¿Primavera Hispana 2011?: Youth, Indignation, and Human Rights in the Hispanic World


In spring 2011, massive protests in Mexico and Spain placed youth center stage in the Hispanic world.1 In Mexico, non-violent demonstrations against drug-related violence, corruption, and impunity—organized by the Movimiento Paz con Justicia y Dignidad (MPJD)2included a silent protest in Mexico City on May 8, and the Caravana del Consuelo or Marcha del Dolor, a rally of some 15 buses from Cuernavaca to Ciudad Juárez, from June 4 to June 10. The MPJD is mainly composed of victims’ families and their organizations from all around the country. Poet Javier Sicilia, whose son and six other children were killed on March 27, is spearheading the movement. Although young people are the main victims of violence in Mexico, youth organizations are not leading these protests.

In Spain, the Movimiento 15-M (M 15-M)3 gathered thousands of protesters led by several grassroots organizations that had previously joined to create the platform  ¡Democracia Real Ya!.4 Initially, they camped in city squares across the country for two weeks before and after local and regional elections, inspired by similar demonstrations in Europe, as well as by the Arab Spring. The M15-M developed after a general strike in Spain on September 29, 2010, that targeted politicians and financial institutions as the main agents of a profound national economic crisis raising unemployment rates over 20%, and significantly increasing social inequality.

In humanitarian terms, there is an enormous difference in degree between the violence in Mexico, and the financial crisis in Spain. Indeed, the grave human rights violations in Mexico comprise around 40,000 drug-related deaths since Felipe Calderón became president in December 2006. Most of them include kidnapping, torturing, and dismemberment and over 80% of them remain unsolved and unpunished. They constitute the most terrible war crimes in recent history.

Despite the different contexts this essay provides a provisional comparative analysis of these two ongoing social movements. I explore common and specific factors, and reflect briefly upon the need to create collaborative networks. Referring to the Arab Spring—the revolutionary uprisings across the Middle East and Northern Africa since December 2010—I examine the possibilities of a Primavera Hispana.5 I conclude that the establishment of a dialogue—including the MPJD, the M 15-M, and other similar social movements in the Hispanic World—may foster not only specific alliances across boundaries, but also a more nuanced critical reflection about social justice and human rights globally.

In this essay, I address three main interrelated tensions: (1) the difficulties of empowering youth on the one hand and paternalistic attitudes on the other hand; (2) the conflicting relationship between pro-European positions and Eurocentrism; and (3) the more general antagonism between globalization and deglobalization. With regard to the latter, I explore the notion of “global citizenship” as defined by Stepháne Hessel, and how to dismantle the dichotomy globalization/deglobalization, following Edgar Morin. Both French thinkers are among the main intellectual driving forces of the unbroken demonstrations and protests in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Their theories provide valuable insights to explain the intergenerational transmission of knowledge, and the promotion of transnational collaboration. Both of these issues rely on an open, flexible, and self-reflective view on human rights discourse.

In Mexico 90% of the killings related to narcotrafficking affect youth. Poor young people are indoctrinated and induced into the world of crime and drug dealing from a very early age. Gangbangers organize their pandillas or maras6 at a transnational level. In the Americas, drug-related organized crime is structured as a cell system, and tends to have a clear spiritual component that is similar to cults and terrorist organizations. Many of them worship the Holy Death and have altars and icons in their hideouts. In some cases, their rituals include practices such as beheading and drinking their victims’ blood (González Rodríguez 134). This spiritual component helps to detach youngsters from emotion during torture and killing, and to promote the most macabre practices. The media and social networks are then used to reach maximum exposure and intimidation.

