Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 378 | Enero 2013



The revenge against the #IAm132 Movement

The repression unleashed by both the federal and state governments against the #IAM132 movement on December 1 hoped to make an example of this movement. All political parties know these outraged youth aren’t easy prey for any party. Failing to attract them, they wanted revenge by putting an end to this movement, but they failed there too.

Jorge Alonso

At the end of 2012 a book came out on the #IAm132 Movement with 97 testimonies, all of which expressed the hope that Mexico can change. As part of the struggle for this change, #IAm132 announced a demonstration to protest the imposition of President-elect Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for December 1, the day he was sworn in. Demonstrations of repudiation happened in many cities, especially the capital and Guadalajara. The military responded with operations that recalled the repression of October 2, 1968, and June 10, 1971, in the capital, May 28, 2004, in Guadalajara and 2006 in Atenco.

The government
provoked the taunting

Adolfo Gilly recounted how the provocation on December 1 started. At the Monument to the Revolution a “protest encampment” had been set up since before the elections and remained afterward. Weeks before, a contingency of 50 people came to the encampment claiming to be part of the discontented. A few days before the new government was sworn in this new contingent began inviting people to courses on how to use bows and arrows. When there was objection from more long-standing encampment members they responded that they were preparing in case of attack. Days before the presidential inauguration the government police set up an imposing metal fence around the legislative palace. This deployment of force created a jumpy environment and generated protests by local residents against the disproportionate show of force. The intrusive contingent arrived at the demonstration early, armed with bottles, flammable materials and baseball bats. While many of the students expressed disagreement, they couldn’t get them to put down their arms. Other infiltrators pushed against the solid metal fence, one of which suspiciously “gave way.” While the infiltrators threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, government police swarmed through the opening in the fence, shooting gas and rubber bullets. By this time teachers and students had retreated.

Several of the students saw some of the “intruders” leaving with the police and giving each other hugs like victorious football players. Despite the heavy police barricade, a truck appeared from nowhere, rammed against the fence and caught fire. With that violence broke out in the center of the capital city. Within fifteen minutes the provocateurs, some dressed as civilians, others carrying pipes and chains and some wearing an “A,” the anarchist insignia, destroyed store windows and property in Avenida Juárez with precision. The police did not intervene during that lapse of time, but when it had ended, a free-for-all repression by the national and city police rained down on the ordinary demonstrators.

Peaceful youth
accused of vandalism

During the brutal repression, a 67-year-old theater professor, a sympathizer with the “Another Other World Is Possible” campaign, was hit in the head by a grenade thrown by government police, exposing his brain and knocking him unconscious. One youth hit by a projectile later lost an eye. By day’s end more than a hundred people had been arrested, not only demonstrators, but also tourists, photographers and people on the street who rebuked the police for their abusive force against the young people.

Of those arrested and hauled off to jail, 58 men and 11 women were charged with “disturbing the peace,” with the tacked-on charge of having committed the crime as part of a “gang,” which carries a penalty of up to 30 years in prison with no possibility of parole. Photographs and cell phone videos showed the arbitrariness and illegality of the arrests and the presence of police infiltrators among the demonstrators.

With suspect uniformity, the corporate media launched a rabid campaign against the young people of the #IAM132 movement, labeling them vandals.

The peaceful march of young people and families in Guadalajara was criminalized the same way. Some “individuals” who joined the march threw rocks as it passed the PRI and Televisa offices, but the police didn’t arrest them. Although the genuine demonstrators sat on the ground to show their peaceful resistance, they received the full repression of the police force, with many arbitrary arrests. The police were especially brutal with those photographing or videoing their repression. Once arrested, many women were brutally treated by the police, who kept them incommunicado
and without medical attention for hours. The Federal Human Rights Commission acted as an accomplice to the perpetrators. In the end, 27 people were confirmed arrested and the PRI and Televisa made accusations against 25 of them without providing any evidence.

