Leftist students rule at National Autonomous University of Mexico
Posted on Sun, Sep. 14, 2008


Alberto, 28, speaks during an interview in one of the classrooms over taken by some of the leftist groups in the Facultad de Ciencias Politicas y Administracion at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City on Friday, Aug. 15, 2004.
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MEXICO CITY -- The sign by the classroom door reads ''Video Library Fidel Castro.'' Inside, a painted five-point red star with a black hammer and sickle at its center covers one wall.

On the adjacent wall, posters with images of a young Fidel Castro, Argentine revolutionary Ernesto ''Che'' Guevara and a militant Zapatista promote meetings and marches.

The furniture: a wooden desk, metal shelves, a shabby couch.

Welcome to the home of the Colectiva Lucio Cabañas, one of the dozens of leftist movements operating within the sprawling National Autonomous University of Mexico, known by its Spanish acronym, UNAM.

The existence of Lucio Cabañas, located in the School of Political and Social Sciences, and other leftist organizations on the UNAM campus has been the subject of heated debate here since four students belonging to the groups were killed in a Colombian army raid on a FARC guerrilla camp in March. Luc*a Morett, a fifth student, survived the attack in Sucumb*os, Ecuador, and is now in Nicaragua as a government guest.

Political activism, particularly the left-leaning variety, has been a tradition for decades at UNAM, the largest public university in Mexico, with about 100,000 students at the Mexico City campus alone.

After a year-long strike in 1999, several of the groups became more radical, taking over dozens of rooms and other spaces at the university. About 70 rooms have been permanently occupied.

The takeover is a peaceful one, and presumably the government could take back the commandeered portions of the school. But there is no political will to do so. Mexico retains fresh memories of 1968, when over 300 protesting students were gunned down by the army in the Square of the Three Cultures.

And so the occupation goes on, despite opposition from some faculty members and students.

''Our social struggle is a lifestyle. We dedicate to it as much time as we can,'' said Roberto, 28, a sociology student and member of Lucio Cabañas -- named after a Mexican populist revolutionary -- who asked that his last name not be used.

Other groups that have set up shop in the School of Political Sciences without formal permission include Rebeld*a (Rebellion), El Brigadista (The Brigade Member), Conciencia y Libertad (Conscience and Freedom), Frente de Lucha Estudiantil-Julio Antonio Mella (Front for Student Struggle-Julio Antonio Mella) and Ernesto Guevara. The names echo Latin American political rhetoric of the 1970s.

Across campus, in the School of Philosophy and Letters, even the auditorium is under student control. Officially the Justo Sierra auditorium, it is now known as the Che Guevara auditorium. It houses a soup kitchen with low-cost food, supported with donations.

Other groups active at that school include Carlos Marx and the Coordinadora Continental Bolivariana, which supports Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's Bolivarian revolution.

Beyond the groups with secured real estate, there are myriad associations and representatives of Mexican and non-Mexican movements that roam the halls preaching leftist ideologies and building networks both openly and in secrecy.


The students who belong to the groups say they are engaged in cultural activities, such as movie clubs and peaceful social projects.

''We work with an Otom* Indian community in Hidalgo, a marginalized group,'' said Roberto, the sociology student. ``We help them build houses and petition for roads and clinics.''

It's unclear which groups limit themselves to cultural or social activities and which have established international links with violent organizations, such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Most students said they see nothing wrong in showing solidarity with self-declared revolutionaries like Chávez or even with guerrilla movements.

''The focus of their solidarity was to understand the why of the FARC,'' said Héctor, 24, a political science student who asked that his last name not be used, referring to the students killed at the FARC camp.

Juan González, one of those students, was working on a thesis about the role in the insurgency of the folkloric music style vallenato, according to Adrián Ram*rez López, president of the nonprofit Mexican League for Human Rights.

Critics contend UNAM student organizations are hotbeds of dangerous guerrilla ferment and that the students who died in the camp were probably involved in criminal activities.

Colombian military intelligence has tied the FARC to the Mexican rebel group Revolutionary Popular Army (EPR), according to press reports. Morett, the surviving student from the Sucumb*os attack and a member of Revolucionario, allegedly had links to the EPR, say other press reports.


''The Mexican citizens who want to meet because they sympathize with the FARC have a right to do it, but it must be well known that groups exist that adore the terrorism of the Colombian guerrilla,'' wrote Pablo Hiriart, a columnist for the newspaper Excelsior. Roberto and Héctor dismiss the arguments against the dead students as ``media manipulation.''

José Narro, the dean of UNAM, told the newspaper Reforma that the notion that guerrilla groups are operating in the university is ''absurd'' and ``outrageous.''

UNAM officials did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

For Raúl Trejo, a professor of sociology at UNAM, the inability of the university to control these groups' activities is troubling.

''The fact that these students take over meeting rooms and classrooms is not so much a sign of pluralism and tolerance as it is of fear and negligence'' that harms both students and professors, he said. Trejo added that the university has not been strong enough in its condemnation of the FARC and similar organizations.

Mart*n Iñiguez, a professor of international relations at UNAM, said that the students killed in Colombia were simply misguided by the arguments of representatives of international groups who visit the campus to link with the student groups.

''They were in the wrong place at the wrong time,'' he said.

Iñiguez worries about the lack of political will by school administrators to control the situation and regain control of the classrooms.

''The UNAM is a reflection of the microcosm of the Mexican political system: extreme tolerance because of a reluctance to pay the political cost,'' he said.