Dec 3, 2012

Laura's Blog: Mexico's presidential inauguration marked by vows and violence

The official broadcast showed smiling legislators from the Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI), uniformed in red shawls and red ties, welcoming the triumphant arrival of the president-elect amid cries of "Enrique, Enrique!" It was an almost flawlessly choreographed production, despite occasional cries of protest from the opposition. The presidential mantle was passed from one party to the next, the handsome new president delivered a well-polished speech designed to please all, there was the obligatory visit to address the armed forces. The official version of the inauguration of Mexico's 57th president seemed to go off with only minor glitches.

That's pretty much all you could see from your television screen. Some stations showed a few jarring scenes of rioters in the streets being beaten back with tear gas amid the crack of rubber bullets. But they only lasted a few seconds before returning to the comforting pomp and circumstance of the change of powers. Television networks were not allowed to film the inauguration and acceptance speech. Flipping from channel to channel produced the simultaneous repetition of the official signal, with it's official selection of shots and official narration.

A city under siege
Social media and the streets themselves told a different story. From the pre-dawn hours, battalions of police barricaded the area blocks away from both the Congress where the official swearing-in took place and the National Palace where the new president would present his first speech. Protestors left for the legislative center at San Lazaro in the pre-dawn hours. Arriving, small groups attacked police lines to gain entrance into the security perimeter surrounding Congress.

The situation heated up quickly. Police responded hurling tear gas canisters and firing rubber bullets, enraging the protestors. Images show young people, mostly men with hoods and masks, attacking police lines with rocks and sticks. Some molotovs were reported and bottle rockets. Soon it became an all-out battle, with youth hurling back the gas grenades. Students reported "bombs, pepper gas, tear gas and rubber bullets", all confirmed by the press.

This is not a common method of reacting to demonstrations in Mexico City. It reflects a decision to crack down hard, regardless of the consequences, particularly within the ranks of the Federal Police. After clashes, some people destroyed lamp posts, vandalized buildings and parts of the expensively remodeled Alameda park and vandalized buildings along Mexico City's main streets. News stories have reported the presence of paid provocateurs among the vandals.

The movement reports that anti-Peña Nieto protestor José Uriel Díaz reportedly lost an eye and Juan Francisco Koytenal (spelling according to YoSoy132) is in coma after receiving direct hits from rubber bullets. The use of rubber bullets is prohibited in Mexico.

Mainstream media allied with the new president throughout the campaign and subsequent lame duck period, immediately blamed Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the youth movement #YoSoy132 for the violence. Lopéz Obrador came out against violence, stating that the "mafia in power" desires violence to justify authoritarian measures. He condemned the violent response of the police:
There was no reason to use brute force... and rubber bullets against the youth and students. As the first action of defense of HR and citizen liberties, we demand destitution of the current Secretary of the Interior (Miguel Osorio Chong) the guilty must be punished there are youth seriously wounded.and there must be justice.
The YoSoy132 movement communiqué reports 101 people arrested and calls for a demonstration today, Dec. 3. Their message of Dec. 3 reads:
We declare our complete opposition to the criminalization of social protest and of youth that became clear in the speech of the Federal Government and the Government of Mexico City. To consider that expression of the right to freedom of assembly justifies violence is to judge that no citizen or group can demonstrate without being the object of violence.
They call for freedom for those arrested and guarantees of human rights for all involved and for future demonstrations. While the violence captured headlines and marked inauguration day, the vast majority of the demonstrators stuck to instructions of non-violence of the organizations and protested peacefully.

After the clashes, I drove downtown to do a television commentary on the day's events. The walls along one of Mexico City's main thoroughfares were covered with spray-painted messages: No to the Imposition, Mexico has no president, Peña--Fraud, Peña Out!

On the Zocalo, seen from the bird's-eye view of a hotel balcony, a drama played out between security forces and protestors. The area was cordoned off by shielded police from several blocks away. A group of about two to three hundred protestors who managed to be inside screamed anti-Pena Nieto slogans outside the Palacio Nacional long after the new president had finished his speech and headed off to address the armed forces. They had no rocks or sticks and made no aggressive moves. Other people walked through the central plaza like on a normal Saturday.

Rows of police began streaming into the plaza from both sides, marching in twos. Fourteen truckloads of soldiers pulled into the square and unloaded. You could hear cries and feel the fear from below. A group of police broke the line of contention and advanced on protestors. Protestors and bystanders screamed and ran.

Eventually the police retreated and the soldiers did nothing. The scene flowed back into young people heckling police at the doors of the Palace. But I was left with an unsettled feeling, that something was gravely wrong. Why the gratuitous shows of intimidation? Do we read the events of this ominous inauguration as a particularly paranoid response or a pattern for the future?

Controlling the opposition
In the House of Deputies, the incoming government was determined to avoid a takeover of the podium and the disruptions that characterized the inauguration of Felipe Calderón six years ago. The PRI positioned its members at the two entrances to the podium, stating that "there aren't enough seats" to explain their presence there.

Members of Congress from all parties were given ten minutes to present speeches before the president-elect arrived to take office. There were relatively few interruptions, but a huge banner along the side wall proclaimed "Consummated Imposition. Mexico in Mourning". The opposition also had images of Monex back cards and Soriana grocery coupons as a statement against vote buying during the PRI campaign and signs saying "Presidency Bought".

During his speech, Ricardo Monreal of the PRI called the alliance between the PRI and the PAN a sign of "transaction, not transition" and noted the increase of 12 million people below the poverty line. He vowed to "defend our oil and energy resources", and "work against femicides and forced disappearances."

In a completely different tone, Arturo Escobar of the Green Party, part of the Peña Nieto coalition, heralded the "maturity ofthe majority of Mexico following the results of the elections" and of the electoral institutions. He predicted that Mexico would change and grow, erradicating its enemies of violence and extreme poverty. 
Other notable moments: As Calderón entered the hall, journalists covering the event cried out, "God forgive you for the journalists killed!" Others called out, "Assassin" and "Murdered by Felipe" as the PAN began a counter-cry of "Very good, Felipe!"

As has often been the case in Mexican history, the victors and the vanquished seemed to live in two, very different Mexicos.


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