Ten months ago, the students of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) voted to go on indefinite strike to protest against university president Francisco Barnes de Castro's plans to charge students tuition fees for the first time (even though free and universal higher education is a constitutional right in Mexico) and to carry out neo-liberal reforms to the institution which were unacceptable to the students.
The students managed to force Barnes de Castro's resignation, and the decision to charge for tuition was overturned. However, negotiations stalled over the students' demands for a university congress, which involved students, to discuss the state of the UNAM and make binding decisions regarding university policy and the reshaping of the institution.
In January, the new UNAM president, Juan Ramon de la Fuente, proposed his own plan for a university congress. Instead of submitting it to students in negotiations, he submitted it to a "consultation" of the "university community".
Less than half of UNAM's students took part in the consultation. Many students supported the consultation, hoping that it would lead to further negotiations. However, the students' General Strike Council (GSC) warned that the consultation would be used as justification for military or police intervention in the UNAM.
Armed with the results of his consultation, de la Fuente insisted that there would be no further negotiations with the GSC until the strike was called off. Arrest warrants for student leaders were issued.
Students continued to call for negotiations, but de la Fuente insisted he would talk only about an immediate and unconditional end to the strike, not about any of the students' demands.
On February 1, provocateurs attempted to violently enter a striking high school affiliated with the UNAM and forcibly expel those inside. The strikers and anti-strikers had, just moments before, formed a student coalition to defend general student interests and support a peaceful, negotiated end to the conflict at the university.
The Federal Preventative Police (PFP), a new, unconstitutional national police force made up of army soldiers dressed in police clothes, then arrived, took over the school and arrested 251 students. Many students were beaten.
On February 6, more than 2000 members of the PFP invaded the main campus of the UNAM and arrested 745 students and professors. Of these, 264 are still in prison and 262 face criminal charges.
A further 395 arrest warrants are still in effect for other student leaders. One hundred thousand people protested in Mexico City on February 9 against the use of force against protesters.
You can e-mail messages of support to the General Strike Council at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. This article was abridged from information posted at <http://www.ezln.org/unam/presos-eng.html>. Visit that web site, or <http://www.greenleft.org.au>, for more information.