Mexico Welcomed its New President with Molotovs and Rubber Bullets
On Saturday, Enrique Peña Nieto was inaugurated as the next President of Mexico inside the Congress building in Mexico City. Outside the Congress building – known here as the Legislative Palace of San Lázaro – we were trying our best to duck out of the way of projectiles, dodge rubber bullets and avoid taking big mouthfuls of tear gas.
In preparation for the uproar that seems to mark political events such as this one, the congress had been surrounded by barricades and anti-riot walls for days, while protesters from all walks of life had begun gathering since the early hours on Saturday. One of the loudest groups was #yosoy132, the student movement that erupted against Nieto during the presidential campaigns earlier this year. Organising themselves with the Twitter hashtag #MexicoNoTienePresident (#MexicoHasNoPresident), they carried out something they referred to as operation #1DMX. Their protest was meant to be peaceful, but then the black bloc joined in, things took an uglier turn.
As the situation became more violent, the demonstration split into two groups. The peaceful side gathered around a truck parked outside the San Lázaro subway station, and got busy screaming, thinking this was the best way to convince their fellow demonstrators to remain calm. The more aggressive parties took to breaking walls and sidewalks with sledgehammers, throwing the blocks of rock they gathered to the hundreds of federal police officers standing behind the metallic wall encompassing the Congress building.
Once the first few Molotov cocktails were thrown, the cops brought out the tear gas. North from where we stood, a group tried to penetrate the anti-riot walls, through an opening made by a construction truck that drove and crashed right onto it. Soon after, we found ourselves surrounded by 500 federal police officers. It was at that point that we decided to get the fuck out of there and started walking with the peaceful contingent to the direction the National Palace, which is located on the Zocalo, the city's main square, just a few blocks away.
As soon as we made it downtown, we realised the entire Zocalo was surrounded by cops but we managed to talk an officer into letting us walk trough one of the security fences, at the exact same moment Enrique Peña Nieto was being sworn in as the new president of Mexico.
Moreover the number of secret service agents around was out of proportion, and it seemed that everyone protesting against the new president was being closely watched. After witnessing a fight between protesters that was stopped by cops dressed in civilian clothes, and right as the more violent demonstrators arrived to 20 de November street from San Lazaro, we made our way to Madero, the pedestrian street that leads straight to the Zocalo.
Right in the corner of Madero and Eje Central, in front of the Bellas Artes Palace, we got trapped in an altercation between black bloc groups and the security forces who were trying to prevent them from getting to the Presidential Palace, where Peña Nieto was heading after the ceremony.
We left the protest walking on Juarez Avenue, right at the time when the police were starting to randomly capture protesters. Random civilians that were not involved in the protest kept asking the police to remain calm.
It’s still not clear what exactly happened. We have no idea why the police started shooting rubber bullets, instead of using water canons and other less harmful methods of dispersing the crowds. There are also a lot of questions regarding the sudden appearance of the more radical protesters, with some proposing that they could have even been agent provocateurs, paid by the PRI (Nieto's party) as a means of discrediting the yosoy132 movement.
It’s still a little too early to have a clear view on the situation but definitely interesting to watch how the PRI moves now that it's back in power after two PAN (the opposition) presidencies. I mean, they already managed to devastate the city centre on their first day in government, and that, at the very least, is impressive.