Ted Lewis on Thu, 10 Feb 2000 20:13:16 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Global Exchange Critique of NYT and Wash.Post UNAM Coverage,Feb 9

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This message contains:

1.) A critique by Global Exchange of the coverage of the UNAM Crisis in
the New York Times and the Washington Post. 

2.) New York Times article: A Peaceful Raid Ends Students' Long Siege in
Mexico by Julia Preston, February 7, 2000

3.) Washington Post Article: Police Retake Mexican Campus; University
Radicals Are Ousted After Nine-Month Standoff by John Ward Anderson,
February 7, 2000



The following is an analysis by Global Exchange of the gaps and omissions
in recent reporting by the New York Times and Washington Post in relation
to the violent dismantling of the student strike at the National
Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) by Mexican Federal Police. Both
newspapers published articles on 7 February 2000 that described the
forceful reoccupation of the university campus and the arbitrary detention
of over 600 students. 

Neither article questions the legality or the constitutionality of the
police action, major topics covered by the Mexican press the next day. 
According to Mexican law, no-one can be arrested unless he or she is
caught in the act of committing a crime, or a judge has issued a detention
order that founds and motivates their arrest.  Thus, as Carlos Monsivais
points out in La Jornada, 7 February, over 600 students were arrested for
the mere fact of being physically present on the university campus. 

Article 3, Fraction VII of the Mexican Constitution guarantees the
autonomous status of the university (hence the inclusion of the word in
its title). The directors of several leading human rights organizations

reference to the violation of the constitution by the Federal Police
incursion the next day. On the 8th and 9th of February, the National
Association of Democratic Lawyers also published letters in La Jornada
condemning the illegality of the police action, as well as outlining
further arguments about why the President's reforms that provoked the
strike in the first place were also unconstitutional. It is also worth
clarifying, since neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times have
done so, that the PRD government of the Federal District steadfastly
refused to intervene in the conflict precisely because of the autonomy

Neither article mentioned the serious mistrust that existed between the
Mexican Government and the strikers throughout the negotiations, based on
their experience of broken agreements from previous university conflicts.
Mexican political and historical scholar, Dr. Adolfo Gilly, for example,
has claimed that the government's absolute refusal to negotiate throughout
the dialogues was the "unshakeable point of departure" from which we can
understand the history of the UNAM strike and the student movement (see La
Jornada, 7 February).

The New York Times mentioned the police's discovery of fire bombs and
marijuana plants while failing, along with the Washington Post, to mention
the tens of cases of torture inflicted on imprisoned students by the
police on 1 February (see La Jornada, 4 February). Miguel Angel Pichardo,
a specialist in attention to victims for the Miguel Agusti'n Pro Human
Rights Center, who was granted entrance to the facility where the students
are detained, has confirmed the students' testimonies in interview with
Global Exchange. 

The reporting in the New York Times minimized the scale and force of the
police incursion by reporting that "hundreds of federal police officers" 
were involved, whereas Mexico's national newspaper, Reforma, claimed that
"2,662 federal police carried out the operation" and "1000 police officers
from the Federal District (Mexico City) laced the streets." 

The Washington Post article contains four quotes, all of which cite
government officials; in the New York Times the ratio is eight to two. 
Neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times directly quotes critics
of the military-police operation on 6 February. The only dissident opinion
mentioned in the New York Times was an electronic mail sent out by the
"strikers' steering committee" in which the students argue "that the
authorities hoped all along to 'use violence' to end the strike." 

Unfortunately, the Washington Post and New York Times correspondents did
not have the opportunity to read La Jornada on the following day, which
published over 30 pages of articles and editorials of varying opinions
concerning said operation, before writing their articles. 

We mention La Jornada due to its impressive coverage of the conflict,
however, Reforma, Mexico's other leading independent newspaper, also ran
extensive coverage.  The front-page headlines of the Culture section
reads, "Intellectuals demand the liberation of students."  On the same
page, seven different intellectuals are quoted at length criticizing the
Government's operation. 