It wasn’t the anarchists

The international press focused on the police repression during President Peña’s inauguration. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who ran against Peña on a broad coalition ticket and resigned from the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) two months later, holds the secretary of the interior, who is from the PRI, responsible for the infiltrators. Deflecting the criticism, higher-ups in the Interior Department argue that what happened, at least in Guadalajara, was the purview of the local government. In the capital, the city government accused the anarchists. The Black Cross anarchist group responded immediately that it had no responsibility for the destruction but only for fighting on behalf of those unjustly arrested, holding workshops against repression and trying to organize the barrios and communities.

The social networks circulated evidence exposing how the repression was carried out. It showed that the clashes were staged by a well-trained group protected by the police and that those arrested were scapegoats.

Criticism of the new government
came from many quarters

Alarmed by the level of government violence, the independent human rights centers condemned the new Peña government for starting a repression campaign to “make an example” of its critics. The Union of Mexican Jurists criticized the police brutality and demanded the release of the prisoners. The College of Ethnology and Anthropology defended the right of free expression. Academics of various institutions also denounced the provocation, seeing it as an ominous sign that the new authorities had started their administration by incarcerating innocent people.

It was very worrying that Mexico City’s new mayor, Miguel Ángel Mancera of the PRD, did not begin his administration by calling for an investigation, and demanding punishment for the city police who used excessive force or freedom for those imprisoned. Instead, he invited prominent cabinet members of the Peña government to his own inauguration on December 5.

The struggle to
free those imprisoned

The process to free the prisoners was faster in Guadalajara and longer and more tortuous in Mexico City.
Guadalajara. Professors from the Jesuit University in Guadalajara published a statement condemning the criminalization of the social protest, backed up with video evidence and the testimonies of students from the university who suffered repression. They also denounced the authorities’ failure to act against the provocateurs who attacked the PRI and Televisa buildings, pointing out that at least 45 peaceful demonstrators had ended up injured. An independent group of teachers at the University of Guadalajara added to these statements by lamenting the servile actions of the federal government’s human rights commission, protecting the authorities and not the citizens.

Two days after the events, those arrested were released after paying 81,000 pesos in bail and individual fines of 1,000 pesos. They were still subjected to a trial even though Guadalajara’s security secretary admitted there was no evidence the arrested were guilty of property damage.

On January 9 the city of Guadalajara withdrew its charges against all 27 arrested for lack of proof. The charges by Televisa, PRI and four police remain standing.

Mexico City. The situation was very different in Mexico City because the charge against those arrested was for crimes against social peace, which is not eligible for bail. The #IAM132 movement created a “peace room” to collect testimonies, photos and videos. Those who did this work were harassed and some, without explanation, had their Facebook accounts cancelled. The movement gathered a lot of graphic evidence on the infiltrators, the illegal arrests, police who agreed with the faculty that abuses had been committed but had been ordered to do so, and the innocence of those arrested. The movement showed evidence of people dressed in civilian clothes using a black glove who had police cars and were clearly provocateurs.

A group calling itself the League of December 1 was formed to defend those arrested. There were marches and demonstrations, fasting by prisoners and their families, and street theater. The Mexico City Human Rights Commission confirmed the arbitrary arrests and torture of several of those held. Amnesty International called on President Peña and Mayor Mancera to investigate the police excesses and presented a petition signed by 20,000 citizens asking that no one be prosecuted without solid, reliable evidence.

The majority of the prisoners were released a week after the original events. Thirteen men and one woman were still held even though video evidence proved everyone’s innocence.

Peña is a “puppet
of the powerful”

Journalist Pedro Miguel charged that everything both the federal and city government had done in the situation was aimed at discrediting and putting an end to the #IAm132 movement. He noted that the new PRD mayor wanted to ingratiate himself with the new PRI president by maximizing the punishment against the movement.

Other writers confirmed that the old government practice—apprehend, torture, charge, prosecute and jail—was being repeated and reinforced, as was another process, the coming together of those who defend the right to peacefully demonstrate. The group that was about to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Acteal Massacre suffered by their community, Las Abejas, at the hands of PRI paramilitaries showed its solidarity with those jailed in Mexico City. One of its members said of President Peña Nieto, “To us he’s like a soap opera character, a puppet who is manipulated by the powerful.”

