Published in Latin American News Dispatch.com
MEXICO CITY — On his May 11 visit to the Ibero-American University in Mexico City, Mexican presidential hopeful Enrique Peña Nieto was received by a crowd of students holding signs and booing. The event was not greatly publicized by Mexican mainstream media outlets TV Azteca and Televisa, but in a matter of minutes, social networks were buzzing with the news, including photos and videos recorded on cellphones.
It was a unique moment on Peña Nieto’s campaign trail, where the presidential candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) currently leads his rivals by a comfortable margin. But the Ibero-American University students’ dissatisfaction with Peña Nieto and the PRI, which ruled Mexico for more than 70 years until 2000, gave birth to something new: a social movement called “Yo Soy 132″ (“I am 132″).
Yo Soy 132′s name emerged after Arturo Escobar, a spokesman and senator from Mexico’s Green Party who supports the PRI candidacy, alleged that the protesters were not real students, but part of a mob hired by one of Peña Nieto’s political opponents to defame him. The students responded by creating a YouTube video in which 131 students displayed their student ID cards to prove that they studied at Ibero-American. The name “I am 132” implies solidarity with the original group of students who were accused of being fakes.
According to Dr. Jaime Tamayo of the University of Guadalajara’s Department of Studies on Social Movements, Yo Soy 132 has expanded from Mexico’s private universities to its public universities, gaining popularity “because [students] feel offended by the PRI candidate, who leads in the opinion polls.” On Tuesday, Yo Soy 132 broadcast its own presidential debate online in an attempt to circumvent Mexico’s traditional TV networks. With the exception of Peña Nieto, all of Mexico’s major presidential candidates participated.
“The movement has expanded to reject what the [PRI] candidate stands for,” says Tamayo. “Authoritarianism and neoliberalism one hand, but also the de facto power behind the candidate, and especially the news media, which is monopolized by two corporations.” The Guardian reported that U.S. State Department cables released by Wikileaks suggest that Peña Nieto paid for favorable TV coverage by Televisa in 2009, a claim Televisa denies.
Meanwhile, Yo Soy 132 is attempting to bridge a divide between public and private universities in Mexico, where public schools have very low tuition rates or are practically free, and private schools are often inaccessible for lower to middle-class Mexican families. The fact that the movement was born in the halls of a private institution challenges a widely-held assumption that students at private universities are the bored children of Mexico’s elite who do not partake in political movements supporting democracy. Nevertheless, the movement’s concept was embraced by students from both types of universities.
Yo Soy 132 has drawn comparisons to Mexico’s 1968 student protests, which drew international attention when the Mexican Army massacred protesters in Tlatelolco’s Plaza de las Tres Culturas on October 2, just ten days before the Summer Olympics opened in Mexico City. The official number of those killed has been estimated at anywhere from 30 to close to 300 people. Nearly 44 years later, nobody has been tried for the massacre.
Dr. Jaime Preciado, head of the Department of Political Science at the University of Guadalajara, says that unlike the 1968 student movements, Yo Soy 132 does not include university professors, nor is it firmly linked to civil society organizations, although it appears that these links are starting to be made.
“I believe that an aspect that comes from the experiences of ’68 is the critical consciousness which the students follow in the context of the university and the role of the student’s intellectual background,” Preciado says. “This movement reflects the critical spirit of ’68 and the ideas that came from Paris: power to the imagination, the anti-systemic critique – but it also has its differences.”
Eduardo Aguilar, an international relations student at the University of Guadalajara and active participant in Yo Soy 132, calls the movement “a breath of fresh air for this country.” Aguilar is frustrated with what he perceives as a lack of political representation in Mexico. “As a citizen, I can’t turn to a political party; I can’t talk to my elected representatives. There is nowhere I can go and no one who will listen to me. If we as young people get organized, go places, and state what we want, well, that’ll be it.”
According to Fernanda Torres of the Department of Social Communication at the PRI’s headquarters in Guadalajara, Peña Nieto’s campaign is in favor of freedom of expression and is content that young people are interested in the country’s well-being. The campaign proclaims itself to be anti-violence, pro-peace and against the political and military repression of opposition movements exemplified in 1968. “[We see it as] a good thing that they are getting involved [in Yo Soy 132], but we don’t like the fact that they are against a specific person,” Torres says.
Since Yo Soy 132 began as a protest against a particular political party and candidate, not all Mexican students consider it a democratic movement. In mid-June, a group of students broke off of Yo Soy 132 into Generación MX. The original movement has denounced this subgroup for favoring right-wing authoritarianism in the PRI. Meanwhile, poet and peace activist Javier Sicilia has accused Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Peña Nieto’s presidential rival, of being an example of left-wing authoritarianism.
Though Peña Nieto is widely predicted to become Mexico’s next president, Yo Soy 132’s plans are being established for the long run. “The crucial test [for the movement] is whether or not they are able to transcend the moment of the elections,” says Preciado. “It is probable that the conflicts with the de facto power represented by media power won’t go away, so I think that the situation immediately after the elections will not be easy.”
Up until Election Day on July 1, Yo Soy 132 is planning more protests, petitions, and Internet movements. After the elections, according to Aguilar, the idea is to organize “a citizen assembly which creates a new Constitution. There are plans for the movement to continue, not end.”
Tamayo predicts that, at the very least, Yo Soy 132 will affect voting for Peña Nieto. “Whether he wins or someone else wins, it will compel [the government] to have to consider the demands that are being made,” he says. “And it can, to some degree, if not break up the monopoly of the television media, at least generate conditions for greater openness in these areas.”
Preciado says that one of the biggest challenges facing Yo Soy 132 is to ensure that the movement doesn’t become bureaucratized or co-opted by certain leaders. Furthermore, Preciado hopes that the movement will create links with a myriad of different groups, movements and leaders, such as the poet Javier Sicilia and the Movimiento por la Paz.
Time will soon tell what is in store for Mexico and its newly awakened youth. What is certain is that now is the time for active and expanded participation by young Mexicans in the country’s political processes.