Saturday, 26 May 2012

The 2012 Presidential Election and Youth Protest — a turning point?

The first impression that many have when they travel to Mexico is a bewildering sense of chaos and disorder. But such an impression belies the reality that powerful forces and hidden powers have always controlled almost every aspect of Mexican life, and have successfully manipulated politics and events to serve their interests

Although many benefit from this oligarchic control, almost all have links to the powerful broadcast media outlets Televisa and TV Azteca and are linked to an elite group of friends known as the Atlamulco group. The fingers of Emilio Azcárraga Jean (Televisa) and Ricardo Salinas Pliego (TV Azteca) stir the pot and pull many of the strings that have led to the enrichment of many of many of their friends in that circle.

Both of these powerful media ignored the Mexican public and their civic and moral responsibility and in their decision to broadcast futbol semi-finals instead of broadcasting the first presidential debate of 2012, but that may be the least onerous act of political manipulation in support of their favourite son  and PRI presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto. Their money and influence have played an important part in promoting the popularity of their glamourous candidate whose second wife happens to be a former soap opera star. Their support and connections to Peña Nieto and to his political mentors Emilio Chuayffet Chemor are well known. Emilio Azcárraga Jean, former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari and all of the wealthiest members of the PRI elite were guests at his lavish wedding to the glamourous soap-opera star and daughter of Emilio Chuayfett Chemor.

Pictures from Enrique Peña Nieto's opulent wedding — Ex president Carlos Salinas de Gortari was the most senior PRI padrino at the event and signed the wedding documents as a witness.

Pubic opinion polls and news reports have consistently reported that Peña Nieto has a lead of at least 20 points, leaving challengers (Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador - AMLO, and Josefina Vasquez Mota - La Chepina) trailing far behind and only ahead of Gabriel Quadri de la Torre who is running as a front for the powerful teacher union cacique Elba Esther Gordillo.  As most people know, public opinion polls are sometimes wrong — but a 20 point lead with 6 weeks to go is a substantial margin that is hard to explain away by fraud or manipulation. Nevertheless, there are many people here in Mexico who doubt the numbers and who firmly believe that Televisa in cooperation with the powerful forces of PRI and Atlamulco have successfully distorted the results to reinforce a perception that Peña Nieto has an insurmountable lead and is the people's choice. As someone with training in statistical analysis, I do find it difficult to believe that there could be such a gross manipulation of data — but my Mexican friends who also have an understanding of methodology and statistics assure me that the results are much closer than Televisa, TV Azteca and PRI would have us believe. They point to the large number of people who have refused to participate and even answer, and to the large number of undecided voters who did answer— representing more than 50% of the sample are not providing a choice. This creates a margin of error that is incredibly broad and leaves the interpretation in the unreliable zone.

But no matter what polls have indicated, Peña Nieto appeared to be sailing smoothly toward the presidency supported by legions of adoring female supporters yelling vacuous things such as come home with me please my beautiful man. Peña Nieto's scripted campaign has been a powerful juggernaut in spite of flubbing a softball question to identify 3 influential books at Latin America's biggest book fair in Guadalajara (  and his daughter's subsequent tweet complaining about "los proles" and their lack of respect for her father after the press made fun of his ignorance of books. The tweeter universe jumped all over her snobbish comments and generated a hashtag that went viral — #YoSoyProle. But, these two things had little impact on the campaign nor did they provide any momentum to turn polling numbers around. AMLO and La Chepina remained far behind and fighting with each other to avoid falling into 3rd place in the reported polls. The campaign to install Enrique Peña Nieto followed the script to a T, in much the same way that Televisa and TV Azteca generated soap-operas for the mindless masses.

The incident at Iberoamericana University

But something unexpected happened, and Enrique Peña Nietos momentum may have hit a major roadblock. It's too early to say that Enrique Peña Nieto and his team made a major mistake and that their weakness in substance and policy have been completely exposed. But it's clear that a game-changing event happened on May 11 when Enrique's Campaign advisors scheduled a rally at the Jesuit Private Iberoamericana University in the wealthy Santa Fe area of Mexico State — where both Peña Nieto and his father-in-law had been the governor and where Carlo Salinas de Gortari has his family estate.
The student rally appeared to be going well and according to script until the issue of Atenco protests and police response were raised in a question period. As governor, Enrique Peña Nieto had called in 700 Federal Police and 1,815 EdoMex State Police who broke up the event with violent force. (see the Atenco event at
Peña Nieto defended police actions as a necessary reaction, and said that the State has a moral obligation to respond to violence with force. His response generated a audible groans and shouting protests, and demands  that Peña Nieto get out of here (("fuerase") . The noise and shouts became so loud that he did flee with a look of panic clearly etched on his face, and he was quickly surrounded by his advisors in the corridors outside of the auditorium — all of which was captured by video cameras and all showing that his trademark smile had become a worried grimace. (Photo downloaded from Proceso)

Finally, he was ushered off campus and to safety by his handlers. (see

Afterwards, PRI spin doctors suggested that this rally had been sabotaged and organized in advance by PRD activists and agitators who were not students at Iberoamericana. However the rally was open only to students and video evidence made it very clear that the only organized group on campus that day was a PRI rally team with pre-printed professional campaign posters. Eventually, 131 students from Iberoamericana came forward to indicate that they were students who had protested— and they presented their student ID's to prove it. They all claimed that nothing organized ahead of time and that what happened at the Iberoamericana rally was a spontaneous reaction to an answer that the students clearly did not believe nor accept.