Paradoxically, middle-class Mexican youth who are privileged enough to have access to education are the victims of corruption and social inequality. In fact, they are the most affected by the raise in unemployment rates and rampant underemployment in Mexico (Rodríguez, Monsiváis). As a result, they have been increasingly active in the last few years in political parties and youth organizations. For example, in February of 2011, a young spokesperson of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática7 denounced the criminalization of Mexican youth and the passivity and corruption of the Instituto Mexicano de la Juventud8:

We young people have been the victims of persecution, criminalization, and murder caused by a bad government strategy. We are outraged and annoyed about the Mexican Youth Institute’s silence and complicity regarding the wave of killings during the last six years. The unilateral war against narcotrafficking has caused over 30,000 deaths. 90% of the victims were young people. (Reséndiz)9

Nevertheless, there is great fear in Mexico. The drug cartels, in addition to recruiting teenagers and young adults, have no mercy with those who defy their status quo. 21-year-old Marisol Valles García’s case is a good example. In October of 2010, she became police chief in the 3,000-people border town of Praxedis G. Guerrero, Chihuahua. Nobody wanted the job after the former police chief had been tortured and beheaded. Valles García, a college student majoring in Criminology, made a vow not to give in to the cartels, hired 13 female police officers, and had them patrol without firearms. In March 2011 she had to flee the country and ask for political asylum in the U.S. after being continuously intimidated and receiving numerous threats.

The intimidation and indoctrination of youth by drug-related mafias are widespread practices across Latin America. However, the closer to the U.S.-Mexican border, the higher the violence. These factors add to the fact that Mexican youth movements have not been very successful in the past. The 2005 assessment of cultural critic, Carlos Monsiváis, before Felipe Calderón came to power, is telling in this context. He argues that after the traumatic events of Tlatelolco in 1968, Mexican youth culture was heavily influenced by neoliberal tactics of depolitization, and corruption rapidly escalated among youth organizations (Monsiváis 138-9).

Little surprising then that Mexican youth was not leading the protests against violence and corruption in the last few years, despite being one of the most affected social groups and the main victims. Inspired and supported by the Movimiento Zapatista de Liberación Nacional10, and activist organizations against border violence—especially those against feminicide in Ciudad Juárez and at the border—protests were led by families of the victims, but not by young people per se. In this regard, Mexican youth are still subjected to paternalistic protection, as explained by Monsiváis:

The government’s idea is very simple: youngsters need paternal guidance; if not by giving them advice, at least by reminding them that their rights, whichever they may be, are a courtesy of the supreme authority, either God or the president. The official definition states that a young person is the one who suffers from lack of information, vocational uncertainty, and a constant hunger for pampering. The obvious is not accepted: As subjects with rights, it is essential to respect young people’s liberties. (Monsiváis 131)11

There is a very thin line between empowering youth to make their own choices and to act paternalistically. In fact, paternalistic attitudes are inevitable and have to be carefully negotiated. But the central question remains to be how can Mexican youth—and Latin American youth more generally—be equipped so that they can take on a leadership role against today’s widespread drug-related violence, murder, and impunity? There are no simple answers to this question, but zooming out from the local to the global in order to create a dialogue among social movements worldwide, especially among those that are happening in regions that share common cultural values such as Spain, may help provide some helpful insights. If, as Hessel states, global citizenship has to do with “realizing that individual states are no longer able to face the challenges that we refer to”—such as the challenges of the current financial recession—and if global citizenship requires “that states be part of an ensemble,” (Hessel, “¡Comprometeos!” 30)12 then local movements may also need to immediately expand their views and create networks of collaboration. A group of social movements in the Hispanic world could hence be one way to provide solutions at the local level. The empowerment of Latin American youth could, as an example, be promoted by sharing knowledge with young indignant Spaniards.13

The so-called Movement 15-M or Indignant Movement emerges out of indignation with Spanish politicians, financial institutions, and those who protect them and support their profit. While the feeling of indignation plays out very differently in Mexico, it is useful to discuss common factors, and identify aspects that may foster collaboration. In the following I focus on the way the term youth is used by the M15-M, and how it may serve as an example to empower youth and promote intergenerational collaboration.

After the advent of democracy in Spain in the late 1970s, new generations enjoyed liberties and opportunities that their parents and grandparents had never dreamt of during Franco’s dictatorship. In this context, paternalism happens in Spain in a particular way: youngsters need to have everything that previous generations lacked, especially in regards to materialistic things but also in regard to free access to education. Spanish youth does not suffer from intimidation or fear, as they do in Mexico. Moreover, there is a different type of indoctrination: depolitization, apathy and lack of ideals—neoliberal ideas that promote “the erasure of alternatives,” according to Monsiváis (139).

In a self-reflective move against apathy, Spanish youth organizations became more active in demonstrations and protests since the early 2000s. Initially, most of them started as student organizations, but they progressively expanded their views and activities. A clear example is Juventud Sin Futuro.14 Initially, they were one of the leading groups of the Anti-Bolonia Movement—a movement against the reform of higher education across Europe. After the general strike organized by Spanish unions in September 29, 2010, Juventud Sin Futuro decided to support demonstrations against more general issues affecting Spanish youth such as the high levels of unemployment, and employment precariousness. Finally, they were among the founding organizations of Democracia Real Ya, the platform that organized the initiative “Toma la plaza #spanishrevolution” across multiple social networks (Juventud Sin Futuro 22-8). The M15-M initiative took place in a key moment, just a week before nationwide local and regional elections in Spain. After the demonstrations, people decided to camp indefinitely on the main squares of major cities in Spain.

The M15-M gained both national and international resonance, recognition, and support when the Central Electoral Board (CEB) declared the protests illegal the day before the elections. The CEB claimed that the campers would breach Spanish law requiring a “reflection day” with no political advertisement 24 hours before any election. Yet, the demonstrations continued without any violence, and police did not intervene.

Unlike in Mexico, Spanish youth does play a central role in leading the M15-M. Whilst in Mexico young people remain victims and have not been able to take on leading positions, in Spain youth organizations are at the core of the initiatives and demonstrations. In addition to the increase of youth activism in Spain in recent years, Juventud Sin Futuro member Iñigo Errejón explains that for the M15-M the term youth has been a necessary and precious floating signifier. “[I]t may mean different things, but to appropriate it leads to a clear victory.” (Juventud Sin Futuro 73).15

The M15-M relies heavily on the effective use of “youth” and “young” in its campaigns. Analysts and scholars emphasize the clever use of the social networks and new technologies—social protest skills of younger generations—, which contributed to the success of the M15-M and the Arab Spring. Regardless, the M15-M has also relied on more traditional methods of information dissemination such as pamphlets, anthologies, and the ability to get media attention.

The commitment of some publishing companies and media corporations to create a space for the M15-M before and after May 15—despite their initial skepticism and the activists’ own efforts to remain independent of any political or media affiliation—is telling in this regard.

Particularly two reasons help explain the combination of young activist tools and more traditional campaign strategies. First, the M15-M, like the Arab Spring revolts, includes different social groups from diverse sociocultural backgrounds, especially regarding class status (Anderson, Ben Jelloun 143-7). Second, the integration of new and old activism is a result of intergenerational transmission within the movement. Indeed, the M15-M did not emerge spontaneously, as many conservative media reported. It is a result of coalition politics across various social groups and different generations during the last few years.16

The M15-M has produced its own critical discourse. The proliferation of publications—in addition to blog websites, twitter, Facebook and even specific social networks such as N-1—shows the effort to form and consolidate ideas, proposals, and activities.  Advocates not only radically question the semantics of democracy and globalization, but also desire to create new meaning based on the notion of indignation and the figure of the indignant.

The indignant is an umbrella term, a diffuse figuration that has an enormous appeal. It has a great capacity fostering feelings of belonging in moments of profound crisis and social disillusionment with regards to the Spanish and European political class and financial structures. While it puts youth at the center of attention, is, at the same time, marked by a generous intergenerational transmission. It also promotes a progressive and tolerant view on class identity differences. Finally, indignation advocates unity and expansion. It is particular and local, yet appeals to universal feelings. This is how the figure of the indignant breaks up the dichotomy globalization/desglobalization, aiming to reject what Monsiváis calls “the satanization of the so-called ‘globaliphobics’” (Monsiváis 139).17

At the time of finishing this essay, on July 23 of 2011, M15-M rallies from across Spain joined together at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid. Activists convoked a general meeting, or “social forum,” to trace the basic tenets for the future of the Movement. While their future remains uncertain, they have succeeded in introducing indignation into the political and public debates. The socialist candidate, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, for instance, included clear references to the M15-M in his early pre-campaign speeches. He claimed to support some of their proposals and even hinted at possible collaborations. The Spanish government has just announced that general elections will be held on November 20, four month earlier than the end of the term. And there is no doubt that M15-M is part of the reasons why the government has decided this call for early elections.

