Mexico: Between Dinosaurs and the Power of the #
Mariana always wanted to get married at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City. When the time came, she decided to make her dream come true: her ceremony would be at the historic church in the Zocalo, the central plaza of the entire country. Her other dream was to arrive to the church in a horse-drawn carriage.
Everything to the tiniest detail was planned, but she wasn’t counting on her wedding day coinciding with a student movement named #yosoy132 — a monumental street protest against the virtual winner of the Mexican election, Enrique Peña Nieto in the Zocalo. That day the space in front of the church was an ocean of people; it was impossible to walk or move, much less travel in a carriage pulled by horses. But Mariana was determined to go through with her plan. She got in the coach and said to the driver, “Let’s go.” Mariana’s driver didn’t know what to do. It was impossible to move. He knew it was madness, but he took a deep breath and he yelled, “Make way for the movement’s bride!” Mariana stood up, raised her bouquet and shouted, “¡Fuera, Peña Nieto!” (“Get rid of Enrique Peña Nieto!”) The multitude responded, “¡Fuera!” and suddenly the sea of people parted to let the bride pass through to the cathedral. In between the anti–Peña Nieto slogans, they shouted, “Long live the Movement’s bride.”
At the same moment, the most important cities of Mexico were hosting similar scenes, minus the bride, of course. Even in Tijuana, which is not a city for activists (one could say it is definitely not a place where civilian movements bloom), for the first time in history all sorts of people joined the national protest: students, mothers and their kids, dogs in strollers, factory workers, young men in suits, old folks in wheelchairs, punk rockers, writers, college girls with flowers, artists, and photographers.
The #yosoy132 movement seed began to germinate on the morning of May, 11, when the ex-governor and then presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto was invited to speak in front of students at the Universidad Iberoamericana, a private Jesuit college in Mexico City. At the end of his talk, Peña Nieto gave an unfortunate speech, accepting full responsibility during his term as governor in the repression of the Atenco farmers (where many detainees were tortured, at least 26 women were raped by the police, and two people were killed, one of them a 14-year-old boy).
The response of the students was furious and immediate, as they booed Peña Nieto, calling him a coward and a murderer. When he tried to leave, he was chased all around the campus. The students formed a choir and chanted: “Enrique, listen, Ibero doesn’t want you.” The candidate’s confident image was shattered. Cell phones recorded and photographed him trying to run away. Ultimately, he had to hide for 20 minutes in an underground restroom. As he hid, the videos of the protest were already being uploaded to YouTube; they went viral immediately. At risk was a very long and expensive political campaign sowed by the PRI (Revolutionary Institutional Party) with the objective of regaining political power for the first time in 12 years.
The Ibero protest might have ended up an isolated event, but thanks to the PRI’s arrogance it turned into a national movement. Before I go into details, allow me to say why the Ibero incident was so important: in Mexico there is a tradition of student activism that goes back to the 1960s, but it mainly comes from public universities. Activist students are usually working-class and often they are transparently left-wingers, so whenever there’s any sign of political agitation among students they are promptly despised (if not violently repressed, like the student massacre in 1968).
On the other hand, Ibero students have often been stigmatized as wealthy kids from the Mexican upper class who live in a world apart from the rest of Mexico’s society (which, by the way, is very classist). There’s even a nickname for them: “Chico Ibero,” a term coined to identify a student who is rich and clueless. In a society ruled by stereotypes, it was unimaginable that these privileged kids would call Peña Nieto a murderer.
Right after the Ibero incident, the PRI and its paid lackey, the Partido Verde (Green Party), mocked the students by insinuating that the protesters were just a few trained infiltrators and not Ibero students. This became the news, rather than the actual protest because Televisa and TV Azteca (the two national television networks that control most of the TV channels and newscasts of the country) functioned as Peña Nieto’s paid spokespeople. Futile attempts to block information were made; for example, the day after the protest, 31 of the newspapers that belong to the Organización Editorial Mexicana (which is the largest newspaper company in Latin America) had the same headline: Peña Nieto Triumphs at the Ibero Despite an Orchestrated Boycott Attempt.
The good news was YouTube showed a different story. The only place to find information useful to form an independent opinion was its source: the students and their Twitter feeds, Facebook, and YouTube accounts. Soon, a few independent anchors, such as Carmen Aristegui, and some foreign periodicals and independent newspapers began to broadcast a more balanced point of view.
In response to the PRI’s allegations, 131 students who were at Peña Nieto’s talk at the Ibero made a video in which they stated they were at the protest and were not trained or manipulated by anyone. Each one of them stated their name, their student account number, and showed their Ibero student-identity card. It was a simple but powerful act that showed tremendous courage; they were not hiding in anonymity and were not afraid of political prosecution. The students annihilated the “Chico Ibero” stereotype at once, and they demonstrated that even the privileged class opposed the return of the PRI; perhaps most importantly, they represented a free voice in an overwhelming barrage of pro–Peña Nieto information published on mass media. The 131 Ibero students’ video immediately went viral.
Para leer esta historia en español, haga clic aquí.