A war of words escalated, and everything that the PRI spin doctors tried had an effect opposite to what they intended. The more they said, the angrier the reaction became, and studnet protests materialized across most of the country- albeit with more participants in some parts than in others. And student marchers  adopted a new slogan indicating their support— YoSo132 — i.e. they wanted to add their name as the 132 student who was opposed to Peña Nieto. The slogan served as another hashtag #MarchaYoSoy132 that went viral, and is part of a massive tweeter wave of comments reinforcing the view that Enrique Peña Prieto is a candidate of the elite and the powerful, and is no friend of the students nor any Mexican other than the wealthy elite.

The "tuits" also connected Peña Nieto and Televisa, and have led to protests in front of public monuments such as the much criticized estella de luz monument ( ), in the symbolically important Plaza de Tres culturas in Tlatelolco, and ended up outside of Televisa offices and studios in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey and in other parts of Mexico. The headlines in the Guadalajara version of La Jornada screamed in bold letters ""Somos jóvenes, sabemos lo que está pasando - We are young, we know what's going on". There is rapidly growing viral campaign in the tweeter-verse to shut off Televisa from home TV sets and boycott it (#ApagonTelevisa

To an outsider, these protests against a candidate from the party in opposition seems like it should be inconsequential, but the fact is that the Iberoamericana events have escalated into major repercussions with the real potential to alter the fin what  happens in the final 6 weeks of the campaign. The rejection by the students of an elite and conservative university has left the PRI scrambling to change the message of Enrique Peña Nieto, and he recently proposed several intiiatives and promises to help youth find jobs. He has begun to emphasize that he will be  more transparent and open in dealing with students and with other Mexican citizens. But, he hasn't set foot on another campus, and editorial cartoons ridiculing his fear of students. (e.g.

PRI has apparently decided that its best response is to mobilize one supporting constituency it believes it can count on — women — and apparently have called for a march of 15,000 women to protest the bad treatment of their glamour boy by rowdy students at Iberoamericana and the agitators protesting in front of Televisa (Mujeres priistas marcharán en desagravio de “agresiones” a EPN ( )

But, many journalists and writers are suggesting that these protests are not frivolous and organized events and that they are a major turning point in the campaign — and perhaps even a sign that politics of Mexico may never be the same and that the time of manipulation by the oligarchy has ended. To borrow from the moral of a fairy tale — a child was the only one who pointed out that the emperor has no clothes. In the case of Mexico, the students not only exposed the fact that the PRI and Enrique Peña Nieto have no substance but they've also made it clear that they understand that Televisa and TV Azteca have been shamelessly promoting a naked emperor-to-be for their own self-interest.

José Gil Olmos has published a couple of brilliant analyses describing the potential impact and the change that the protests represent ( , and Jesusa Cervantes has described the potential of this movement very succinctly in another Proceso article ( Cervantes writes that the students have demonstrated that they are well informed and that they do know what they want. They know what the PRI and Peña Nieto stand for, and they have shown a capacity to demonstrate indignation in a powerful way — much more than middle-aged Mexicans working in secure jobs that they hope to keep until they retire. The students proclaim "Don't insult our intelligence — we know what you stand for and who is behind you". 
She adds that the student protests have forced Peña Nieto off his script and made him pay attention to issues outside of his controlled agenda — the young people and the manipulation of power. The student protests have forced the election team of the PRI to twist and turn to quickly throw out new manifestos promising to protect guarantees that are already in the constitution. The PRI and Peña Nieto are promising to do what every student knows is supposed to happen by law, and Enrique Peña Nieto and the PRI response have simply shown that they have never understood this".

"Los jóvenes demostraron que sí están informados, que sí saben lo que no quieren: al PRI y a Peña Nieto por lo que representa, no por su persona en sí. Mostraron que tienen capacidad de indignación más fuerte que cualquier cuarentón cómodamente instalado en su oficina de trabajo esperando su jubilación.

El reclamo es: “no insultes mi inteligencia; sabemos qué representas y a quién tienes detrás”.

El moviendo estudiantil ha obligado a Peña Nieto a voltear la mirada hacia los jóvenes, pero tanto él como su equipo ha sido tan torpes que los ha insultado aún más ofreciéndoles un “manifiesto” que no es otra cosa que los principios y derechos que están consagrados en la Constitución. Eso cualquier estudiante de derecho lo sabe, cualquier preparatoriano que lleve la materia lo entiende. Sólo la prepotencia y falta de entendimiento de Peña Nieto y su equipo no lo han digerido."

But, it remains to be seen how it will play out and it remains to be seen whether the youth of Mexico will vote in numbers that will make a difference. However, the message of the young people may have already spread to other parts of the population. Peña Nieto had planned to visit two cities in Sinaloa on a major campaign sweep through the state, but he cancelled his visit to Mazatlan and his rally in the north in Guasave was not well-attended and a large part of the audience walked out during his speech leaving the stadium with vast swatches of empty seats.

Posted from Culiacán, Sinaloa Mexico

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