In Mexico, Sicilia had an interview with President Calderón on June 23. The President supported the general spirit of the MPJD, and promised that the National Security Strategy would take into consideration their proposals. Calderón nonetheless continued to show firm commitment to his militaristic strategy against narco trafficking, which stands in stark contrast to some of the measures suggested by MPJD, including demilitarization policies and the legalization of drugs.

The M15-M and its expanded version—the Indignant Movement—have become a kind of European Spring, or, at least, aspires to be one. On the one hand, such a trend is predictable if we take into account that the ideological background for these movements has come from European thinkers, and mainly from French intellectuals with a strong grounding in human rights philosophy and their activist movements since World War II. On the other hand, it is intriguing why the so-called Spanish Revolution has not reached out to the Hispanic world to create alliances that are much needed, especially from a humanitarian perspective. One reason for this could be the thin line between pro-European positions and Eurocentrism.18

To conclude, I would like to sketch some ideas that could help a transatlantic expansion and that may lead to Hispanic transnational collaboration—in other words, a Primavera Hispana. First, starting with Mexico, I believe there should be a strong motivation to explore ongoing transborder initiatives such as the continuous 15-year long efforts in Ciudad Juárez against feminicide at the US-Mexican border. It would be particularly useful to strengthen transnational collaboration with agencies, organizations, and human rights activists based in the U.S. Such links are important, as the case of the Arab Spring demonstrates. In Egypt, for example, activist Shahinaz Abdel Salam’s 2005-created blog was instrumental in helping put an end to Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Yet, she openly admits that she wouldn’t have been successful without the technical advice and training she (and other activists) received during a meeting with experts from the Department of State in Washington, D.C., in December 2010 (Carbajosa).

Second, it is essential to create collaborative links and networks between Mexico and Spain based on a common feeling of indignation. However, one of the main challenges of the M15-M and the Indignant Movement across Europe is to articulate a multicultural vision that values the ethnic and racial diversity within the movement.19 In the future, activists need to be able to elaborate proposals suggesting worldwide policy change and attitudes towards humanitarian assistance. Although the main targets of the M15-M have been Spanish and European financial institutions and corporations, among others; M15-M’s ideological support to Hispanic activists could reach across the Atlantic and combat European neoliberal policies in Latin America.

As with other relevant issues pertaining to globalization today, one of the greatest challenges regarding the notion of indignation and the possibilities of a global indignant movement is to be able to integrate and relate smaller contextual problems within a larger context. Put differently, it is necessary to appropriate both local indignation and a global indignation, and to understand how both can be combined to protect human rights.

Ricardo F. Vivancos Pérez is Assistant Professor at the Department of Modern and Classical Languages at George Mason University.



Álvarez, Klaudia, Pablo Gallego, Fabio Gángara, and Óscar Rivas. Nosotros, los indignados: Las voces comprometidas del #15-M. Barcelona: Destino, 2011. Print.

Anderson, Jon Lee. “Who Are the Rebels?” The New Yorker. 4 April 2011. Web. http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2011/04/04/110404taco_talk_anderson

Ben Jelloun, Tahar. La primavera árabe: El despertar de la dignidad. Madrid: Alianza, 2011. Print.

Carbajosa, Ana. “Nos quieren quitar la revolución.” El País. 19 July 2011. Web. http://www.elpais.com/articulo/ultima/Nos/quieren/robar/revolucion/elpepiult/20110719elpepiult_1/Tes

Cunningham, Wendy, et al. Youth at Risk in Latin America and the Caribbean: Understanding the Causes, Realizing the Potential. Herndon, VA: World Bank Publications, 2008. Print.

“¡Democracia Real Ya!” Web. http://www.democraciarealya.es/

González Rodríguez, Sergio. El hombre sin cabeza. Barcelona: Anagrama, 2009. Print.

Hessel, Stéphane. ¡Comprometeos! Ya no basta con indignarse: Conversaciones con Gilles Vanderpooten. Barcelona: Destino, 2011. Print.

—. Time for Outrage! Trans. Damion Searls with Alba Arrikha. London: Charles Glass Books, 2011. Print.

