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The UNAM Strike



     Paul Rich of the University of the Americas (UDLA) at Puebla writes:
     First of all, the unrest is not confined to Mexico City. Consider carefully some figures. The enrollment in Mexican higher education has gone from about 70,000 students in 1970 to about 2 million students today. UNAM, as the largest university in Mexico, takes the biggest share of state expenditures on universities, about 30 per cent. More than 90 percent of all students are in state universities. The remaining ten percent are often in religious universities. So the number of private non religious universities, the best example being the University of the Americas, is minute. Possibly at most a few tens of thousands of students are in institutions that we take for granted on the Stanford, Brown, Yale pattern of nonsectarian quality education.
     The state universities I have visited are astonishingly limited in resources such as books and computers. They have greatly expanded but without resources. The students of course are aware of this and resent the part time faculty, who because of the low salaries are often working at several jobs. The students frequently claim that they are being warehoused by the government, which has no jobs or futures for them.
     Of course the situation in Mexico City is a horror story. Friends of mine have lost the contents of their offices, their books, their equipment. If the university there ever starts up again, it has suffered losses which will take years to repair. Why has nobody intervened, one might ask. Well, the army has memories of its involvement in the famous 1967 student massacre and the city police are under the control of the PRD, which as a party is just not equipped to intervene in what is partly viewed as a social protest.
     It is very fortunate for Stanford that its overseas center is at the University of the Americas. Mexico is extremely important and so we need a window into what is going on, but few of us would want to brave what is happening in Mexico City. The situation there has not been adequately described in the press. It is simply the total destruction of a significant portion of the Mexican tertiary establishment.


     My comment: I believe the UNAM strike is a deliberate attempt to destabilize Mexico and to bring down President Zedillo, for whom I have great respect. The complexity of the situation is shown by the brawl on the Periférico Sur, the ring road surrounding Mexico City. It brought traffic to a halt, worsening the atmospheric pollution. The striking students were violent, and a few were injured. The policemen held responsible were arrested, while the strikers went free. The confused response of authorities indicated some obscure political intrigue; the woman governor of the Federal District condemned the police, while a staff member of her government blamed the students.
     Meanwhile, Zedillo was in the storm-ravaged area of Tabasco, and the authorities were desperately trying to help the huge number of victims. Help was coming from all over, except from the striking students, who continued their destructive work. This happened on the same day that Médicins sans Frontières, which was started by a group of young French medical students, received the Nobel Peace Prize. There are students who are idealists, and then there are those like the UNAM strikers who are simply casseurs; they do not belong in any university, indeed not in any civilized society.

Ronald Hilton - 10/16/99


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