Yesterday, the new Mexican president was sworn in amid chaos. A student group had called for a peaceful protest and soon all sorts of groups joined them: teachers, unionists, anarchists, whatever. The protesters began marching at around 2 AM, heading to Congress way before the president would arrive.
The government obviously knew there would be protesting. The groups made no secret of their agenda or route, and both the area around Congress and all of downtown Mexico City (the main square and several of the streets leading there) were closed off for a week, disrupting traffic. Even the metro stations there were closed.
I turned on the live streaming at around 4 AM Mexican time. At the front of the protesters, of one of the groups, were some men in hoods and balaclava, holding lids and sticks, which I thought was weird, but they were doing nothing other thank keeping the protesters in line. However, when they arrived to Congress and saw the police walls around it, some people started pounding on them and things turned confusing (for me, watching a streaming that kept breaking off and repeating itself). People started to throw firebombs across to the police and the police replied with tear gas. However, the people who were tweeting said that the police had thrown rocks and sticks to the protesters first. What was the truth? I don’t know, but even if this was true, why reply with firebombs?
I have to say, though, that not every protester in this particular group were violently throwing bombs and rocks to the police. Most of them kept back and those with loudspeakers kept calling people to order. The rioters wouldn’t listen and soon enough, along the tear gas canisters, there were rubber bullets as well (for the first time in Mexico.)
This was the state of affairs when president Peña Nieto and ex-president Calderón came into Congress and the ceremony proceeded. Some Congressmen spoke of the clashes outside and one even mentioned a man who was apparently dead from a rubber bullet to the head. The man was certainly injured but not dead, as it turned out (even on Twitter there were reports that he had died, which is how the Senator knew, I guess.)
After a couple of hours, the protesters marched again, this time heading towards the National Palace downtown. There, all hell broke loose. Hooded men attacked phone booths and bus stops (really), broke windows, vandalized historical monuments, and generally wreaked havoc. Obviously, the police responded in kind, throwing tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and some even say live bullets, but that hasn’t been confirmed. They beat people and there are about 100 detained people.
You will never see me condone violence. Destroying businesses, vandalizing monuments, throwing firebombs are all unjustifiable actions, and those carrying them out deserve to be detained by the police. However, violence is not gratuitous, there are causes behind it, and in this particular case things are not straightforward.
I am sure people are tired of not being heard, of seeing their wages go down, along with their quality of life and their jobs. This is enough for many to turn violent in the face of an election won through fraud and vote-buying. However, there have been protests in Mexico for the past 8 months and none of them have become riots, even when they have all included all sorts of groups, just like yesterday’s. So, what changed?
Many people who were there speak of infiltrated groups, paid by the government to initiate the violence and give the police an excuse to intervene. To be honest, this sounds plausible. The ruling party, which had ruled Mexico for about 70+ years before being ousted and is now back, certainly used this tactic many times in the past. Many people still remember the government using the army and special corps to repress students, most notably the 1968 and 1971 massacres.
Also, Peña Nieto is known for violently repressing social movements when he was governor of the State of Mexico, ordering “whatever it takes” to stop protesters. This involved dragging people out of their homes, who were not even outside marching, beating children to death and raping women. It is in light of all this that the accusations of infiltrated groups become real.
Of course, I don’t know for sure, but I do know that in the photos and videos taken yesterday, those breaking windows and throwing firebombs are always hooded, their faces covered. Peaceful protesters are staying back, their faces uncovered, easily identified.
Is this repression? From the violence exercised indiscriminately by the police – were not only beating and detaining those responsible for the vandalism and the bombs, but whoever got in their way -, the numbers of detainees, and the fact that police threw canisters and bullets directly to the bodies and faces of protesters, I am tempted to say yes, there was repression.
Again, of course those throwing bombs and destroying business had to be stopped and taken into custody. That is out of the question. But what about those who weren’t? What about the man who didn’t die but is an induced coma and has lost an eye? What about the detainees not being able to call their families or their lawyers?
The media never reported the facts, except to say that all protesters were violent. This was also the opinion of many people on social media, who chose to ignore certain questions and focused only on the hooded men destroying property to condemn all protesters. I guess this is part of the strategy to de-legitimize public dissent. I wouldn’t be surprised at all. The foreign media is downplaying the events, barely mentioning the social discontent that led to the protests, let alone the fact that not all protesters were involved in the violence.
There were protests in many other cities around the country, but it seems violence only broke out in Mexico City and Guadalajara. (If anyone has more information, please send it my way.)
This is how we start a new “democratic” period in Mexican life: amidst chaos, violence, disorder, lack of accountability (the major of Mexico City denied the rubber bullets, despite the evidence), a president so out of touch with his country that he never even mentioned the fact that were problems right outside the building. I shudder to think what is waiting for us in the near future.
[If you would like to see some images [trigger warning: violence], please click here. There is information in there as well, but it’s all in Spanish; it is basically what I have mentioned above, but in more detail. A journalist was there and took pictures of everything that happened; you can see them in his Twitter feed.]