Jul 27, 2012

Protests Against Elections Heat Up with "National March Against the Imposition"

Photo: Clayton Conn
Mexicans hit the streets again on Sunday, in the third mass demonstration against the apparent president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, in the three weeks since the elections. After months of demonstrations, Mexico's movement to reject the return of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)
shows no signs of fading away.

The July 22 "National March Against the Imposition" began at the presidential residence and arrived shortly after noon at Mexico City's Angel of Independence. Hundreds of people waited to join at the gold-tipped monument, swelling the ranks as students, unions, and citizens moved on to the central plaza.

At the final destination, tens of thousands poured into the square. They marched in clumps and converged from different routes, making it impossible to grasp the full dimension of the march at any given moment. But what the mobilization lacked in route planning, it made up for in energy, indignation and creativity.

This was about the fifth or sixth march against the PRI and its candidate that I've observed first-hand.  I wanted to check out two questions at this one: 1) what difference, if any, the coalition of organizations forged during the National Convention July 14-15 made and 2) what the main demands are, as election day fades into history and evidence of foul play mounts. I also wanted to see if accusations that the student-led movement is controlled by the opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) had any substance behind them.

Organizations like the electricians union (SME) and the democratic current of the teachers' union (CNTE) that took part in the planning meeting in the town of Atenco turned out, although not in huge  numbers. The march was called just a week after the accords in Atenco and most organizations have to go through a series of assemblies to make decisions. It may take longer to really assess the impact of the formal incorporation of other sectors into the movement against Peña Nieto and the PRI.

Some unions and universities walked in contingents but for the most part, the march--unlike most Mexico marches--was made up of citizens with home-made signs who marched without visible organizations. Most were young, some were older, including veterans of past movements. The predominance of seemingly unaffiliated people added to the sense of spontaneity of the demonstration, but also to questions about its longer term direction and longevity.

National March Against the Imposition
Since the elections and accusations of fraud, vote-buying and coercion, the marches against the PRI have focused more on the electoral process. "Imposition" refers to the protesters' belief that Peña Nieto was imposed on voters through a series of manipulations and falsifications that violated electoral laws and the popular will. Recent demonstrations called by the student group "Iam132" continue to before the elections denounced the candidate, the way the highly concentrated mass media openly promoted his candidacy and the possible return of the PRI. Most of the students who make up the movement have no real memory of living under a PRI government, since the conservative National Action Party (PAN) has held the presidency for the past twelve years. One young woman carried a sign that read, "We are the children of the ideals you never succeeded in killing".

Photo: Clayton Conn
They have done their history homework. In one of the first demonstration against Televisa, the giant television conglomerate accused of having sold favorable coverage to Peña Nieto as far back as 2009, students projected scenes from the PRI government's massacre of protesting students in 1968 and 1971 against the wall of the media giant's office building. The ruling elite that controlled a one-party system to perpetuate itself in power eternally is a legend they don't want to repeat.

An Ominous Response
The march was replicated in scores of cities across the country and by groups of #Yosoy132  in other countries. Unlike past marches, the July 22 marches met with a violent response from the government in various cities. In Leon, police picked up several protesters and drove them around for three hours, captive, before taking them into detention.

In Oaxaca City, state and federal police arrested and allegedly beat up youth protesters, sexually threatening and abusing the women.

Here is part of the statement from the #YoSoy132 movement:
We also demand the a full explanation of the physical and legal situation of the 24 young people arrested--including two minors, identified in the #YoSoy132 movement, who were arbitrarily imprisoned by state government officials in Oaxaca City. We call on the competent authorities to investigate the cases and clear their names. We request that the officials involved in the various violation of human rights be sanctioned for their acts.
We repudiate the unjustified or disproportionate use of force, arbitrary arrest, torture, just to mention a few, repression that denies freedom of expression and the free manifestation of ideas, as well as abuse of power, threats and harassment against members of social movements. We therefore demand these cases be cleared up and public officials brought to justice and that state and federal authorities prosecute cases of complaints related to these events.
 The violent and arbitrary response by police in these cities could be an ominous sign. The movement continues to insist on peaceful and non-confrontational tactics as it moves into a series of actions decided at the National Convention. The July 22 march was the first of those actions It showed that the movement still has a great ability to draw people into the streets for organized protests-- even weeks after elections that the media and political elite attempted to portray as an unassailable victory-- and among those protestors the rejection of the PRI candidate runs as strong as ever.

As for the second question--what are longer term strategies, beyond the action plan from here to Dec. 1--in all the enthusiasm of the march, I couldn't discern any. The people I talked to said for now, the focus is on consolidating the movement and making its voice here from now to the inauguration.

No comments:

Post a Comment