Peña Nieto’s Promises of Change Ring Hollow in the Streets of Mexico

On December 1 Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN) was inaugurated as Mexico’s 57th president. During the inauguration speech in Mexico City he said the first aim of the new government “is to bring peace to Mexico” and that the country “had lost ground” in the 12 years that his party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), had been absent from power.

A quick look at the history of PRI reveals the hypocrisy of these words—PRI ruled Mexico undemocratically for 71 years. The "transition" to democracy took place in 2000 when an opposing party won the national elections for the first time. PRI’s time in power was characterized by corruption, repression, and impunity. During decades of uninterrupted power, PRI became firmly entrenched in all levels of political life in Mexico, making a functioning democracy virtually impossible.

Party politics aside, EPN himself has a tainted record—most notably as the governor of the state of Mexico during the brutal repression of protesters in San Salvador Atenco in 2006. The birth of the #YoSoy132 movement followed a campaign visit by EPN to the Ibero-American University in Mexico City earlier this year.  During the visit students interrupted EPN’s speech to protest his involvement in the atrocity.

EPN won the July national election by securing just 38% of the votes. He assumes power despite major voting day irregularities, claims of vote buying, and media bias in favor of EPN, as well as ongoing protests in key cities across the country.    

The hashtag #PeñaNietoNoEsMiPresidente was trending on Twitter just hours before EPN officially assumed power at the stroke of midnight.  Protests on inauguration day were tamer than those which followed the last election, but thousands of people still turned out to voice their anger at the new president. 

In Mexico City authorities were prepared for battle—the San Lázaro Palace that houses the lower chamber of Congress in particular was like a fortress. Several nearby metro stations were closed all week and 3-meter-tall barricades were erected outside. Inside Congress, opposition members gave protest speeches and hung up a banner that read, “Imposition consummated. Mexico mourns.” 

Outside Congress hundreds of protesters threw Molotov cocktails, firecrackers and rocks at police, managing to breach the steel barricade at one point.  Police responded by spraying tear gas from a truck and using water cannons. Countless images can be found on social media of protesters wearing gas masks and scarves across their faces to block out the acrid tear gas that left a hazy cloud over the parts of the city where it was used.

Both the #YoSoy132 movement and Section 22 of the SNTE teachers union have distanced themselves from any acts of violence, reaffirming their call for peaceful protest. They are reporting infiltration of the movement and suggest that agents provocateurs are responsible for some of the damage seen yesterday. Some protesters were seriously injured, including a 22-year-old protester who lost his right eye after being hit in the face by a projectile.  Many others suffered less serious injuries and 103 were reported arrested. 

In terms of the presidency, Peña Nieto takes over “a seat bathed in blood”, with over 60,000 deaths attributed to the war on drugs that his predecessor Felipe Calderón started in 2006. So which direction will EPN’s presidency take?

While Calderón will be remembered for his militarization of the drug war, EPN looks set to forge ahead and crack open Mexico’s markets even further to outside investors. He spent much of October touring Europe touting for business, and he has controversial plans to open up Mexico’s state-owned oil giant Pemex to private investment. 

Of course the big issue for many Mexicans is security. EPN has said he will break away from the militarized approach of Calderón and will focus on reducing violence, rather than going after drug kingpins and intercepting shipments of drugs. He has not offered any specifics on how he will achieve this, but in terms of the US involvement in the war on drugs, he has said he will continue to work with them but will not allow armed US agents on Mexican soil. 

Overall there may not be much to celebrate in Mexico as “power transitions from one human rights violator to the next.” It will be interesting to see how long and how strong the protest movements remain. If EPN does not break away from the old PRI tactics of corruption and repression, it may be a galvanizing force for the population. As one piece of graffiti in Mexico City read this weekend, “We are not guerrillas, but soon we will be.”

 

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Jen Wilton currently lives in Oaxaca, Mexico and reports on social and political issues related to Mexico and Latin America more widely. Jen tweets as @guerillagrrl and blogs at revolutioniseternal.wordpress.com

Alternative Media Collective “Emergencia MX” Releases 18-Minute YouTube Video of #1DMx

Today, the YouTube channel of EmergenciaMx.org released an 18-minute video of the #1DMx protests, which occurred this Saturday. According to its site and Facebook page, EmergenciaMx is an alternative non-profit media collective of filmmakers, artists, and communicators that offers different points of view that you won't in in mainstream Mexican outlets that "form part of the status quo of a media system that is neither competitive not democratic."

