That same day workers at the National Pedagogical University (UPN) and the Autonomous Metropolitan University also held a 12-hour strike. "We demand the unconditional release of the jailed students," read one sign posted at UPN.
Nearly 10 months ago, students--with some staff and employees--shut down and occupied the campus to oppose a massive government-initiated tuition hike. The student-led strike that began last April quickly pushed back Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo's plan to raise tuition fees from a few Mexican pesos to US$140.
The strike affected more than 320,000 who work and/or study at UNAM. The strikers enjoyed a level of popular support. The superficial two-cent tuition made it possible for children of workers and peasants in Mexico and abroad to attend.
The Zedillo government made its move on the students following an international media campaign portraying them as unreasonable as its leadership made additional demands. This, combined with some lessening of support as some layers of students thought the campus should be reopened, laid the groundwork for the repressive measures.
On February 1, some 200 people--initially portrayed in the big business media as students--marched into a UNAM pre-university school. The next day, the New York Times and newspapers in Mexico turned reality on its head, describing the antistrike action as a "peaceful protest" that was attacked by the strikers.
The government used the altercation as a pretext to send in federal cops who arrested and jailed 156 strikers on felony and misdemeanor charges, some carrying 40-year sentences upon conviction.
On February 3, the Times ran a follow-up article correcting its earlier account. The "group opposed to the strike had not been peaceful.... The anti-strike faction forced its way through the front gates, rousted a handful of strikers off the school grounds and then hurled stones at strikers who began to gather in the street." Furthermore, the article states, "Of 200 people in the anti-strike faction, only a small number were students or administrators from the preparatory school."
Zedillo ordered a 2,262- strong squad of cops to raid the campus February 6 at dawn to retake UNAM. Sending police onto a campus is virtually unheard of in Mexico in several decades.
UNAM president Ramón de la Fuente, reacting to this sentiment, urged the government to grant amnesty to all those not accused of violent crimes. By February 8, 579 strikers were released without charges. Fifty-two participants in the student occupation of UNAM were denied bail, including strike leaders Alejandro Echavarría and Alberto Pacheco, while about 200 others remain in jail, some of whom are not charged with any crime.
Protests to demand freedom for these fighters continue and have spilled over the border into the United States, as well as other countries.
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