Image of Tenoch Huerta as Namor in Marvel's 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.' He is an Indigenous Mexican man with short dark hair with pointy ears and a thin beard. He's wearing green earrings, several beated necklaces and a large blue and gold neck adornment, and he's holding a green and gold spear.

María Elena Ríos Accuses Tenoch Huerta of Abuse and Poder Prieto of Protecting Abusers

Mexican saxophonist and women’s rights activist María Elena Ríos has publicly accused Wakanda Forever star Tenoch Huerta of sexual and emotional abuse. In addition, she has spoken out against the organization Poder Prieto, the activist organization working to combat racism in the entertainment industry, for which Huerta is a spokesperson, saying that they protect abusers.

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Who is María Elena Ríos?

Screengrab of María Elena Ríos, a brown Mexican woman with shoulder-length dark hair with highlighted tips. She is smirking as she looks over her shoulder at the camera while holding a saxophone over her shoulder. She's wearing a black and white striped short-sleeved, collared shirt.
(screengrab)

Ríos has built a career as a saxophonist playing in ensembles like the all-women’s Vértice Group the Sandevi ensemble and accompanying musical acts like Maldita Vecindad and Lila Downs. These are the accomplishments that should define her, but the life of an activist found her after she was the victim of attempted femicide in September 2019 at age 26.

As reported by Spanish newspaper El País, she had been working in the press office for Mexican politician and businessman Juan Vera Carrizal for two years to supplement her music gigs. The work relationship became increasingly inappropriate:

“On a trip to the United States, he forced her to have sexual relations, his wife would later tell. The relationship was depleting under the classic pattern of gender violence: abuse, breakups, crying and forgiveness. Until the final end and revenge came.”

Whenever Ríos threatened to cut ties with Vera Carrizal, he’d threaten her with violence. Eventually, she did cut ties, and he made good on his threats. In collaboration with his son, Juan Antonio Vera Hernández, he hired two men to attack her by dousing her with sulphuric acid. She was hospitalized for five months.

Though Vera Carrizal was imprisoned in 2020, his son remains at large and has never been brought to justice.

Ríos has already experienced the injustice of gender-based violence, insufficient legal support, and abuse from a sexist public on social media in a country where, according to El País, “an average of 10 women are murdered a day due to sexist violence.”

And this is when the person responsible for the violence against her was actually arrested, tried, and convicted! Ríos knows what this stuff looks like and has experienced the entire process before.

Ríos, Poder Prieto, and Tenoch Huerta

Ríos was part of the Poder Prieto collective, though it’s unclear for how long. What is clear is that she has since left, considers her participation a mistake, and called them out for releasing a podcast in which she participated, without her consent and without paying her.

The reason she withdrew her consent and support? Poder Prieto continues to work with Tenoch Huerta, whom she calls a “predator.”

Poder Prieto responded that they didn’t produce or release it, but merely recommended it, along with other content, to their supporters, the way they do “almost every day.” They did not address the accusations against Huerta. Ríos reiterated that since they continue to work with Huerta, she had asked them no longer to share anything that included her.

Yesterday, Ríos went on to elaborate on Huerta. (Embedded tweets followed by English translation)

“It is very difficult to talk about the emotional abuse and abuse of power of a sexual predator who is loved in the world for playing a character in a movie like @TenochHuerta. Charming in appearance, the great hallmark of a narcissist + a good helping of victimization.”

June 10 tweet

“‘And why didn’t you report?’ Say those who live in a macho country, where justice is unattainable where they almost kill you and still they don’t believe you nor does justice come.

• And no, I don’t want to be famous.
• And no, I don’t want money because I know how to work.”

June 11 tweet

“‘Why am I late in talking about it?’ Because I have a process.

‘Why didn’t I report?’ Because I was afraid that this would happen: people who refuse to believe that a SUPER HERO is an abuser, manipulator and sexual predator.

Yes, you @TenochHuerta abuse because you know you have power.”

June 11 tweet #2

Huerta’s response

Earlier yesterday, Huerta shared a statement with Variety, which he posted in his Instagram stories, about Ríos’ accusations:

Screenshot of a written statement Tenoch Huerta posted to his Instagram stories on June 12, 2023 re: Maria Elena Rios. It reads:   "A false and completely unsubstantiated accusation about me has spread like wildfire - and I cannot let it go unchallenged any longer.   About a year ago, I dated Elena for several months. It was entirely consensual at all times, as countless others can attest. And throughout it was a loving, warm and mutually supportive relationship. After it ended, however, Elena began to misrepresent our interactions both privately and in front of groups of mutual friends.  As a result, a few months ago, I engaged a legal team to commence the appropriate actions to protect my reputation and refute these irresponsible and false accusations that can cause great prejudice and damage. Although I am by no means perfect, I know that these allegations are simply untrue. And while I will always work to improve myself, I need to contest claims that are both false and offensive.  I am deeply grateful to my family and the people who have supported me and greatly appreciate everyone who is willing to look at the facts and reflect before rushing to an untrue and unjust conclusion."
(screencap)

We only have Ríos’ tweets and Huerta’s statement to go on. As of now, there are no charges and no information beyond what both people have posted on their social media accounts.

Still, there are a few things in Huerta’s statement that deserve examination:

“Completely unsubstantiated.”

It betrays a misunderstanding of how abuse and predatory behavior work when people expect physical proof in a case of sexual or emotional abuse. What “substantiation” is Ríos or any woman supposed to provide for crimes that don’t always leave physical evidence? Should she have had the presence of mind to record or photograph herself being abused as it was happening? The nature of sexual or emotional abuse is that it’s very much one person’s word against another’s. Abusers count on that.

“It was entirely consensual at all times, as countless others can attest.”

I’ll take the second part first. How can “countless others” attest to anything happening behind closed doors in a romantic relationship? What does that even mean? Okay, friends and family thought they were a great couple. That’s the case for many relationships where abuse is a primary feature. Others “attesting” means nothing.

The “entirely consensual at all times” piece is trickier. As a woman who has experienced questionable sexual experiences with men, and has many female friends who’ve experienced the same in both casual and long-term relationships, I know that what the Patriarchy considers “consensual” is a lot more problematic than many men want to believe.

Why enthusiastic consent matters

Men are usually encouraged to pursue their sexual pleasure, but aren’t encouraged to prioritize their partners’ pleasure except as a means to getting sex. Women are encouraged to prioritize the pleasure of their partners as if it’s their own, or even instead of.

So, in heterosexual relationships, as long as a woman “lets” a man have sex with her, that man only sees a green light and proceeds to plow ahead without paying much attention to any changes in response.

It’s sad that men rarely think about wanting better than a woman simply “letting him.”

Letting something happen isn’t the same as giving consent, just as you wouldn’t be consenting to someone burgling your home just because you were in too much shock, or too ill-equipped, to prevent it from happening at the time. This is why enthusiastic consent, as TMS’ Chelsea Steiner has discussed, is so important. As she wrote, “[T]he absence of an enthusiastic ‘yes!’ is a hard no.”

Perhaps, to Huerta, everything seemed “entirely consensual at all times.” That doesn’t mean it was. It’s the certainty with which he says this and immediately accuses her of “misrepresenting their interactions” that gets me—that and how quickly he “engaged a legal team” (months ago) despite no charges being filed, taking preemptive legal action against damages that haven’t happened.

He wants people to look at facts and reflect, but doesn’t demonstrate reflection of his own. There’s no empathy toward a former romantic partner with whom he professes to have had a “loving, warm, mutually supportive relationship.” How likely is it that a woman with her history would simply make things up whole cloth, having already been through the wringer once?

I’m sure she’d rather be known as a talented musician than as “the woman who had acid dumped on her,” but here we are.

When it comes to consent—as is the case with sexism, racism, or ableism—it isn’t up to the person who violates consent to decide what consent is or isn’t. It’s up to the person who was violated. Just once, it would be nice to see someone accused of this kind of abuse acknowledge that fact and come from a place of humility rather than defensiveness.

(featured image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)


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Author
Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.