Here is an 18-minute video that the collective uploaded today. It is a disturbing and sobering video, and it makes little distinction from peaceful demonstrators and alleged anarchist protesters who turned parts of the demonstrations violent. This video is pretty raw.

What Happened in Mexico Yesterday: #1DMx

As with any story that is covered online and fed quickly through social media, there is always a desire to get as much accurate information as possible. Stories that organically grow and spread through online circles will always be that way. It is the new journalism, an uneasy balance between on-the-ground tweets, pics, videos, and posts, and official news outlets. In this day and age, where news can happen with a smart phone, we find that immediacy of news is a reality that will not go way, but at the same time a combination of different sources will always give as full of a picture as possible.

Such is the case of #1DMx, the hashtag that was used for the marches against allegations that Mexico's newest President, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), was fraudulently elected. Much has been written about that, and as with any story, you will have those who believe that the PRI's return to power after 12 years is just an example of democracy in action (the PRI ruled Mexico for 71 consecutive years) and those who believe that the PRI's will revive the party's ugly history of political repression and control. Both of those opinions and the gray areas between those opinions are being published and played out online, not only through social media, but through media outlets. It is a battle of opinions, and those opinions have been quite strong, no matter where you look.

We will try here to share what a few of those organizations outlets are reporting and let readers decide about the information that is being shared. As with any story that is constantly moving online, there will be always be quick reactions and more information. Social media plays a role in that, and the speed of information is just the new normal. Consider this post a pause from the barrage of information that is getting shared right now. 

  • The #YoSoy132 movement, which has been protesting against Peña Nieto since early this spring, has been quick to condemn and distance itself from many of the violent acts that were reported yesterday. The movement's focus has been to share the news about claims that the Mexican government has repressed many protesters, how some protesters are missing, and how many have been injured. Sources like YoSoy132Media.org continue to provide constant updates about recent events, and they continue to move rather quickly. For example, it was originally reported that a protester had died last night, when in fact he is still alive but in grave condition. That is what happens when news is shared so quickly.
  • A lot of photos are being uploaded and it can feel overwhelming. This #1DMx source provides many of the more popular ones being shared. Some photos show peaceful demonstrations, while other photos are more troubling. Images are indeed powerful, and they are open for interpretation, both good and bad. Another fact of social media reporting.
  • As with any movement or event that is now being covered online, there are many sources that report the information. As with any story or movement, bias is everywhere. All media is biased, no matter how independent it claims to be. For us, besides checking out the YoSoy132 pages, we also tend to check out Proceso, which presents a full picture in Spanish about yesterday's events here (15 civilians wounded, 20 uniformed police wounded and 65 arrested), as well as La Jornada and Milenio to see how else the news is being reported. We tend to look at these outlets with a critical eye, as we do with anything we read and share. 
  • American news outlets appear to be showing just a small slice of the story, as the Associated Press lumps all the protesters as "vandals," also  reporting that "at least 76 people were treated for injuries, including 29 who hospitalized, as the result of clashes between protesters and tear-gas firing police, the Red Cross said. City officials said 103 people were detained, including 11 minors." The New York Times this morning barely made mention of the protests, focusing instead of Peña Nieto's speech, but it did report the following: "Later, outside the national palace, scores of mostly young masked people, shouting anti-PRI slogans, clashed with the police, set fires, threw rocks and vandalized hotels and stores along several blocks. More than 90 were arrested and several were injured, and Mayor Marcelo Ebrard later blamed anarchist groups for the trouble."
  • The Occupy movement is also covering the news from Mexico and it reported the following: "the protesters marched on Congress in Mexico City and were met with large squadrons of riot police, enormous barricades, rubber bullets, tear gas, and gas bombs. Reports claim approximately 30 people have been injured, several critically." The Occupy page also shared several links on social media that are sharing the story.

There is saying that there are two sides to every story, and that the truth is somewhere in between. So, while the AP posts this video without any context, other videos, like the ones that follow, are being shared on YouTube.

AP's video

Other Videos from YouTube. There are so many, we have lost count.

We would expect that anyone who is interested in what is happening in Mexico continue to check different reports and sources. Our page does not claim to be the definitive source (and it never will). Anyone who expects that will be disappointed. What we can promise is that we will try to curate content that seems interesting and newsworthy so that our readers can decide and determine for themselves what they think about these recent developments.

As for us? We do think that the current political system in Mexico is a quasi-oligarchy and that true democracy is still a pipe dream there (many would say that this is the case of the United States as well). Events like #1DMx bring out the worst and best in people, but at least people are talking and sharing opinions. Will such dialogue lead to change, and if so, what will that change look like? Those questions continued to be asked, but have yet to be answered.