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Mexico's Youth Uprising: How a Social Media-Powered Student Movement Upended the Presidential Election

Sick of repression and media bias, a growing student-led movement takes aim at the leading presidential candidate.

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“We already know which media product is going to win the election,” said 20-year-old Daniel Martinez, a #YoSoy132 supporter, shortly after finishing a rap he wrote railing against Mexico’s dominant media and political systems. He performed the rap at a street corner during a protest at Televisa’s main offices on June 26. “This election is a circus of media products and the biggest product will win this Sunday,” he said.

Describing Peña Nieto as little else than a creation of the media may be a harsh critique. But it is undeniable that the man whom many call the new face of the PRI has committed a number of rather embarrassing gaffes.

Last November, Peña Nieto was flush red in the midst of his response to a seemingly innocuous question. During an international book fair in Guadalajara, Peña Nieto was asked what three books had influenced him the most in terms of his intellectual development. The journalist who asked the fateful question, Jacobo Garcia, the foreign correspondent for the Spain-based daily El Mundo, described the moment as a “great opportunity to know the candidate, because he really hadn’t let himself be seen during the event.”

Peña Nieto immediately cited the Bible as an important influence. He stumbled rather clumsily through citing two more books, however, and incorrectly cited one of Mexico’s most well-known and famous authors, conflating him with another author. Carlos Fuentes suddenly became Enrique Fuentes.

Carlos Fuentes himself was far from amused: “This man hasn't read me, [and although] he has the right of not doing so … he doesn't have the right to aspire to be president of Mexico based on [his] ignorance.”

Garcia told colleagues that aides were nervously gesturing for Peña Nieto to cut his losses and shorten his answer, but the candidate continued in spite of laughter from the press corps at various moments.

Other gaffes were committed as well, including when Peña Nieto couldn’t pin down what the minimum wage for the country was, much less the going price of a tortilla. His explanation for failing to know these answers was that he was not a “housewife.”

How can a man who doesn’t know the price of a tortilla, the minimum wage or name three books that have influenced him be on the cusp of winning an election? A series of investigative reports undertaken by the London-based daily, the Guardian, has pointed squarely to media favoritism, while additional reports have surfaced of vote-buying and manipulation.

A Television Duopoly and Alleged Illegal Tactics

In a poll released on June 30, no less than 71% of Mexicans believed that electoral fraud will be committed, which is what many argue occurred in the last election and in the widely disputed election of 1988. In both of those instances, the center-left PRD candidate came out on the losing end of the stick.

Concurrently, the most important target of #YoSoy132’s critique has been the TV news media duopoly controlled and run by Televisa and TV Azteca.

Televisa is the world's largest Spanish-language television network. In Mexico, two-thirds of channels are controlled by the media behemoth, with the second leading TV network, TV Azteca, controlling most of the remaining third. But these facts, in and of themselves, are not enough to prove officially sponsored bias. Televisa officials and leading broadcast journalists have fervently denied the accusations by the movement and others.

When Rodrigo appeared with his fellow students and activists on Televisa, he managed to gain control of the interview and asked Carlos Loret de Mola, a leading Televisa broadcast journalist, tough questions that elicited defensive responses like this: “I work here … and I can almost bet you that with difficulty, you won’t be able to find in Mexico an interview of Peña Nieto that was as hard as what we [have done here at Televisa].”