The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Mexico’s ruling party just totally failed at being cool

A woman waves a national flag as Mexicans march along Avenida Reforma on their way to the Zocala or Main Plaza in Mexico City on July 7, 2012. (Marco Ugarte/AP)

It was an earnest attempt at self-expression in a party known for protocol and staid formalities. A member of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) posted a defiant rant on Facebook — along with an image of a bearded hipster with thick glasses — listing the challenges of being young and belonging to an organization whose stalwarts are lampooned as dinosaurs.

“Being a young priista (PRI militant) is no easy thing. It’s a fight on twenty fronts,” Rodrigo Escalante wrote Oct. 9 on his Facebook page.

“We study hard and sleep little because we know that only by being prepared will we be able to confront Mexico’s challenges. We’re ready. We want to do it,” he continued. “We are #GereraciónDiferente (A Different Generation), heroes in our trenches. We don’t follow interests, we’re moved by causes. We’re not the new PRI. We are #PRIennials. We’ve arrived. Are you ready?”

The rant brought ridicule, but also cost Escalante job as a graphic designer in Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretariat. “It think that they considered it a risk to them and to their image,” Escalante told Milenio TV on Oct. 20. “I assume with humility all the costs, the criticisms, the mocking and the firing.”

Escalante previously clarified that his since-deleted statement didn't speak for the PRI and was nothing more than a personal opinion.

Still, the statement ignited a social media storm, along with expressions of ire and incredulity that a young person would advocate for an outfit still associated with the excesses of one-party rule before 2000 — a time many millennials are too young to remember — and a party fond of promoting itself as competent rather than clean.

The hashtag #PRIennials went viral. There was a mountain of memes, too: images of potential priista hipsters; #PRIennials superimposed on the “Jurassic Park” movie poster; and various references to “The Simpsons” — especially Mr. Burns posing as a youngster.

“#PRIennial sounds like a dinosaur that learned its lessons and, instead of being honest, lies, steals and manipulates a little more delicately,” tweeted Armando Regil, founder of Instituto de Pensamiento Estratégico Ágora, a think tank focusing on issues for young people.

“Being young and being priista is a contradiction,” quipped a commenter on Escalante’s Facebook page. “You have no shame,” said another.

Escalante’s original missive marked a rare attempt at social media creativity by priistas, who tend not to talk out of turn and speak in disciplined, dry pronouncements.

The reactions summed up the sentiments of a younger generation in Mexico, who turn more to social media than TV and traditional news sources — which seldom take a tough line with the PRI.

“If you’re a PRIennial you represent the worst of both worlds: you are using a category — millennial — which is complete BS, and you're admitting that you’re a member of the PRI,” said Esteban Illades, editor of the magazine Nexos. “If you talk to younger middle-upper class educated people, you’ll find being priista is a big no-no.”

The perception of being young and priista, he added, “is you’re only doing it to get rich” in a country where politics is perceived as one of the few paths to prosperity.

#PRIennials trended at a time when the PRI has promised to curb corruption and purge unpresentable politicians from its ranks.

On Wednesday, PRI governor Javier Duarte of Veracruz state, who was suspended from the party’s ranks, asked for a leave of absence to address accusations of mismanaging public money — just six weeks before he was scheduled to finish a turbulent six-year term in which 19 journalists were murdered.

The social media storm and a series of governors surrounded by scandals again showed the difficulties for the PRI in overhauling its image, in spite of previous attempts at rebranding itself “the new PRI.”

President Enrique Peña Nieto — whose approval rating hovers around 20 percent — was supposed to signal the rise of a new generation of priistas before the 2012 election, but was caught up in conflict-of-interest scandals, too, as he, his wife and his finance minister all purchased properties from prominent contractors. An investigation by the comptroller’s office found no wrongdoing.

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Many question whether the PRI can ever change its image and public perceptions.

“What is this now, the new PRI version 4.0?” asked Federico Estévez, a political science professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. “There can’t be a new PRI because this is the PRI. … They’re all good rent-seekers.”