent way to a question from the Mexican actor Diego Boneta, one of the members of the jury. The answer, according to observers, lost her the opportunity to be crowned Miss Universe.
Boneta asked Esser, “If you could make a new law, what would it be? And explain why.”
Esser replied in English, spurning a translator. "I think that any laws there are in Constitution or in life, are already made. I think that we should have a straight way to go in our similar, or, in our lives ... For example, I’m a surfer, and I think that the best wave that I can take is the wave that I wait for it. So please do our only, law that we can do. Thank you, Vegas!”
The response went viral and the social networks worldwide were relentless on the young woman.
But Trump, the owner of the contest, who had pushed for the Venezuelan to win the crown, according to pageant media reports, came to her rescue. According to Esser's statements to the media, Trump approached her and offered her a scholarship at the Film Academy in New York to study acting.
"After a big handshake he told me he was very happy with my participation," Esser told Venezuelan journalist Andreína Martínez Santiso. Martinez confirmed the statement to Univision.
In the days before Miss Universe, Esser had made another comment that left her followers intrigued about her political orientation. She said that all Venezuelans were praying for the health of President Hugo Chávez, who at that time undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba.
"He's doing fine, thank God," Esser said. "We must continue to support him everywhere so that he can continue in his position and so that he is healthy, with his family and his people. All Venezuelans are dismayed by his illness, and we are all praying for Hugo Chávez," she added.
It is not clear if the model has changed her political views. Her father Billy Andrés Esser, owner of the Paria chocolate factory in Venezuela, has not hidden his discord with the government of Nicolás Maduro in messages on his Twitter account.
Esser also appeared in 2017 in photographs wearing military clothing along with Oscar Pérez, the Venezuelan policeman and actor who led a mini armed rebellion against Maduro. Pérez was killed by security forces a year later.
The model explained that the images, in which both are carrying rifles, was part of a military training session given by Pérez for the cast of the film, Ivana, in which she acted.
Model and actress
In 2013, Esser began acting courses in New York and received a call from the president of the Trump Model Management agency offering her a job, the beauty queen reported in an interview.
A search of the digital photo archive of the agency shows Esser's portfolio, dating from March 2016 until July 2017.
She went on to act in several telenovelas and TV series. Last year she accepted the lead role of the wife of South American independence hero, Simón Bolívar, for the Caracol Televisión series; 'Bolívar, an admirable struggle'.
Beto Tavira, editor of the Cuna de Grillos website that closely follows Mexico's presidential family, said it remains unclear how or when Esser met Andrés Manuel López, a 31-year-old political scientist, who ran his father's presidential campaign in the state of Mexico.
Esser had maintained a low profile until Lopez Obrador's swearing in December when cameras showed her together with her boyfriend waving to Ivanka Trump, the daughter of the American president. A celebrity magazine referred to the Venezuelan as "the second lady of the nation."
Esser's name appeared in several publications weeks earlier after rumors they had wed in a secret ceremony in Campeche. López Obrador denied those accounts.
Several sources told Univision that Andrés López, is the most politically active son in his father's presidency.
"He has his father's ear," said Tavira. Of all the children he is "the one who has a political sensitivity and is the least reckless", he added.
In 2009 he got in hot water when he was seen wearing Louis Vuitton tennis shoes worth $800.
Critics seized on the apparent contradiction between the son's taste for luxury and his father's repeated speeches about austerity and his much vaunted pride in being a man of modest means.
"López Obrador's son is a 'strawberry' from the left," he wrote in the Spanish newspaper, El Mundo, referring to the youthful ostentation of Mexico's upper class.
Univision News reached out to Esser, but she did not respond to messages. Ana Duarte, the president's media spokeswoman said that she was not able to locate her or Lopez Obrador's son.
Trump: from "racist" to "respectful"
Since he assumed the presidency of Mexico, López Obrador changed his rhetoric towards Trump. Earlier this month, Trump used his State of the Union speech to insist on the construction of the border wall to prevent the passage of criminals and undocumented immigrats. López Obrador described Trump as being "respectful" of Mexico.
"Fortunately they are understanding, they have been respectful, President Trump has been respectful, he has made accusations because he has to do them, but it is not the same situation as before, because we are cooperating in our relations," he explained.
But before reaching the presidency, in an interview with Univision's Jorge Ramos, he referred to Trump as a racist.
"It raises racism, yes, it is against foreigners," said the then-candidate. "He has done us a lot of damage, his strategy worked, his xenophobia, his racism, he won, and they did not know how to stand up to him," he added.
Journalist León Krauze, also with Univision, wrote on Twitter that Trump "has already found a way for the government of Mexico not to touch him, even with the petal of a clarification. He slanders Mexicans, he attacks migrants and he speaks of an 'invasion' ... but he praises López Obrador," he wrote.