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by Liz Fishwick
Most of us have read what is going on in Mexico: protests and resistance in the wake of the election of the PRI, a party with a history of corruption. Many of you globally have heard that something is brewing in Mexico. Most of you may be familiar with ‘Yo soy #132’. You probably know about votes for supermarket vouchers; burning ballot boxes; and the President elect, Enrique Pena Nieto, buying airtime on ‘Televisa’ which resulted in the return of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) -- the party which Mexico never wanted to see again.
I live two blocks from the main epicentre of the marches in Mexico City. I have several friends who are involved and are fighting hard for change. Here is my eye witness account of the “Mexican Spring”:
There has been some misrepresentation of the marches – that they are confined to students and to Mexico City. There is more to them.
I live two blocks from Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City and have witnessed and participated in two marches. (My involvement is limited because of “Article 33,” an archaic law which states that "Foreigners may not in any way participate in the political affairs of the country." )
The movement has broadened and now encompasses all walks of life in a highly diverse society. I’ve observed a large number of young people indeed wearing ‘Yo soy #132’ masks, t-shirts and various paraphernalia with the revolutionary fervour that we see in the press.
But then there’s the other side: the demonstrators also include young families who clearly see that this new presidency is not what they want for their future; older people who march along with children and grandchildren – and who remember the tyranny of the PRI. These older folks don’t want a return to the “bad old days”, given that the country is improving economically, encompassing progressive policies and in fact, is getting safer.
The protesters are not violent. They march. They chant. They jump. There is no smashing of buildings or throwing of eggs, unlike some behaviour I have seen in similar demonstrations in the UK. Like many things in Mexico, the marches are family-friendly and inclusive.
Most of the global reportage is focused on Mexico City. Yet evidence shows that this movement is nationwide.
You think that Playa del Carmen in the Carribbean is all cruise ships and spring break vacationers?
Simultaneously with protests in Mexico City, there was a demonstration on the beach on Playa del Carmen which undoubtedly provided a wake-up call to the vacationers -- showing that there is indeed trouble in paradise.
The Mexican diaspora – Mexicans living outside of Mexico -- has gotten active as well, holding demonstrations in Chicago, London, LA, Madrid and Montreal. These protests staged faux funerals, with speeches, outside Mexican embassies worldwide, to demonstrate that democracy has died. These protesters were not the migrant workers but young people -- who had won places in universities in Europe and North America.
So the main question is: was this – the PRI -- indeed the party that no one really wanted? The statistics reveal that the PRI gained 38.15% of the vote; the PRD (Party of Democratic Revolution – the left) 31.64%; and the PAN (Party of National Action – the incumbent right-wing government) only 24.5%. So PRI did not have a strong majority – only a bit more than at third of the vote.
If we play the numbers game, the PRI didn’t represent what people wanted. Then, add allegations of corruption to the equation -- and this is what happens: resistance. Memories of the PRI -- seventy years of tyranny and corruption – are also fresh in people’s minds.
Let’s add another factor: the Mexicans themselves. The country is progressing fast. Mexico has developed a civil society in which people know and are aware of their rights. Mexican people are not afraid of the government. People just want a better life, safety, and to resist the return to the days of the “dinosaurs” of the past. This time, they’re fighting. Mexico City has abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, and it is considering safe zones for sex workers. There are effective schemes to encourage cycling and public transport – plans which rival anything I’ve seen in most of Europe and the USA. I am friends with people who create projects to address gender issues, disability rights, poverty and the indigenous communities in Mexico. These activists work on their own terms and use what they know to support the marginalised groups’ needs. Mexico is a liberalized society in many ways. The fear that drives these protests is that all this hard work and determination could collapse under a new government -- or at least not receive any funding and thus be denied the chance to make a true difference to Mexico.
Is Mexico heading towards its own Spring? The context is clearly very different. The events in Egypt showed people fighting against a despot; here they are fighting against the fear of a despot. The similarities? Both are movements for the people and by the people.
I'm a trainer for English teachers living in Mexico City though I'm originally from The UK. This city has been my home for three years. I take a close interest in events, social projects and actions in the city.