A Fascist legal article

The #IAm132 Movement held its 12th national assembly in the National Anthropology Museum to analyze the situation in which it found itself. It endorsed the determination to continue being peaceful and to intensify the struggle for the liberation of all political prisoners. It conducted several actions to try to get Mexico City’s Legislative Assembly to repeal a city ordinance that forces unsentenced prisoners to spend many years in jail. Despite popular pressure to repeal this fascist legal article, the Legislative Assembly only agreed to a modification allowing prisoners to be released on bail when their lawyers request it. But the measure would not exonerate the prisoners even if there was no evidence against them, so they would still be considered guilty. Maintaining the crime for which they were falsely accused was a reissue of the crime of “social dissolution” used during the Cold War against those fighting for social change.

With a large part of society in solidarity with those arrested, the ones still in jail were finally set free after 27 days. Once released, they repudiated President Peña, his predecessor, President Calderon of the National Action Party (PAN), and Mexico City Mayor Mancera and his predecessor Marcelo Ebrard, both of the PRD. They showed that the oppressors had not succeeded in making them cave in and that they would continue the fight. The #IAm132 movement decided to keep fighting to secure their complete freedom and the repeal of the fascist article.

Peaceful, nonpartisan and pluralistic

Activists of the US Occupy and #IAm132 movements held a first meeting in January 2013 in which they planned to coordinate actions together with collectives of several other nations. The student movement also showed that it was open to joining with movements like the Zapatistas to learn their way of resistance.

In a press conference in mid-January the #IAm132 movement acknowledged that it was more vulnerable after what happened on December 1, which had forced it to stop its work releasing results of the referendum on labor reform due to the need to concentrate on freeing the arrested. It held its first national assembly of the year in Huexca, Morelos on January 19-20, which the invitation said would be a founding meeting. Those living in Huexca asked those attending the assembly to work together with the people and movements fighting the megaprojects that are stripping them of their land and to work on behalf of those being oppressed just like the young people of their movement.

At this assembly several hundred students from 11 states and 56 university campuses examined the conditions in the country since President Peña came to office. Self-critically they looked at ways of restructuring that gave more power to the local assemblies. They admitted they had stopped being a mass movement. They explored how the assemblies could become committees and again criticized the move towards centralism from the capital city since national circumstances lead to very different local expressions and there should be a more integral vision of the people and the country. To achieve this one needs to go to the local bases. And finally they reiterated the movement’s characteristics: peaceful, nonpartisan and pluralistic.

With Peña Nieto comes
the “hard hand” policy

Subcomandante Marcos portrayed Peña in the following way in the Zapatista communiqués at the end of 2012:

“Isn’t he the one who boasted about the police violence in San Salvador Atenco and, from his command position in the bathroom of la Ibero (the nickname for the Ibero-American University in Mexico City), forgetting he was in front of youthful critics and not on a TV set, haughtily slandered those who disagreed with him, thus sparking the student youth movement later known as #IAm132? Isn’t he the one who, as his first governing act, now in cahoots with the PDR of Mexico City, ordered the repression of the demonstrations on December 1 that led to the detention, torture and incarceration of innocent people?”

Certainly the new federal government, in complicity with the government of Mexico City, wanted to make clear that protest would not be tolerated during his six-year term. The alternative magazine Desinformemonos (Let’s Misinform Ourselves) believes Peña sent a clear message: the “hard hand” policy has arrived and the #IAm132 movement is its target.

Writer Luis Hernández analyzed the December 1 violence as having four aspects: the unusual and exaggerated show of police force, inept for deterrence activities; the great anger of large sectors of youth; the activity of small groups of anti-system activists that supported the #IAm132 movement to carry out exemplary actions; the infiltration of groups of provocateurs that perpetrated acts of violence to try to justify the repression.

Seven lessons of December 1

Juan Manuel Velázquez, a media specialist from the Jesuit University in Guadalajara, drew seven lessons from what happened.