The reports portrayed groups connected with the strike as "small" or
"radical", and student actions were described as "disturbances and crimes" 
which pertain to "old, leftist Mexico", without mentioning that the
actions of the Federal Government were also illegal. 

Another important omission in the newspaper reports is that students are
being charged with terrorism, accusations that could result in prison
sentences of up to 40 years. The charges are also unsubstantiated,
according to Mexican human rights lawyer Federico Anaya.  "It is true that
there were infractions to the law on the part of the students," he claimed
in interview with Global Exchange, "but they were a legal political
movement:  to attack the political nature of the movement - to accuse them
of terrorism - brings the State to a dead-end; that is, the accusations of
terrorism are unsubstantiated.  It is stupid to accuse them of terrorism. 
They were not terrorists."  Another matter not mentioned in the news
reports is the fact that the General Strike Committee (CGH) was legally
recognized by the university rector, De la Fuente, on 10 December 1999, as
an official interlocutor in the negotiations. 

The issues surrounding the nine-month-long conflict at the UNAM are
extremely complex.  Global Exchange is concerned that none of this
complexity was mentioned in the Post and the New York Times articles.  The
language and factual content described in this analysis indicate a strong
bias in favor of the government's handling of the conflict, without
mentioning the constitutional controversy that surrounds both the
origination and violent termination of the strike. 


2.) A Peaceful Raid Ends Students' Long Siege in Mexico

The New York Times
February 7, 2000
by Julia Preston

MEXICO CITY, Feb. 6 -- Forcing a sudden end to a nine-month student
strike, hundreds of federal police officers took over the main campus of
the national university today and arrested more than 600 students who had
occupied Latin America's largest center for higher learning. 

The operation, carried out without bloodshed, was the most important
intervention by government forces at the National Autonomous University of
Mexico since the student movement of 1968, which ended in a massacre that
traumatized a generation of Mexicans and left them determined to make the
country more democratic. 

The end to the long strike showed how far Mexico has moved toward that
goal..  President Ernesto Zedillo and the university authorities resorted
to police action very reluctantly, after months of on-and-off negotiations
in which university leaders gave in to almost all of the strikers'
demands, which included an end to a plan to introduce tuition fees.

Still, the operation today demonstrated the government's resolve to end
the strike, which had in recent weeks become Mexico's premier political
issue, eclipsing even the presidential election campaign.

Just before 6 a.m., hundreds of police carrying nightsticks and riot
shields, but no firearms, rushed into the campus on foot and quickly
surrounded the few buildings still occupied by strikers. The students did
not resist but instead marched out peacefully, looking grim but raising
their fists defiantly, to buses that carried them away to detention. 

The university president, Juan Ramo'n de la Fuente, echoed sentiments of
many Mexicans who hated to see uniformed troops on the campus, which is
sheltered by law from intervention by government forces, but felt there
was no other alternative. 

"As president, as an academic and as a Mexican, I am deeply sorry that we
had to come to this extreme," Mr. de la Fuente said. 

By its end, political leaders on all sides were exasperated with a
stubborn, anarchic student movement, which refused to release the huge
campus and spurned any compromise. 

In an address televised nationwide this evening, Mr. Zedillo said that he
had ordered the attorney general to obtain arrest warrants for hundreds of
strikers last week after concluding that they would never agree to a
negotiated solution. He said he had insisted that the police making the
arrests not carry guns. 

The strikers "converted our public university into their private
property,"  Mr. Zedillo said, a gibe at the students, who had accused him
of turning the university over to the private sector. 

Acknowledging the emotional significance that the university -- with its

275,000 students -- holds for Mexicans, both national television networks
carried five hours of continuous live coverage of the events this morning. 
At midafternoon, Mr. de la Fuente announced that the university would
cancel all the judicial complaints it had brought against the strikers in
recent months. In what amounted to a partial amnesty, he asked for the
immediate release of all minors arrested during the last week and appealed
to justice authorities to prosecute only adult protesters arrested for
violent crimes. 

