Yet the privatization of university education in Mexico remains at the nub of the UNAM conflict. UNAM activists brought the issue of privatization to all students and parents in the Mexico City metropolitan area at the end of May when they conducted a public referendum, or consulta, that drew over 600,000 participants. The first question asked voters if they believed that Mexicans have a constitutional right to a free public education. The huge turnout for the consulta— which was open to all Mexicans 11 years or older — was a signal to the UNAM administration that interest in the strike had grown far beyond the university’s borders.
The tuition-hike issue, which sparked the strike, could be easily resolved if the UNAM’s annual budget were fattened by $60 million in federal appropriations, a solution rejected by the Zedillo administration, which pleads budget shortfalls as the result of low petroleum prices earlier this year. Nonetheless, Zedillo and the PRI just pushed a bank bailout through the Mexican Congress that would allocate about $65 billion in budget and tax moneys to cover bad bank loans from which both bankers and the PRI profited. According to UNAM economics professor David Lozano, the bailout is equivalent to 97 times the UNAM’s budget for the next 16 years — the time it will take to pay off the banks’ bad loans.