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Mexico's Youth Make Voices Heard Ahead Of Vote

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Mexicans go to the polls July 1 to choose their next president, and polls show that voters seem inclined to embrace the past. The center-left Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled the country for more than seven decades before being ousted 12 years ago, holds a solid lead.

But Mexico's young are making their voices heard: Some fear a return of authoritarian rule; others simply want jobs.

Making Noise

For the past few weeks, two things have been happening quite a lot in the Mexican capital: rain and protests. Hitting the streets are students from some of Mexico's most elite universities. They're protesting everything from possible electoral fraud to what they say is biased media coverage in favor of the PRI party's candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto.

The students have been busy. They ran Pena Nieto out of what was supposed to be a friendly visit to one of the city's private universities. They filled the city's historic Zocalo Square with a concert that included some of Mexico's most famous artists.

They've also made enough noise over the Internet and social media to attract three of the four presidential candidates to a debate last Tuesday. Pena Nieto declined to attend.

But like a lot in their fledgling movement, the debate wasn't well organized. Candidates insisted students stay out of the debate venue, a downtown auditorium. Many students stood outside in a light drizzle huddled around a small radio with a bullhorn pressed against the speaker.

Tevye De Lara, an economics major at Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology, says a major goal of the movement is to bring more competition to the media market in a nation where almost everyone has a television but few have the Internet.

"We see ourselves as the young generation that is going to revolutionize the country," De Lara says.

If the PRI comes back to power, he says, he fears a return to authoritarianism. He'll vote for anyone else, he says.

Paying The Bills

Despite the students' recent activities, polls show many of Mexico's youth back Pena Nieto, says Leon Felipe Maldonado, project director for the Mitofsky polling group.

Maldonado says the students' influence is limited — they are not dependable voters. Their turnout is usually low. One exception was in 2000, the historic election that ousted the PRI from power after seven decades. Since then, however, their numbers have plunged, and Maldonado says he doesn't expect this time to be any different.

That could be because for much of Mexico's under-30 crowd, protesting and political involvement are luxuries. Most have more immediate needs.

Alberto Sainos, 27, shouts to shoppers at an open-air market in Nezahualcoyotl, one of the poorest cities right outside Mexico City. He's selling used baby clothes, laid out at his feet on top a tarp given to him by the Pena Nieto campaign. The candidate's well-coiffed hair and telegenic smile peek out from under mounds of onesies and footie pajamas.

Sainos says he doesn't back Pena Nieto; he just needed a tarp. Sainos has a bachelor's degree in engineering but says he makes more here at the market than in a foreign factory that pays what he calls slave wages.

A Better Tomorrow?

Sainos says there is a lot of talent in Mexico that is going to waste. Mexico's youth suffer among the highest rates of unemployment and poverty. They're also among the highest number of victims in the nation's six-year-long drug war, which has claimed more than 50,000 lives.

De Lara of the student movement says if the events of the past few weeks are any indication, the protests will continue.

"It tells a lot about the force that young people in Mexico have, and we are not stopping now," he says.

That's because, De Lara says, there is a lot to fight for.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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