In a news release sent out by electronic mail, the strikers' steering
committee said the police operation confirmed its suspicions that the
authorities hoped all along to "use violence" to end the strike. The
strike organization said it would not relent on its demands and called for
supporters to organize protests across Mexico and at Mexican embassies

Federal officials, eager to draw a contrast with 1968, when President
Gustavo Di'az Ordaz dispatched army tanks to the campus, stressed that the
final order for the police operation was not given by President Zedillo. 

Both the federal and Mexico City police, they said, were ordered to evict
the strikers by a Mexico City district criminal court judge, Mari'a del
Carmen Flores Cervantes. On Friday, Judge Flores issued 432 arrest
warrants against strikers for illegal seizure of property, after ruling
that the occupation of the campus was a crime. 

In a nationwide address, Interior Minister Dio'doro Carrasco said the
university had been taken over by "a small radicalized group which had
fallen outside the law," and added that the police had acted "to dissuade
without repressing." 

"A democratic society cannot permit the kidnapping of its national
university," Mr. Carrasco said. Federal officials said they had informed

Mr..  de la Fuente, the university president, when the operation was under
way.  Troops from the Federal Preventive Police, a new national agency,
invaded the huge campus swiftly but quietly just before dawn. Most
strikers were asleep in the classrooms that had become their home during
the strike.

Escorted by the police, the strikers shouldered their backpacks and formed
orderly lines to get on the commercial tourist buses the police rented to
take them away. A few young women among them wept. One youth cradled a
puppy he adopted while in residence on the campus. 

The police found 6 homemade firebombs and 10 plants of marijuana growing
in pots in the auditorium in the philosophy department, which was the
strikers' headquarters.

In the classrooms of the department, books and papers, including many that
appeared to be official records and students' papers, were strewn about
the floor. Desks and chairs were battered and overturned to build
barricades to block entrances. Computers were smashed or dismantled to
remove their data storage parts. 

Several well-known strike leaders were detained. Alejandro Echavarri'a, a
political science student who was a chief strategist for the faction known
as "ultras," was one of the few strikers to shout slogans as police
officers led him to a separate black police van. 

"This movement will never give in," he said. 

Also arrested was Mario Beni'tez, an economics professor who was caught by
the police and then escaped during a bloody clash between strikers and
university custodians last Tuesday. 

Those events proved to be a turning point. After the authorities took back
control of Preparatory School 3, which is part of the university system,
strikers armed with metal tubes and wooden clubs assaulted 37 university
custodians who were installed to guard the grounds. The beating by
strikers whose faces were well known to the public was captured in
chilling television images. 

Mr. de la Fuente summoned the federal police to quell the violence. More
than 250 strikers were arrested, including some key leaders. 

On Friday, Mr. de la Fuente called strike leaders to an emergency meeting. 
Face to face for the first time in six weeks, the authorities and the
strikers negotiated for more than 12 hours but reached no agreement. 

A senior official said that the government made a final, secret offer to
the strikers on Saturday to induce them to leave the campus peacefully. 

The students went on strike on April 20 to protest a plan by a former
university president to charge tuition for the first time. The
administration abandoned its tuition plan in June, and the president who
proposed it, Francisco Barne's de Castro, resigned in November. Still, the
strikers pressed demands to lower academic standards and hold a congress
to reshape the organization of the university.


3.) Police Retake Mexican Campus; University Radicals Are Ousted After
Nine-Month Standoff

The Washington Post
February 7, 2000
By John Ward Anderson

MEXICO CITY, Feb. 6-- More than 2,000 federal police officers stormed
Mexico's largest university today, wresting control from a small group of
radical students who had seized the campus and barricaded its buildings
more than nine months ago, forcing cancellation of all classes. 

No one was injured in the early morning operation at Mexico's National
Autonomous University, known by its Spanish initials as UNAM. Fear of
violent clashes between students and police had been a key factor in the
soft line school and government officials had taken with the students
since last May, allowing the strike--sparked by a proposed tuition
hike--to drag on.