Huete Machado, Lola. “Por qué estaban ahí: Retrato de las voces del 15-M y sus reivindicaciones.” El País Semanal. 5 June 2011. 38-50. Print.

Johns, Gareth Jefferson, and Dennis Rodgers, eds. Youth Violence in Latin America: Gangs and Juvenile Justice in Perspective. New York: Palgrave 2009. Print.

“Indignación se concentra en Madrid.” El País. 22 July 2011. Web. http://politica.elpais.com/politica/2011/07/22/actualidad/1311323441_963054.html

Juventud Sin Futuro. Juventud sin futuro. Barcelona: Icaria, 2011. Print.

Las voces del 15-M. Barcelona: Los libros del lince, 2011.

Monsiváis, Carlos. “‘Tú, joven, finge que crees en mis ofrecimientos, y yo, Estado, fingiré que algo te ofrezco.’” Nueva Sociedad 200 (2005): 127-40. Print.

Morin, Edgar. La vía para el futuro de la humanidad. Barcelona: Paidós, 2011. Print.

“Movimiento 15-M.” El País. Web. http://politica.elpais.com/tag/movimiento_15m/a/

Reséndiz, Francisco. “Lucha contra narcos criminaliza jóvenes: PRD.” El Universal. 11 February 2011. Web. http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/745896.html

Rodríguez, Gabriela. “Juventud ¿Global?” La Jornada. 15 July 2011. Web. http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2011/07/15/opinion/022a1pol

Sampedro, José Luis, et al. Reacciona. Madrid: Santillana, 2011. Print.

“Toma la plaza #spanishrevolution.” Web. http://tomalaplaza.net/

Torres López, Juan, et al. Hablan los indignados: Propuestas y materiales de trabajo. Madrid: Editorial Popular, 2011. Print.

Velasco, Pilar. No nos representan: El manifiesto de los indignados en 25 propuestas. Madrid: Planeta, 2011. Print.



  1. In Chile, student organizations led massive protests from May to July 2011 demanding a reform of the Chilean education system. They joined demonstrators opposing the HydroAysen project—which consists of building several hydroelectric plants in Southern Chile–as well as contractors from the El Teniente mine. Although I do not cover these protests, my argument could also be applied to the Chilean movement. Future research could hence benefit from establishing links between the Chilean case and the movements in Mexico and in Spain. []
  2. English translation: Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity. []
  3. Movimiento M-15 stands for May 15 Movement. []
  4. English translation: Real Democracy Now. []
  5. English translation: Hispanic Spring. []
  6. English translation: community of gang member organizing reunions. []
  7. English translation: Party of the Democratic Revolution. []
  8. English translation: Mexican Youth Institute. []
  9. Translated by the author. []
  10. English translation: Zapatista Movement of National Liberation. []
  11. Translated by the author. []
  12. Translated by the author. []
  13. For other necessary policing and creative measures to empower Latin American youth see the essays included in Cunningham et al, and Johns and Rodgers. []
  14. English translation: Youth without Future. []
  15. Translated by the author. []
  16. It has also received scholarly attention, including not only outstanding French intellectuals—in particular Hessel and Morin (Hessel, Time for Outrage!; Morin)—but also Spanish academics, such as José Luis Sampedro, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, Baltasar Garzón, among others (Sampedro et al). []
  17. Translated by the author. []
  18. The most current meetings at the Puerta del Sol, initiated on July 23, have included online connections with activists in Greece, Egypt, Holland, Israel, and London (“Indignación). The Indignant Movement is limited to Europe and the Mediterranean. []
  19. In the most elaborated of the M15-M manifestos to date, Pilar Velasco devotes one paragraph to the Movement’s solidarity with immigrants and underdeveloped countries. She offers 25 proposals, but none of them really explores how this solidarity could be implemented. In fact, it is unfortunate that many publications about the M15-M show a lack of interest and knowledge about Latin America, even though many of the demonstrators and activists are immigrants or of immigrant descent. See Álvarez, Gallego, Gándara, and Rivas; Huete Machado; Juventud Sin Futuro; Las voces del 15-M; and Sampedro. []


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