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The New Democracy Movement

Mexico’s Summer of Resistance

by PAUL IMISON

Mexico City.

The #YoSoy132 pro-democracy movement that emerged in the weeks leading up to the Mexican election can already boast a handful of victories – having three of the four candidates appear in a third TV debate hosted by students; persuading thousands of Mexicans to register as electoral observers; drawing hundreds of thousands onto the streets to protest what it called the “imposition” of Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate – now virtual president-elect – Enrique Peña Nieto.

But the question was always: if Peña “wins”, where does the movement go next?

The huge marches in Mexico City on July 7 and 14, which attracted tens of thousands of sympathizers, were not “official” #YoSoy132 protests. The (democratically-elected) student leadership was elsewhere, meeting with regional assemblies and hundreds of other groups to discuss how to move the pro-democracy struggle forward.

At the Sixth Intervarsity Assembly on July 15, a string of public protests were announced for the period leading up to Peña Nieto’s would-be inauguration on December 1. However, not all participants agreed on the direction or nature of the protests, some of which were felt to run against #YoSoy132’s “pacifist” manifesto.

Second-placed leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) – who “officially” lost by a 6.5% margin, or some 3.4 million votes – has focused his efforts on an appeal to the Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judiciary (TEPJF) and has yet to call for the mobilization of his support base as he did in 2006. This is at least partly due to pressures from within his Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), which wants to re-boot itself ahead of 2018.

On Friday, AMLO announced a National Plan for the Defense of Democracy & Dignity, which will see his Progressive Movement coalition travel the country to educate citizens on the ins-and-outs of what the PRD calls “the dirtiest election in Mexican history”. AMLO points to as many as five million “bought” votes as well as countless other electoral abuses and irregularities.

“They’re defaming us!” cries the PRI in the face of the stockpile of evidence of dirty tricks; as if a party that ruled Mexico for 71 years, rigging virtually every election along the way and governing with an iron hand should expect anything less.

While AMLO has applauded the #YoSoy132 movement, the pro-democracy protests have been largely non-partisan, focusing on demands for a thorough investigation of the election process as well as the democratization of Mexico’s highly-complicit mainstream media, owned by a handful of oligarchs bent on preserving the status quo.

The TEPJF is unlikely to do anything in the face of widespread evidence of vote-buying, ballot-rigging and threats against voters, so how for the struggle to proceed? How to fight for democracy in a country where the “rules” are so obviously stacked in favor of the PRI/National Action Party (PAN) duopoly?

Watch the right-wing PAN squirm. Party president Gustavo Madero was scarcely to be seen after President Felipe Calderon effectively called Peña Nieto’s victory the night of July 1. After goading from the PRD, Madero finally came out to denounce the fraud, calling the victory “legal but illegitimate”. Following President Calderon’s controversial meeting with Peña Nieto last Tuesday to discuss a “peaceful and efficient” transition of power, the PAN has yet again changed its stance, claiming there just isn’t sufficient evidence for the election to be annuled. The loyalties of the party – now famed for the 60,000 dead of the “Drug War” years – are blindingly clear.

The TEPJF has until September 6 to investigate the evidence – including the possible use of drug-trafficking funds funneled through the bank Monex – but don’t hold your breath. You’re more likely to see narco king El Chapo, The Untouchable One, turn himself in than the TEPJF annul Peña Nieto’s victory.

A Plan of Action 

On July 14 and 15, the #YoSoy132 Intervarsity Assembly met with representatives from some 300 civil organizations – including unions, lawyers, academics, and indigenous groups – in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico State. The gathering was billed as the National Convention against the Imposition and culminated in a plan of action for the months ahead.

San Salvador Atenco, a community of 15,000 in the state that Peña Nieto governed from 2005 until last year, had particular resonance as the venue. The virtual president-elect oversaw the infamously brutal repression of a group of protesters by state police in May 2006, resulting in two deaths, over a hundred arbitrary arrests, and dozens of sexual assaults.

Don’t forget that the #YoSoy132 movement was born May 11 this year when students at the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City spontaneously berated the visiting candidate with cries of “Get out!”, “Coward!” and “Murderer!”; the latter in reference to the atrocity in Atenco.

But there were disagreements at the assembly on the direction that future protests should take. The largest dispute came over a proposal to blockade and even “occupy” the studios of media giant Televisa on July 27. The #YoSoy132 leadership has since emphasized its commitment to non-violence and distanced itself from the proposal, which it feels has the potential to spin out of control.

On September 1, the day of President Felipe Calderon’s final Informe, or State of the Union address, protesters will march from the headquarters of the Electoral Tribunal to the congress, ahead of the September 6 deadline to ratify the election.

Further protests will follow on Independence Day (September 16), the anniversary of the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968 (October 2), and will culminate the day of Peña Nieto’s inauguration on December 1 when protesters plan to block the president-elect’s route to Congress. #YoSoy132 has likewise distanced itself from that one, again concerned by the potential for violence.

Boycotts against companies that cynically backed the PRI candidate – such as Televisa, Monex and supermarket chain Soriana – will continue all year along. The latter recently lost US$414 million of business in just nine days for producing thousands of gift cards which the PRI used to buy votes.

At the heart of the #YoSoy132 movement is a desire to democratize Mexico – its politics, the media, the use of national resources – through a mature, and above all peaceful, protest movement that may not prevent Peña Nieto assuming the presidency but will work between now and 2018 to gradually transform the country.

Still widely described as a “student movement” (with all the stereotypes of long-haired, lazy good-for-nothings that throws up), #YoSoy132 has quickly blossomed into a vehicle of expression for the nation’s marginalized population as a whole. The marches in Mexico City since May 11 have been extraordinarily diverse and inclusive in a country often fiercely divided along class, ethnic and political lines.

Among the participants at the National Convention against the Imposition were representatives from the small town of Cheran, Michoacan, which last year declared autonomy from local authorities and has taken to policing itself after a string of residents were killed by an illegal logging gang linked to organized crime.

It’s important to note that until December 1, Felipe Calderon remains at the helm. One of the closest Mexican allies the US has ever had, Calderon has militarized the country beyond recognition in the last six years, and was reportedly days away from using the Army to remove protesters in Mexico City after his own disputed election victory in 2006.

Emotions are running high in Mexico where citizens, traumatized by the immensely violent Calderon era and faced with a return of the party that bled the country dry for seven decades, are just about done with the PRI-PAN merry-go-round. In 2006, the post-election protests were largely pro-AMLO. This year, they’re about nothing less than taking on the entire system – political, economic and social – and demanding democracy in a country that has seen precious little in the last two hundred years.

Paul Imison lives in Mexico. He can be reached at paulimison@hotmail.com