The officers involved in the raid carried nightsticks and shields but no
firearms, a tactic President Ernesto Zedillo said he himself had ordered. 
More than 600 people were arrested and likely will be charged with
looting, rioting and damaging public property, law enforcement officials

"A democratic society cannot allow the kidnapping of the national
university," Interior Secretary Diodoro Carrasco said in a prepared
statement. "The university campus is not alien to the rule of law, nor is
it acceptable to turn it into a territory of impunity." 

In a televised speech tonight, Zedillo said it had become evident to him
"very sadly, that efforts to reach a resolution within the university
community had reached their limit and that they had to be complemented
with the application of the law." 

The strike, which began April 20 of last year, mushroomed into a national
crisis. It symbolized the clash between old, leftist Mexico--represented
by students demanding a free education--and more fiscally conservative
officials aligned with Zedillo, who want to modernize university

It was unclear when the sprawling campus will reopen and classes resume. 

Parts of the university--one of the largest in the hemisphere, with
300,000 students and faculty members--were heavily damaged in occasional
student rampages, and repairs will be needed on some buildings. Windows
were smashed, walls were spray-painted with slogans, and furniture was
destroyed and used to block roads and building entrances.

With a presidential election scheduled for July, the crisis was becoming
increasingly politicized. Public impatience grew in recent months as the
strikers became more intransigent, and protesters spilled off campus to
block rush-hour traffic, stone the U.S. Embassy and clash with police. 

Hanging over the crisis was the specter of 1968, when Mexican soldiers
opened fire on a peaceful student demonstration and killed as many as 300
people. That incident left a deep scar on the Mexican psyche, and the idea
of liberating the campus with force seemed to paralyze the college
administration and the government. But their unwillingness to act
decisively emboldened the students, who hardened their positions, changed
their demands and rebuffed most attempts at compromise. 

Numerous competing agendas and angry finger-pointing also complicated
negotiations. The university is a federal institution in Mexico City, and
that fact sparked arguments between the federal government--run by the
Institutional Revolutionary Party--and the city administration--ruled by
the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party. The two sides squabbled over
who had moral responsibility and legal jurisdiction for ending the
dispute. Many analysts said the two parties backed different factions
within the student movement, perhaps aggravating the stalemate.

Government officials complained that the strike was being run by an
increasingly small, isolated and radical leftist faction that was not
interested in serious negotiation. Many analysts said strike leaders hoped
the standoff would catapult them to national prominence--just as the 1968
student movement launched the careers of some of Mexico's top
politicians--and were therefore reluctant to compromise. 

The strike and campus occupation began when the head of the university,
Francisco Barnes, proposed raising tuition from a token 2 cents a year to
about $ 140. The proposal sparked a backlash from students, parents,
alumni and a wide range of left-leaning political analysts, who strongly
endorsed the institution's 89-year tradition of providing a free education
to everybody who could gain admission, regardless of income. 

Barnes quickly scrapped the tuition proposal, but it was too late. The
strike had begun, and students began pressing for other benefits, such as
a stronger student participation in university decision-making, an
extension of the time students have to complete their education and a
relaxation of admissions standards. Barnes resigned in November. 

The new university head, Juan Ramon de la Fuente, formerly Zedillo's
health minister, organized a campus referendum last month, and about 90
percent of the students and faculty who cast ballots said they favored
ending the strike. But the occupation continued. 

Last Tuesday, in an incident that seemed to force the government's hand,
anti-strike students and faculty members briefly recaptured an
UNAM-affiliated high school controlled by strikers. A violent clash
erupted when the strikers returned to take back the facility, and 37
people were injured. Police moved in, arresting 251 people. 

Interior Secretary Carrasco said the fracas led to today's "inevitable" 
police action "to prevent further disturbances and crimes." 

Researcher Garance Burke contributed to this report. 

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