Nacho Martínez shoots a cheeky grin as he tells of the day he decided to protest against Mexican presidential candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto. “We were so nervous,” he states. “We thought that we were really going to get into trouble.”
Back in May, Peña Nieto, leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI, which ruled Mexico for over 70 years, gave a talk to students at the Ibero University, a private institute in Mexico City. “When I found out he was coming, a small group of us set up a Facebook group calling for a demonstration to be held,” Martínez states. Of all the presidential candidates, Martínez, a 23-year-old communications student, and his friends felt most strongly about Peña Nieto. “It was not only that he represented the PRI, but that he was also so corrupt,” he states. “We have read history books and we knew what a return to this party would mean.”
Peña Nieto, who won the most votes in elections held early this month, although the official winner is not announced until September, was a controversial figure in the presidential race. He ran a slick campaign and despite scandals, including accusations that he bought hours of favourable television coverage as well as accusations of human right violations, he had high rating in the polls. The student demonstrations at the Ibero would have an impact on his campaign success.
“Security to enter the hall where he was speaking was very tight,” says Martínez. “No other candidate had such security and they were talking away any banner that said something negative about Peña Nieto.” Martínez was one of the few that managed to slip past unnoticed. “We had seen some people with banners, but we generally thought we were a very small group.” he states. “I really thought that we would be the only ones demonstrating. “We waited for people to settle and then the three of us stood up, holding our banners high. First there was a silence and then the clapping started.” Both inside and outside of the hall, over a thousand students gathered to demonstrate against the candidate. “All this hatred for him just exploded,” he explains. “Everything he stands for: the corruption, the PRI, the fact that he is a product of the media and his track record as governor of the State of Mexico.”
As video footage of the demonstration spread on social networks, several media organisations tried to play the event down while members of Peña Nieto’s party insinuated that the students were members of a rival political party paid to cause trouble. Martínez shakes his head. “Peña Nieto’s party did not manage their damage control very well.” A video released online, showing 131 students identifying themselves as being from the Ibero and not paid trouble-markers, went viral. Students from universities all over Mexico joined together in support and the movement Yo Soy 132, I am the 123rd was born.
Andres Torres Checa, a spokesperson for ITAM University in Mexico City, tells how the movement snowballed. “It started out as an act of solidarity with the Ibero students, but it soon became about much more,” he states. A march on the head-offices of the television company Televisa, which the students accuse of favouring Peña Nieto over other candidates, was held in the middle of May. This was followed by a further march through the centre of Mexico City at the beginning of July, attended by thousands of people. “The movement just grew, we were 20 universities then 90, Torres says. “Now we are over 120 universities from all over Mexico.” The movement’s influence has not only gotten people out into the street calling for greater political transparency, it has played an active role in way the elections were held.
Getting a high turnout amongst voters was very important for the movement. During these elections, held on 1 July, Mexico registered its highest ever participation with just over 60 percent of the population voting. Torres explains, “it was important for us that the elections should be clean and transparent.” The movement launched a series of campaigns to ensure that this would be the case. One of the strategies was to position people at voting booths. “For the first time in Mexican history, we had citizens at polling stations monitoring what was happening on Election Day. These were not only students, but general members of the public, it was a real achievement.”
Martínez explains how the movement set up various rooms on university campuses, from where they monitored voting irregularities. People from all over Mexico were encouraged to send in any reports, pictures or videos of illegal activity. The movement registered around 1,500 acts, including threats, stolen ballot boxes and pre-marked voting ballots. As a result of the evidence gathered, members of the movement have declared the elections neither free nor fair.
After the elections, reports emerged that the PRI had been involved in widespread vote buying including the distribution of cards for pre-paid purchases at the supermarket Soriana. A discussion on vote buying and its legality has taken place not only on social networking sites, but also in the mainstream media. The movement did not instigate this discussion, but Martínez believes it provided the spark. “This movement made people braver, it gave them courage to speak out,” he states.
Now that the elections are over, members of Yo Soy 132 are working on its future strategies. Mariana Favela, a PhD student at the UNAM, a public university in Mexico City, explains that this is being done through commission and assembly meetings at universities up and down the country. She points out that the movement is still very much involved in the electoral process. “It is important to remember that the elections are not over yet, the official results are not out until September and we must still keep up the pressure,” she states. Ivan Benumea, a 23-year-old spokesperson at the same university, says that the movement is now focused on what they call the “positive solution phase”. Discussions among students have identified four areas, justice, education, health and the economy that will take on the full attention of the movement in the future. “We are still working out how we are going to play it now the elections are over,” he states. “We have some really strong aspects to the movement not least that we have an agenda that the public can relate to. Add to this the fact that we are motivated, organised and importantly that we are not linked to any political party.”
For Martínez and those at the Ibero, one of the most important acts that the movement can do is push for a reform of the law regarding the media. “We are very serious about exploring the legal route,” he states. “If we only march without addressing the problem, in a years time we will be still marching and we will have got nowhere.”
Martínez looks serious, “it is now highly likely that Peña Nieto is going to be our president. That is six years, six years during which we will be watching the PRI’s every move.” Smiling, he adds, “I have heard that the movement has become a symbol of hope for other social movements,” he states. “I am really pleased about that. We must keep fighting, we can’t give up now.”GeneralDemocracy SquareLiberty Tree FoundationDemocratizing Education NetworkDemocracy SquareDemocracy SquareLiberty Tree FoundationDemocratizing Education Network