1. In the lapse of time between the “bought” elections in July and Peña’s inauguration on December 1, the number of youth who began to participate after previously not being interested in politics had grown, and many of them got involved in the #IAm132 movement. By the time Peña became President, the high point of the movement had already passed and many students had returned to their routines because neither the form nor the timetable had met their expectations. Therefore, the movement against the imposition of Peña didn’t mature enough organizationally to maintain a powerful resistance and the movement’s volunteer aspect wasn’t strong enough to attract the millions who had mobilized before. Thus the correlation of forces on December 1 favored the powers-that-be and their imposed President.

2. The youth’s protest actions showed courage and dignity and they were right. But the Peña government could count on military tactics, infiltrators, provocateurs, institutions, spokespeople and jails.

3. The virtual social networks must critically evaluate themselves. They provided essential space for information, but at the same time provided space to propagate rumors. It’s important to use the Internet as a powerful medium to bring people together but it has to be used wisely and with prudence and not for communicating detailed plans, actions, places and names of people.

4. The so-called leftist political parties function with political aspirations to obtain power quotas and economic resources. They know how to negotiate but not how to lead actions against the government. Thus, when the police attacked the young people, the main concern of these parties was how to distance themselves from the protestors.

5. The job of the mass media is to produce, reproduce and maintain power and thus they were constructing an image of legitimacy for this new President who had been imposed and will frantically delegitimize anyone who does not submit to this image.

6. Experience shows that the change Mexico needs won’t come via the ballot box because the electoral institutions only answer to the power groups’ interests.

7. Since the youth are up against repressive government, they must fight with skill, knowing that the change the country needs will be a long process.

PRI, PAN and PRD are all repressive

Since the #IAm132 movement began, it has confronted media bias and electoral corruption. The December 1 repression didn’t just come from the PRI government. The self-defined leftist PRD was actively involved. And it was the PAN that prepared the repressive apparatus that led to the presidency going to Peña. Peña put Mondragón, who served under the PRD government of Ebrad in Mexico City, in charge of the police on December 1. The local police involved in the repression were commanded by the head of the outgoing PRD government, who in a few days would be replaced by someone else from the same party. The whole political class understands that the youth movement won’t be easy prey for any party.

Many of those who voted for the PRD became very confused when they saw Mancera, whom they thought had been elected in an alternative and free vote, act in unison with a man who had become President through a massive vote-buying operation. They saw both parties carrying out violent and illegal repression and attacking human rights.

In Guadalajara the repression was carried out by local police controlled by the PRI and national forces in the hands of the PAN. Televisa and its national and local media allies launched a vicious smear campaign to discredit the #IAm132 movement across the country. But the hatred of this powerful oligarchic business grew when its ruse to co-opt members of the youth movement by offering them a TV program failed.

The power of the social networks

What was totally new in the context of this repression was what had animated the youth movement in the first place—the use of social networks. Both in Mexico City and in Guadalajara the involvement of provocateurs, the brutal police repression, the serious human rights violations and the innocence of those jailed were all extensively documented through videos and cell phones and this evidence was widely disseminated on the Internet. This exposed the perpetrators and became an important element in the defense of those attacked.

The movement went from offering solidarity to receiving it. The #IAm132 movement was born in solidarity with those wronged in Atenco, then suffered firsthand the injustices of the political parties and media and now they have a new incentive to maintain the struggle. The protest against the humiliating treatment will be the trigger for new mobilizations.

There are new feelings and motives for their outrage. Despite internal differences, the repression and jail experience bolstered their feelings of solidarity, as expressed in the slogan “If they touch one, they touch us all.”

They were not broken

Through repression the political class tried to either disintegrate the movement or at least oblige it to sit down at the negotiating table in an imbalanced dialogue. But the #IAm132 movement didn’t fall into the trap. By keeping to their task of freeing those imprisoned, they took on their former work and restructured themselves as the sum of all the student and grassroots collectives. The powers-that-be wanted to finish off the movement. The revenge of Peña, Televisa and the political parties was crude and violent. But #IAm132 was not broken. It continues its quest.

Jorge Alonso is a researcher for CIESAS Occidente and envío correspondent in Mexico.

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