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In Mexico, Yo Soy 132 ponders next step

COLUMN ONE

Yo Soy 132 ('I am 132'), a student movement disenchanted with Mexico's democracy, says it wants to keep the PRI on its toes, even if the election is over.

August 13, 2012|By Richard Fausset, Los Angeles Times
  • Members of the Yo Soy 132 ("I am 132") movement demonstrate outside the offices of the TV network Televisa in Monterrey, Mexico.
Members of the Yo Soy 132 ("I am 132") movement demonstrate outside… (Miguel Sierra, European…)

MEXICO CITY — Here they were again, marching through the dark and the rain — the preppies from private universities, the hipsters in fat-lace skater sneakers, the young intellectuals with faces framed in wispy Che Guevara beards, the regular kids with backpacks and smartphones.

They pooled by the thousands on Avenida Chapultepec in front of the headquarters ofMexico'smost powerful broadcaster, brandishing signs and banners, trailed by an opportunistic band of hot dog and taco vendors. They shouted and chanted, sometimes using language that would make a Mexican mother blush.

The recent presidential election that saw the Institutional Revolutionary Party return to power was a fraud, they said, and Televisa was in on the fix. Amid allegations of vote shenanigans, they warned darkly of the country backsliding into despotism.

"Mexico has become the beaten woman who goes back to the husband," read a sign carried by an earnest, curly-haired 18-year-old named Edgar Adrian Nepomuceno Chavez, "because she thinks he has changed."

Nepomuceno and the thousands of other young Mexicans in the Yo Soy 132 movement had a simple goal on this gloomy Thursday night: to build a 24-hour "human fence" around the television company's massive downtown campus.

In this country where student activists have a legendary — and tragic — past, they wanted the protest to be a reminder that its youth were still on the case, even if the election was over.

In Mexico, few narratives are more powerful: The 1910 revolution was sparked by concern over a rigged vote. This year, however, voter irregularities are not likely to prevent the election results from being ratified. Nor does revolution appear to be in the cards.

And so this abruptly famous student movement, at its moment of peak momentum and hype, finds itself fighting to remain at the center of the national conversation — and deciding what, exactly, it wants to say next.

Yo Soy 132 ("I am 132") may end up being swallowed by the clamor of protest that is part of the country's daily dose of ambient noise. But like other outsiders who have stirred the Mexican moral imagination, it may also become something more. In 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, an obscure armed indigenous group, emerged from the backwaters of poverty-stricken Chiapas state and made waves in the public sphere for years.

"It's not the Prague Spring, or the Egyptian movement," commentator Jose Nuñez Castañeda wrote in the newspaper Reforma in June. "[But] whoever occupies the presidency will not be able to ignore the significance of a youth disillusioned with the levels of democracy we've achieved."

The city sent 1,500 police officers to Televisa to keep the peace. They massed in yellow rain slickers around the headquarters and blocked off some surrounding streets. It soon became apparent that the students wouldn't be able to surround the campus in one unbroken ring.

Using bullhorns, organizers pleaded with the protesters to spread around the buildings the best they could. Some marched off to take their positions. Some loitered on Avenida Chapultepec, chatting or buying snacks. Some pitched tents to hunker down for the night.

A group of young women walked the police line, handing out roses to the officers, who blushed and giggled among themselves.

On a street corner, a drum circle and accordion fueled a cumbia written for the movement.

"Look, no way," the chorus went. "You'd better find yourself another sheep. I'm 132."

When the ad hoc band finished the tune, the crowd cheered for another number. But it didn't seem to have one.

"OK," someone said. "Same song, one more time?"

*

Yo Soy 132 sprouted up in the middle of the campaign season to oppose the Institutional Revolutionary Party's handsome young standard-bearer, Enrique Peña Nieto. It disapproved of the way Peña Nieto's forces had cracked down on a 2006 uprising by machete-wielding protesters while he was governor of a nearby state. An official inquiry found the response resulted in severe human rights abuses.

The movement objected to Televisa's campaign coverage, which the protesters saw as skewed in Peña Nieto's favor.

And they harbored a deep distrust of Peña Nieto's party, known by the initials PRI, which had ruled Mexico with a quasi-authoritarian grip for most of the 20th century.

During a visit to Mexico City's Ibero-American University in May, the candidate was heckled mercilessly by students, and when his supporters claimed the hecklers had been planted, 131 students went on YouTube to prove their identity.

To say "Yo Soy 132" — "I am 132" — was to announce one's solidarity with the 131 students. It became a way of saying, "I, too, am real. And so are my concerns."

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