“We are the children of the ideals you couldn’t kill.”
A young woman carried the hand-lettered sign as she marched with tens of thousands of people in Mexico City last July 22. Twenty-something, with long black hair and jeans, her message captures the spirit and sense of history of Mexico’s new movement for real democracy. At the same time, it reveals the resentment that especially youth feel about the presidential elections and a new government that for them represents an era of manipulation and repression.
Weeks after Mexico’s presidential elections, thousands of people have turned out to protest the declared winner, Enrique Peña Nieto, and the imminent return to power of the party that ruled Mexico for more than seven decades. The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which is slated to take office Dec. 1, now faces increasing accusations of fraud, a legal demand to declare the elections invalid, and a youth movement that refuses to go away.
“Mexico, Without the PRI,” “Electoral Institute, You Coward—Correct the Elections!” and “Mexico Voted and Peña Didn’t Win!”—men and women chanted these slogans through downtown avenues in the latest demonstration, vowing that the politician best known for his hair-do and ties to old-style Mexican politics would never take office. Most of the marchers are university-age, but contingents of workers, neighborhood associations, and citizens of all ages take part.
Many support the opposition candidate and second-place finisher, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. But the media spin that the entire movement is a contrivance of a poor loser falls flat when confronted with the actual messages and motives of the movement.
Mexico is seeing the birth of a movement for real democracy. It is led by a generation that wants to break through the cynicism of a nation accustomed to corruption and authoritarian rule. Its members challenge not just the election results, but the very definition of democracy.
The movement called “#IAm132” that arose in protest to Peña Nieto at a local university centers on the principle that democracy can’t be bought. Young people with no adult memory of living under the PRI have looked at their nation’s history and decided they don’t want to go back there.
The “#IAm132” movement—with the hashtag in its name marking its generational identity—has a broad platform that includes: democratization of the media to guarantee the right to information and freedom of expression; “secular, free, scientific, pluricultural, democratic, humanist, popular, critical, quality education”; change in the neoliberal economic model with less emphasis on the market and more state involvement; transformation of the security and justice model and withdrawal of the army from public security; participative democracy and autonomy; and health as a human right.
PRI’s Rocky Road to Power
Few people predicted Mexico’s post-electoral protests or the rapid rise of the youth-led movement against Peña Nieto. The PRI learned from its loss to Vicente Fox in 2000 and the convulsive post-electoral protests of 2006, when conservative candidate Felipe Calderon was declared the winner with the slimmest of margins and widespread accusations of fraud. It set out to avoid both scenarios, grooming its candidate years earlier to position him as the image of the “new PRI.”
The effort reportedly included secret deals with the major television stations for favorable coverage in the media dating back to 2009. Both the Mexican magazine Proceso and later The Guardian reported on these contracts, although the PRI denied the charges.
It also included rebuilding the political machine that served the party during its 71 years of uninterrupted rule over the country. That political machine suffered a debilitating blow with the election of Vicente Fox of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) in 2000.
The PRI not only lost the helm of a nation it had confidently controlled for years, it also lost its majority in the legislature and several state governorships to boot. It was a dramatic and ignominious fall from power, and the age of “the dinosaurs”—as the PRI political elite is called—appeared to be over for good.
But at least one insider and numerous analysts claim that the PAN agreed to leave the PRI political machine in place in return for support for its reform proposals in the legislature and the continued dominance of a small and powerful economic elite. The PRI was able to rebuild without fear of criminal charges for past acts of corruption and repression among its ranks.
Next … The 2012 elections