If you’ve heard the reports of student unrest at the National Autonomous University of Mexico – UNAM – it may be unclear to you which students are involved in the protests, and what complaints they have.
Some background information will hopefully help to resolve this confusion… In Mexico the educational system’s levels have different names than in some other countries. The level called Secundaria in Mexico, is called Junior High school in the USA and Canada. Preparatoria in Mexico is the equivalent to Senior High school. Many preparatorias follow curriculum and internal policy established by principal universities in the county’s major cities. And even though the students who study at the preparatorias are not yet of the age or academic level to be enrolled in university’s faculties, they are on the academic track; and once they have finished their “preparatory studies”, they aspire to acceptance in a university faculty. To get more federal funding, for curricular and other (vague) purposes, the universities consider these preparatoria students as part of their system’s general student body. The CCH Azcapotzalco, where the recent unrest began is one of the many high schools affiliated with the UNAM. So, the majority of students in question, range between 15 and 17 years of age. They are minors.
The students at CCH Azcapotzalco have many complaints, but some seem absolutely justified:
- Although classes began a month ago – teachers and schedules have not yet been confirmed. This is no doubt due to political and budget-related issues, BUT when it comes time for the students to write their all-important faculty entrance exams, they will be at a severe disadvantage if they have not received the necessary hours of instruction
- Following the kidnapping of a female student, Miranda Mendoza, the students are demanding better safety conditions,
The students would not budge from their position and the “authorities” lost patience.
For decades, los porros – anti-protest thugs – have reputedly been used by politicians and university authorities, to break up student protests.
Earlier in the week, it seems certain that one of the groups of porros provoked a violent exchange with students from the CCH Azcapotzalco. The attack left 14 students badly injured.
The aggression provoked solidarity from the extended student, family and neighbourhood communities; and it grew into mobilization.
On Wednesday September 5, 2018, thousands marched to the UNAM’s main campus, a massive demonstration, demanding an end to the violence and danger within educational institutions. The students insist that the authorities must expel los porros.
The university temporarily suspended its internal transportation systems in an effort to prevent students from different education centers from joining the march.
But the students are mostly young – they can walk long distances with no problem – and at 1 p.m., they set out on foot from the Political and Social Sciences Faculty, and continued all the way to the main administrative building. The news source I watched, reported that the line of marchers was 4 kilometres long.
In other cities of Mexico, more marches were held. A group of students studying at the Merida UNAM campus marched down Calle 50 to the Main Plaza at the same time as their fellow students were marching in Mexico City.
Everywhere the participants were orderly and non-violent, and in Mexico City, they dispersed after the student spokespersons read their pronouncement. Their main point is:
¡Educación publica, laica, gratuita y sin violencia!
¡Fuera porros de la UNAM! (sic)
Education should be public, secular, free and non-violent.
Get the thugs out of the UNAM.
2018 will mark the 50th anniversary of the student massacre at Tlatelolco. On October 2, 1968, thousands of university students gathered at the Plaza of Three Cultures, a broad space in the heart of a public housing development close to downtown Mexico City. The army “received orders” to open fire on the crowd. Afterwards, many students were arrested. They were held in jail and tortured, or simply disappeared – and NO responsibility was ever accepted for the thousands who were wounded or killed. The repercussions changed the social fabric of the Mexico.
Violence against students has NOT stopped, and obviously, this is an especially sensitive issue this year.
President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has expressed his support for the students’ cause. He says the violence must end, but he stressed that resolution should be negotiated between the students and the university administration.
Since yesterday, several of the faculties of the UNAM are on strike in support of the students. Today the UNAM issued a document that is currently being studied,
The common phrase – The more things change, the more they stay the same – MUST NOT continue to be a commentary on the students’ struggle.
PS: If you want to read about the 1968 student protest, I recommend, Massacre in Mexico, the English-language version of Elena Poniatowska’s iconic accout of the protest and its aftermath: