Mexico university chiefs unsure on police raid on rebel students

UNAM protestors want expelled colleagues reinstated

Protestors who claim to be disaffected students have occupied a dean's office at the UNAM.
Protestors who claim to be disaffected students have occupied a dean's office at the UNAM. Sáshenka Gutiérrez (EFE)

Officials at Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM) on Wednesday tried to decide whether to call in police to dislodge a group of about 15 hooded protestors who have been camped out at a dean’s office since Friday.

National security chief Manuel Mondragón y Kalb said that federal police will only intervene if the Attorney General’s Office gives the order, which would only come if university officials grant permission.

The taking of a building at a public university by a small group shows the lack of authority on the part of school officials and weak security measures across campuses, said Sergio Aguayo, a political science professor at the prestigious El Colegio de México.

“University officials have no clue about how to resolve this, not only because they are weak but because this incident has left them confused,” he said in an interview with EL PAÍS. “They don’t know whether they can trust the state’s institutions.”

The group of protestors, who identified themselves as students, said in a news conference that they want guarantees that they won’t be prosecuted if they abandoned UNAM’s main building. They took over the building, they said, to demand that five students who were expelled for a melee in which various university officials were injured are allowed to resume their studies at the School of Science and Humanities.

Because university authorities don’t know how to respond, Aguayo said that the government should monitor law enforcement officers when they go in to evict the students. “There should be a medium-term strategy in which the law is upheld but ensuring that some groups, for example, human rights organizations, are present,” he said.

Outside the building – which houses gigantic murals by Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros – groups of students take turn holding vigils on the perimeter to keep the police from charging the structure. Signs demanding the resignation of UNAM Dean José Narro Robles also hang nearby.

“The standoff at the dean’s offices should not be dismissed as an isolated incident. It should be seen as a […] demonstration of a general social situation and an expression of what is occurring at our university,” the students said in a statement which was read through a microphone by a spokesperson.

While he admits that the students’ arguments are weak, Aguayo said their actions are a reflection of the state of Mexican youth today. “This is a youth with other options, without hope and for that reason the university authorities don’t want to take any risks.”

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