The murder of George Floyd has sparked a rebellion across the United States. There is not a single state without protests shouting “Black Lives Matter!” Police have shot tear gas pepper spray, and rubber-coated bullets while the White House went dark and Trump hid inside his presidential bunker.
In the midst of this scenario, capitalist politicians of all stripes — Republicans and Democrats, mayors and governors, from Minnesota to New York to Ohio — have blamed the riots on “outside agitators.” How does this make sense with protests going on in hundreds of cities? Are we supposed to believe that people from New York City traveled all the way to Minneapolis to riot, while people from Minneapolis went to Phoenix to do the same, etc.?. Were tens of thousands of people rioting far from home, and all this in the middle of a pandemic where lots of travel is shut down?
This old trope has a long, racist history in the United States, but it is also used in many other countries for the same purpose. It is supposed to delegitimize mass protests. Here, Mexico is no exception.
One of the most important protest movements in Mexico’s history is the 1968 student movement. In the midst of the cold war, president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, from the PRI — a bourgeois-nationalist party that governed Mexico for 70 years — was a staunch anti-communist and a CIA agent (codename LITEMPO 8). He had a long history of repression ever since he served as Secretary of Interior (Mexico’s second in command). During his presidency, he oversaw that every installation for the Olympic Games was finished on time. But the student movement was a clear threat to the picture he wanted to present to the world: that of a Mexico on the way to development, with modern infrastructure and a thriving society.
The students were protesting the tight control the PRI had over virtually every aspect of Mexican politics. Díaz Ordaz, a close ally of the United States, used the government’s control of the media to accuse the students of being manipulated by communists. He claimed that there was a conspiracy of Soviet, Cuban, and Chinese agents (even though the Sino-Soviet split had already occurred) to sabotage the Olympic Games in Mexico and that well-known intellectuals and professors in the universities were manipulating the stupid naïve Mexican youths into their plans. Unfortunately for him and his paranoid ramblings, when his superiors in Washington asked for proof, neither he nor the CIA chief in Mexico, his close friend Winston Scott, could offer anything other than rumors.1
This would not be the only time such slander would be used by the PRI. 44 years later, in 2012, the PRI was also campaigning against “outside agitators.” When Enrique Peña Nieto was running for president, he visited the Iberoamerican University to explain his agenda to the students. However, when he had been governor of the state of Mexico, he was responsible for brutal repression in the town of San Salvador Atenco, and students raised questions. He defended his record claiming that “it was a necessary measure to reinstate justice and order,” which enraged the crowd. Students promptly chased him out, forcing him to lock himself in a bathroom before being escorted off campus.
The next day, the PRI’s president was asked about the incident on the radio. He answered that the students seemed “a little bit older” and were clearly “pseudo-students” and porros hired by his opponent, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (back then running as a second time as presidential candidate) to instigate a boycott against Peña Nieto. The students’ response was swift: in a matter of days they organized a video with 131 students from the Iberoamerican University holding up their university IDs. They declared that they were actual students who attended their school and opposed the PRI and Peña Nieto.
This video instigated a massive movement of youths protesting against the PRI. Referring to the 131 students, millions more declared “I am 132.” And thus the hashtag #YoSoy132 became a rallying cry for a new youth movement.
When the capitalist politicians are confronted with a serious protest movement, they will use any lie, as pathetic as it may sound, to try to delegitimize the demands, as if they were all part of a conspiracy. But as Argentinian journalist Rodolfo Walsh said shortly before he was murdered: “truth is militant.” The truth about these mass protests is out there on the streets, reminding everyone that capitalist politicians will always lie to keep their privileges.
|↑1||This is all detailed in the book Our Man in Mexico by Jefferson Morley.|