Students fear return of oppression in fight against fees

May 23, 2003

THES reporters survey a worrying human rights situation in Latin America

Mexican student leaders fear the authorities are reverting to repressive tactics associated with the country's previous regime.

Student leader Joaquin Cruz Galicia from the Instituto Politecnico Nacional said student organisers no longer faced being failed and expelled by university officials but some had experienced forcible confinement, beatings and surveillance.

Although The THES was unable to corroborate his information, Mr Cruz Galicia offered examples of tactics not seen since the former ruling party, the PRI, was in power.

He said one group of protesters was picked up by a gang at an event this spring in Mexico City, driven around for hours, insulted and beaten before being dumped. Some students believe their telephones had been tapped and group meetings infiltrated by government informants.

Mexican students, bolstered by popular support behind them, have staved off the imposition of tuition fees. In 1999, they began a successful nine-month strike at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico when its administration attempted to introduce tuition fees.

Mr Cruz Galicia believes President Vicente Fox's party, PAN, has been under pressure to crack down on students. While in Canada attending a conference of North American public education activists, he said the movement had been at odds with a government that wanted to impose privatisation.

Mr Cruz Galicia said his polytechnic was built to provide social mobility for the children of farmers and labourers. "Fees would completely violate the foundation of this institution."

Michael Conlon of the Canadian Federation of Students - Jwho was in Mexico during the strike and has been trying to offer support to the Mexican students - said that the reported increase in brutality against students coupled with the government's determination to avoid a repetition of the disruption caused by the 1999 strike could make for a volatile mix.

Although there were many arrests during the 1999 strike, there were no reported deaths. "That might have been the government's warning shot," Mr Conlon said.

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