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The National University (UNAM)



     The strike at UNAM is over, and the buildings are now open again. The damage to the university's reputation is irreparable. The moral damage is real. The Dentistry Faculty provided free care to thousands of poor people. For nearly a year it has been unavailable, and they have just had to suffer. This alone shows how ignoble the strikers were. The worst physical damage was in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, suggesting that it has become a sanctuary for misfits like similar departments in the United States.
     The university provided all kinds of cultural activities. The music school gave public concerts which may have lost their audiences. In an article about the UNAM strike, The Chronicle of Higher Education (2/4/00) discusses the declining role of the intellectual in Mexican society. The tide turned against them with the 1998 death of Octavio Paz, who in 1968 resigned as Ambassador to India to protest the massacre of student protesters in Tlaltelolco Square, an event burned into the collective mind of Mexico. The influential journal he founded, Vuelta, which closed after his death. His rival Carlos Fuentes lives mostly in London. Enrique Krauze remains a well-known figure, but he is mostly a writer of best-selling history books rather than an old-fashioned intellectual.
     UNAM has lost its mission. In the old days it was a stronghold of leftist politics, but now the Zapatista revolutionaries and their leader, known as Subcomandante Marcos" and described as "a former professor of philosophy and communications", are generally viewed as irrelevant, but not by the UNAM strikers. The problem is jobs. Some 200,000 "students" have been milling around hoping that a diploma would get them one.
     The main product of the strike has been an incredible collection of eloquent harangues by strike leaders. Speech may be viewed as an outlet for frustration. There is a singular resemblance between these harangues, and those by semi-educated people all over Colombia. The "Athens of America" produces them in as much abundance as the beautiful roses which Colombia exports in large quantities to the United States, especially now as St. Valentine's day approaches. Both are equally useless, but the roses convey love, the speeches hatred. Never before has a whole country been so devoted to speeches rather than work, which does not seem on the agenda.
     Here is a sociological hypothesis which Larry Diamond may be able to test: there is an inverse relationship between warm weather and democracy. Norway and Iceland are solid , prosperous democracies, but not tribunes for the eloquent. The cult of the word is greatest in hot Arab countries, to which and to the Catholic Church Spain owes its splendid tradition of oratory. The German language is ugly, but Germans work. In Spanish-speaking countries, "habla bonito", he speaks beautifully, is a great compliment, but the word "trabajo" (work) comes from "trepalium", torture. By the way, did you Jesse Ventura's speech announcing that he was quitting the Reform Party? Seldom have I heard English so badly spoken, an indication that Minnesota is a hard-working democracy.

Ronald Hilton - 2/12/00


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