By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
As the conflict soldiers on with no resolution in sight, students have radicalized. The strike council divides its sympathies among five "currents" (including one "countercurrent"), with the factions about evenly stacked between moderates and "ultras," but meetings often stretch into the dawn, with the ultras carrying the day by sheer endurance.
Thus the ultras, gathered in the "Left University Block," have gained ascendancy inside the General Strike Council. These radicals argue that the Mexican Constitution guarantees a free public education to every citizen and that any tuition raise — voluntary or not — is unacceptable. Barnes responds that because the university is an autonomous institution, it is beyond the constitutional mandate.
Led by a "mega-ultra" dreadlocked student firebrand dubbed "El Mosh," the radicals are ceaseless activists who often march seminude, their chests and posteriors daubed with black-and-red huelga(strike) insignias. Determined to outrage middle-class sensibilities, El Mosh has not precisely stirred sympathies for the strikers by ordering his ultra brigades to set up rush-hour traffic blockades.
The antics of the ultras and their intransigence at the bargaining table have seriously splintered some supporters and neutralized others. Nonstriking students, alumni, UNAM administrators and tenured faculty members, organized into indignant citizens groups like the Women in White, hold weekly public vigils to demand that authorities take back "their" university.
Spurts of violence have marked the strike since April. In May, a 19-year-old woman was crushed by a bus during a mass march on the center of the city, giving the 1999 movement its first martyr. And last week, fistfights broke out between students seeking to take entrance exams and ultras who view the occupied buildings on campus as "rebel territory."
The widening gulf between the two sides has both seeking reinforcements. In late June, Barnes himself was able to rally several thousand supporters, many of them parents of prospective students, to challenge the strike. As one banner put it simply, "My daughter wants a diploma."
The radicals of ’99 have drawn enthusiastic support from the rebel Zapatista Army of National Liberation, whose char ismatic spokesperson, Subcomandante Marcos, is probably a UNAM graduate. In addition, student activists have forged ties with labor militants. Strikers marched with independent unionists on International Workers Day, May 1, in a display of mutual solidarity against privatization of both the university and the electricity industry, another Zedillo pet project. The UNAM campus workers union (STUNAM) has stood stolidly with the strikers, offering cash donations and joining forces on the barricades. Unions at other universities and public-education teachers have also staged solidarity walkouts with the students.
The protracted strike has rekindled political unrest on long-dormant UNAM campuses just as the countdown for the year-2000 presidential election has begun to tick. With students living 24 hours a day in the schools in which they are enrolled, the huelgahas created a sense of community on the barricaded campus that is eerily reminiscent of the glory days of 1968. Indeed, strikers have nostalgically rededicated to Che Guevara a campus auditorium that was the nerve center for that watershed student movement. Hundreds of surviving "’68ers" were on hand to salute their 1999 counterparts. "This is a rebellion of a generation whose future is being canceled," observes Roberto Escudero, one of the leaders of the 1968 strike council.
Much as in 1968, when authorities redbaited the student movement, Barnes and his backers in the PRI and the government it has run for the past seven decades have sought to pin the blame for the strike on the left — namely the left-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and its founder, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, currently Mexico City’s mayor. Carlos Imaz, a leader of the 1987 strike, is now the PRD’s metropolitan chairman, and several prominent former student radicals hold positions in Cardenas’ administration. Cardenas himself has refused to allow the UNAM use of city buildings to conduct off-campus classes — students consider that such classes are equivalent to strikebreaking.
Another PRD leader, interim national party president Pablo Gomez, was a communist youth leader at the UNAM during the 1968 movement. "We’re still universitarios," declares Gomez, who spent several years behind bars for his role in ’68. His colleague Imaz adds: "We’re not in back of the strike. We’re marching alongside the students."
Despite such declarations, and despite government efforts to smear Cardenas and his party, the PRD has little influence with the ultras, who distrust the mayor and denounce him as "reformist." Party loyalists charge that the ultras are trying to embarrass Cardenas by forcing Mexico City police to take repressive action against their traffic blockades.
Nonetheless, the pro-PRI media ceaselessly seek to pin the strike on the PRD — the electronic media have been particularly virulent in their coverage of the student movement. The media played a similar role during the months leading up to the 1968 massacre at Tlatelolco.
Recent revelations that President Diaz Ordaz’s elite military guard triggered the Tlatelolco massacre in 1968 have reinforced the sense of imminent danger that increasingly pervades the 1999 strike. Disclosed by Procesomagazine founder Julio Scherer and based on letters written by the then–defense minister, the new evidence is a severe embarrassment for military officials and a series of presidents, all of whom have long denied culpability in the massacre. In an atmosphere of heated political tensions at the UNAM, Scherer’s exposÃ© is bound to ignite fresh recriminations.