Mexico: students march against PRI, media

Private and public university students sponsored a massive march in Mexico City on May 19 to protest media coverage of the July 1 presidential and legislative elections and the widely expected victory of former México state governor Enrique Peña Nieto, the presidential candidate of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The marchers also rejected the candidate of the center-right National Action Party (PAN), Josefina Vázquez Mota, who shares second place in most polls with center-left candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

“One, two, three; not one vote for the PRI,” the protesters chanted in a combination of English and Spanish as they moved from the city’s main plaza, the Zócalo, to the Angel of Independence. “Three, two, one; not one vote for the PAN.” “Peña Nieto’s got the TV, but we’ve got the streets and the social networks,” “I’m working-class, but I know how to read” were among the slogans. The marchers also expressed their distrust of the media’s crowd estimates: “We’re not one, we’re not 100; sold-out press, count us well.” (The television networks gave contradictory accounts of the turnout: on Twitter the giant Televisa network cited the capital’s center-left government as putting the crowd at 10,000, while CNN México gave the same source for its Twitter report of 46,000.) (La Jornada, Mexico, May 20)

Mexico City authorities estimated participation at 15,000 for a second student demonstration, on May 23. This time the focus was on calls for democratizing the media, especially the two giant private networks, Televisa and TV Azteca, whose programming focuses on telenovelas (soap operas). Slogans included: “We want schools, not telenovelas”; “Lucero, Gaviota [references to a TV star and to a telenovela character played by Peña Nieto’s wife, Angélica Rivera]: the idiot box is done for”; and “Education is the vaccine against media manipulation.” Emphasizing the nonpartisan nature of the protest and widespread disaffection with all the political parties, some marchers heckled novelist Paco Ignacio Taibo II when he hinted during a speech that the students should support López Obrador. (LJ, May 24)

The new student movement and its opposition to Peña Nieto have surprised some Mexican analysts, who noted that youths today were children in 2000 when the PRI lost the presidency after ruling Mexico for 71 years, often through repression and corruption.

The catalyst appears to have been an appearance by the PRI candidate on May 11 at the Ibero-American University (widely known as “Ibero”), a Jesuit school in an exclusive Mexico City neighborhood. Booing by many students forced Peña Nieto to leave the auditorium. The PRI announced that the hecklers weren’t students from the university, and Ibero authorities suggested that López Obrador supporters had organized the booing. The students responded with a video posted on YouTube in which 131 Ibero students showed their student IDs. Supporters quickly adopted the hashtag “#YoSoy132” (“I’m number 132”). (El Universal, Venezuela, May 27)

Now referred to both as “Yo Soy 132″ and as ” Mexican Spring,” the new student movement quickly spread to other private schools and to the public universities. On May 17 representatives of students in 17 universities met at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City and agreed to continue building a movement that would be nonpartisan but not apolitical. They expressed support for many other groups, including the campesinos of San Salvador Atenco; the Movement for Peace With Justice and Dignity (MPJD) started by the poet Javier Sicilia, and activists in Ciudad Juárez and other cities fighting for justice for the victims of femicide.

Later in the day student groups held a rally in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas at the Tlatelolco housing project, the site of a massacre by the police and military that shattered Mexico’s 1968 student movement. Speakers made proposals for extending their movement beyond the schools and past the July 1 elections. “If we want to be successful in this struggle,” UNAM students said, “we need to go outside the social networks—to make contact with the people in the streets, in the parks, as much as we can, to promote why we’re struggling, but also so that [citizens] participate in the electoral process in a critical manner, so that they reflect on their vote.” Another demonstration is planned for May 29. (LJ, May 27)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 27.

See our last posts on Mexico and international student protests.