A student upsurge in Mexico

June 14, 2012

Edgar Esquivel looks at student struggles that are being called the Mexican Spring.

AN UNEXPECTED wave of protests led by university students has broken out in cities across Mexico, centered on the media's promotion of presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the party that ruled Mexico for 70 years until 2000.

Students from different social backgrounds, and from both public and private universities have for the first time formed a united front in leading a nonviolent struggle of conscience against mainstream media conglomerates Televisa, TV Azteca, Milenio and Radio Formula, including their anchors, broadcasters and journalists. But the protests' main focus on the media's telegenic chosen candidate, Peña Nieto.

Anti-Peña Nieto sentiment publicly began to make headlines at the Universidad Iberoamericana on May 11, when the visiting candidate was loudly and embarrassingly mocked by students.

The candidate's visit to the campus was previously canceled on two occasions--apparently out of fear that he would stumble, as he had at the International Book Fair in Guadalajara last December, when he was unable to remember the authors of books that had been important to his life.

A mass gathering of Yo Soy 132 protesters
A mass gathering of Yo Soy 132 protesters

Once he arrived on campus in May, Peña Nieto was forced to leave through the back door as students ran him off the premises chanting: "Out ignorant, out Peña Nieto, the Ibero doesn't want you!" In a university that mostly caters to the upper middle class and wealthy, the protest was another unexpected blow to the PRI candidate's already flawed reputation.

With the help of a friendly media, Peña Nieto and the PRI immediately retaliated in accusing Josephina Vasquez Mota of the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) and center-left candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Progressive Front of jointly conspiring against him by accusing the two of fomenting intolerance.

When the media echoed those claims, 131 students who had participated in the protest posted a video in which they showed their student IDs. This led to the launch of a Twitter feed, #YoSoy132--I am 132.

THE SURPRISING Ibero students' mobilization against Mexico's elitist apparatus was followed a week later by a student march to the headquarters of Televisa, demanding the television network stop their campaign of disinformation, fabrications and manipulation. In the march, protesters chanted, "No to Peña Nieto, no to Televisa." The students also demanded that there be more transparency by all media networks in covering not only their movement but those of the other presidential candidates as well.

With student anger rising nationwide, Peña Nieto has avoided visiting the traditionally more radical public institution, Universidad Nacional de Mexico (UNAM), where Lopez Obrador was once a student and where AMLO, as Lopez Obrador is known, is supported by the majority of today's students and alumni.

The campus events were followed by days of student and other citizens' movements using social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook--that called for a mass march against Mexico's largest media conglomerates and their presidential candidate Peña Nieto. They called for a protest--"Marcha anti-EPN," after the candidate's initials--initially in Mexico City's main plaza, the Zocalo, though calls for actions spread to cities across Mexico.

The anti-Peña Nieto demonstration was followed by a protest in support of the center-left candidate AMLO. Thousands of supporters in cities across Mexico and hundreds in cities across Europe, South America, Australia and the U.S. gathered to show support for AMLO in the effort to finally bring an end to decades of right-wing rule.

But more inspiring still was when thousands of students from universities across Mexico, both private and public, joined Lopez Obrador's rally at the historic Plaza of the Three Cultures in the Tlatelolco section of Mexico City. The demonstration in Lopez Obrador's support was symbolic in that it paid homage to the radical 1968 student movement that resulted in the massacre of countless youth at the hands of the then-government of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz--the most repressive regime since that of Porfirio Diaz at the turn of the 20th century.

The Tlatelolco massacre occurred just before the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Televisa claimed then that government forces had been provoked by protesters. The Diaz Ordaz regime covered up the student massacre. Although some claim that more than 1,000 died during the demonstrations that followed the persecution of student radicals, the actual numbers remain unknown, and to date nobody has been held accountable for these crimes.

Introducing AMLO at the rally was the well-known leftist writer and survivor of the Tlatelolco massacre, Paco Ignacio Taibo II. Wearing a shirt with the logo of the 1968 Olympics, he delivered an emotional speech, stating, "You are the ghosts of the 1968 generation, of those who struggled for a better Mexico. They are here with us."

At the assembly in Tlatelolco, AMLO congratulated the student's upsurge and referred to them as the "generation of the transformation." He called on them to work with him in bringing about the desperately needed and real transformation of Mexico. With the help of student activists, AMLO has drafted proposals for investing in education, science, technology and culture studies as one of the fundamental tools needed to develop Mexico.

AMLO has asked students to promote his campaign and to volunteer their time as observers on Election Day--to help avoid the repetition of the fraudulent 2006 presidential election, which, according to independent observers, AMLO actually won.

At the protest on this historic plaza, the site of the most brutal experience of PRI rule in the 20th century, demonstrators shouted, "Out Televisa, Out Elba" in reference to Elba Esther Gordillo, national director of the bureaucratic and corrupt teachers union who has held unlimited powers since 1989. AMLO has said that under his government, not only Gordillo, but also Carlos Romero Deschamps, head of the corrupt PEMEX union, will be removed from their positions.

THE GROUNDSWELL of student protests has finally compelled the mainstream media to take note. For decades, Televisa, which formed a strong alliance with the country's elite through their allegiance to the right-wing political establishment in the PRI and the PAN, has tried to portray Mexico as a relatively prosperous country.

They have done this by transmitting images of metropolitan pockets, such as Mexico's World Trade Center, big malls, Mexico City's tourist-focused Zona Rosa, and modern cities like Acapulco, Cancun, Monterrey and Guadalajara. But behind this false picture is the real and neglected Mexico of millions who have been tormented by unending violence and poverty.

In reaction to student protests, Televisa was forced to open up and cover images of the anti-Peña Nieto and anti-Televisa demonstrations. Carlos Loret de Mola, anchor of Televisa's Primero Noticias, had to inform his audience that he'd received many complaints through Twitter about his network's election coverage.

Under this pressure, the president of Televisa, Emilio Azcarraga, was also forced to respond to complaints and re-Tweeted that his network "values and listens" to the opinions of students and will always be open to them. Even so, Televisa continues to accuse some of the protests of being violent and radical while linking them to the campaign of AMLO.

And in spite of the mobilizations, the broadcast media and numerous daily newspapers continue to report that Peña Nieto is leading the contest by outrageous margins.

In a country well-known for years of political apathy, these are certainly exciting times. There's no questioning that this uprising is a byproduct of the mainstream media's attempt to impose Peña Nieto as Mexico's next president. As the July 1 election comes to a close, the protests against the media and their preferred candidate are sure to further intensify.

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