Mexico sees massive protests ahead of presidential elections

On 29 of May, relatives of some of the people killed or missing in Mexico have met the four candidates in July’s presidential poll demanding more commitment to end drug violence. Since the crackdown on cartels, figures show that around 50,000 people have been killed and 5,000 are missing. Ahead of the elections protests are intensifying against the PRI candidate and presidential front-runner Enrique Peña Nieto. Banners read “I don’t want a PRImitive Mexico.’’ “No to the PRI-nosaurs,” with people protesting against the old authoritarian regime whose 71-year-rule from 1929 to 2000 was marked by repression, corruption and periodic economic crises.

The PRI ruled Mexico for seven decades until 2000 when it has been voted out with the election of the Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN) candidate Vicente Fox.Throughout the years the PAN has struggled to create efficient employment measures for the country’s growing population, and the bloody struggle with drug cartels has hurt the party’s chances of retaining the presidency. President Felipe Calderón said that his comprehensive strategy against crime can be criticized, but the issue now is whether the next President will continue fighting organized crime.

During the meeting between the candidates and representatives of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity politicians have been highly criticized. Javier Sicilia, an award-winning poet/ novelist and a social justice leader, had sharp words for all four candidates. Mr Sicilia became one of the leading figures in Mexico’s drug reform movement after the murder of his 24 year old son at the hands of cartel hitmen.

All candidates expressed their concerns over the brutal cartel violence that has gripped Mexico. Mr. Peña Nieto repeated his absolute engagement to tackle the issue but for Mr Sicilia the election of a PRI candidate represents a step backwards. “How many criminals have gone unpunished and are still in your party?” Mr. Sicilia provokatively asked.

Student-led protests

Mobilizations carried out in different parts of the country are evidence of an awakening of the Mexican citizens and youth who are demanding more from their politicians and institutions. Enrique Cuna Pérez, a sociology professor at the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana (UAM) recently carried out a UNDP-sponsored study on youth voting tendencies. The study showed that 7 of 10 voters aged 18-29 were either not going to vote or doubted they would vote in the upcoming race. Their reason? “Disenchantment with Mexican democracy”, disillusionment with the state of politics, the rule of law, and the economy.

“Young people are not shying away from democracy as a system, they are shying away from Mexican democracy. They consider themselves as democratic people. They understand the importance of voting but they are not willing to participate in Mexican democracy as it stands today”, said Cuna Pérez.

Younger generations in Mexico are reacting to the current political and social situation with a wave of protests attended mostly -though not exclusively- by students. This last month “Anti-Peña” protests kicked-off after important media outlets portrayed the visit of Peña Nieto to the Iberoamerican University campus as successful. 

Headlines of the Organización Editorial Mexicana’s newspapers read “Success for Peña at the Ibero in spite of planned boycott intent” covering up the actual dissatisfaction expressed by students. The PRI also released a promotional video using footage from the candidate time at the campus that made Peña Nieto’s visit seem positive. The attempt to undermine and cover up the truth resulted in several student-led protests across the country.

“As a young Mexican I think there is a rise in youth actions specifically demanding an end to media bias. There are protests against the PRI candidate Peña Nieto, but the feeling of fraud at the voting booths is so great and realistic that we are almost just waiting for it to happen,” told Vania Michelini, a young Mexican woman to MO*.

Movements such as #YoSoy132 are gaining momentum with thousands of students from all over Mexico convening to march and demanding a democratic, transparent and un-manipulated dissemination of information. Members of the #YoSoy132 describe it as a nonpartisan, leaderless movement for real democracy. The movement posted a video on Youtube this Wednesday sharing messages from young people and showing images of violence in Mexico and police abuses against the population. “We want the current situation of poverty, inequality, poverty, violence to be resolved,” says a voiceover. 

In a statement published last week the head of the Iberoamerican University, Jose Morales Orozco, said students at his university who took part in the #YoSoy132 video “ have received intimidating telephone calls and threatening messages in social media” and that the private university would take action to protect them.

Commenting on this pre-elections phenomenon the economist Arturo Franco wrote “Is this movement the beginning of something bigger? Will it mark an awakening in Mexico? Or is it a momentary curiosity?”. Peña Nieto has said he leads a new and reformed PRI, in which a younger generation has learned from, and paid for the mistakes of the past. The Mexican youth however does not seem convinced.



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