Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

10 February 2000 Edition

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Mexican students attacked

It was six in the morning on Sunday, 6 February, when 2,500 police officers surrounded the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) campus. Behind the barricaded entrances, 632 students slept, oblivious to the police activity. Just minutes later, the police moved in and arrested the students, ending 291 days of protest by the students.

UNAM has a long history of rebellion. In October 1968, hundreds of students were massacred as they led a pro-democracy movement. The killings were a turning point in Mexican politics.

On 20 April last year, most of the UNAM's 270,000 students decided to strike in protest against the state's plans to increase yearly fees from a symbolic equivalent of about two US cents to about $120, in a country where the minimum monthly wage is $80.

But the causes of the conflict were not only economic. The students wanted a say in academic decisions and the running of the public universities throughout the country. They also demanded a renewed commitment by the state to funding all sectors of public education. The Mexican government, however, chose repression as the best response to this search for educational democracy.

President Ernesto Zedillo had always said he would not use the security forces to retake the UNAM campus. However it was no surprise when he decided to renege on this promise and sent the police in to crush the students' rebellion. He decided to move because he feared the growing dissidence in the heart of his capital city. In order to remain in control, authoritarian governments need to indulge in occasional displays of force. Sunday's actions should be viewed in this light.

But what really worried Zedillo were the growing links being made by the students with other protest movements in Mexico, like the Zapatistas in the Southern state of Chiapas. Zedillo has consistently avoidded tackling the massive economic and social problems in Mexico caused by growing inequality and hardship.

Reacting to the police move against the students, the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) called on Mexican people to unite against state terrorism: ``Today, it is not only about the future of the UNAM and the student movement. It is about the future of a country which is in dispute between those who would direct it at the point of a bayonet, and those who wish to see it free, democratic and just.''

The main reason why Zedillo's PRI party, with the assent of the opposition party, the PRD, agreed to send police into the campus was out of fear that the students' strike could interfere with the presidential elections that will take place on 2 July 2000.

Students' relatives and political activists have called for the release of those arrested. Jesus Lopez, the father of one of those arrested said: ``The kids being held are not only worthy of our support but also of our admiration. Resistance will be organised from elsewhere.''

It seems, however, that the government repression has only begun. Police hold arrest warrants for several hundred more students, many of them so-called `moderates' who were in favour of opening the university campus again.


Groups of Spaniards firebombed immigrants' homes, blocked roads and forced shops to stay closed as police tried to keep them away from African immigrants who work on the town's vegetable farms. Racist thugs carried out attacks on the mainly Moroccan immigrants after a mentally disturbed Moroccan killed a Spanish woman in the town on Friday 26 February. Neo-Nazi and anti-immigration groups are using the incident to attack the north-African immigrants working in the country.


The ageing General Pinochet, responsible for the disappearance and death of more than 30,000 people during his dictatorship in Chile and who is facing charges of torture and genocide, fears that disclosure of his medical report will be bad for his image. General Pinochet was declared mentally and physically unfit for trial by a panel of four doctors last month. Human rights groups and the Belgian government returned to court on Monday 7 February to renew their application for permission on a judicial review of British Home Secretary Jack Straw's decision to release Pinochet on medical grounds.


Tharcisse Muvunyi, a former colonel in the Rwandan Army who is suspected to have been involved in the murder of 100,000 Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, denied genocide as a London Court is paving his way to extradition to face mass murder charges. Muvunyi was arrested at his home in South London following a warrant by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.


Forget about the suffering of the Indonesian Students. Forget about the ten of thousands of East Timorese still missing and displaced and those who were killed. President Wahid of Indonesia has said he will pardon General Wiranto, former military chief and now security minister, if he is proven guilty of human rights abuses in East Timor. Wahid said: ``Whatever his guilt, whatever his mistakes, he was the supreme commander and we will respect him''. This shows that Wiranto is still a very powerful figure in Indonesia.

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