Mexico: ‘Yo soy #132’

From the July-August 2012 issue of News & Letters:

World in View

Mexico: ‘Yo soy #132’

Mexico City—Into this dismal Presidential electoral season has come a breath of fresh air: a student movement by the name of “I am #132.” It arose in mid-May and spread like wildfire in universities throughout the country, with thousands and then tens of thousands of secondary and university students joining on the internet, in the streets in protest, and in general assemblies on campuses.

The movement is independent of political parties and disgusted with what has passed for political discourse, including in the media, and particularly the major commercial television stations Televisa and TV Azteca, which have a near duopoly of the airwaves. These stations are in the pocket of the candidate of the old Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and his super-well-financed campaign to return PRI to its former authoritarian dominance.

This dominance was interrupted by 12 years of the equally reactionary Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), whose candidate, Felipe Calderón, became President. Calderón’s term has seen a failed war against narco-traffickers yielding 60,000 dead, including thousands of innocent citizens, thousands more disappeared, and deepening corruption at all levels of government.

ENTER THE STUDENTS, PROTESTS BEGIN

Against this chaos entered the students. It began May 11, when PRI candidate Peña Nieto went to the private Universidad Iberoamericana for a staged campaign appearance. He was greeted with a huge protest. Nieto is the ex-governor of the State of Mexico. In 2006 he presided over, and did nothing to investigate, a massive attack by police and federal forces on the militant community of Atenco during which there were mass arrests, rapes of women by police, and two students killed. Now, in the electoral campaign of 2012, Iberoamericana students protested with signs and shouts. Peña Nieto was forced off the campus.

Immediately, television stations and newspapers in debt to the PRI began a big-lie campaign against the students. On one hand, videos shown on TV edited out the protest. On the other, newspapers and the PRI claimed it was organized by “thugs,” not students.

THE BIRTH OF A MOVEMENT

The students took to the internet. A video showed 131 of them holding up ID proving that they were students. The response was an unbelievable mass outpouring of support from all over Mexico. So was born “I am #132,” as tens of thousands indicated they wanted to join the 131 who had bravely shown, in this authoritarian nation, that they were students who were declaring Ya Basta! (Enough!) Something must change.

What has happened has been phenomenal. In city after city, protest upon protest, tens of thousands have taken the streets, confronted television stations, and held assemblies on campuses. They are demanding a real dialogue, an authentic campaign. Within the movement are a multitude of opinions and ideas. All oppose Peña Nieto. Some are for López Obrador, the somewhat more progressive candidate. Some call for an election boycott.

Many want to move far beyond the current electoral campaign—indeed, beyond the question of elections. They have begun serious questioning of where Mexican society is and where it is heading. The presidential election is July 1. As we go to press, many are saying that what is crucial is what happens beginning July 2. The students here have led the way.

—Eugene Walker

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