Date: Mon, 21 Jun 1999 12:27:01 -0400
From: Caroline.J.Domingo.firstname.lastname@example.org (by way of Scott Marshall <email@example.com)#62;
Subject: En;SFC,Op-ed on Lat.American student strikes,Jun 15
CR1999 San Francisco Chronicle
Unrest in Latin America; Students resist move to privatize higher education
By Antonio Prieto, in San Francisco Chronicle, Tuesday 15 June 1999
AT A TIME when the U.S. press has been commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Chinese student movement and Tiananmen Square, it is interesting to note that very little is being reported about the many student strikes and demonstrations taking place throughout Latin America. University students in Mexico, Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina and Ecuador have been engaged in the largest mobilizations of this kind since 1968. And while violent repression and several deaths have occurred, no attempt has been made to link these incidents to greater unrest in Latin America.
What has not been said is that these new resistance movements are a direct response to "free-market" reforms that hack away at social services and advocate privatization of national industries.
Coalitions of workers, students, campesinos and indigenous peoples are demanding that their rights not be sacrificed to neo-liberalism.
In Mexico City, students of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, the largest university in Latin America with more than 267,000 students, began striking on April 20 to protest a proposed tuition plan. The students' General Strike Council maintains that Mexicans must be guaranteed the right to a free higher education, as has been the case at the university for decades. They also claim that Rector (equivalent to university president) Francisco Barnes secretly plans to privatize the public university, similar to the government's plan to privatize electric power and health care. On May 12, 100,000 people marched in support of the strike. Although widespread violence has not occurred, student leaders have been harassed, assaulted and kidnapped by unnamed assailants.
On May 27, the council held an unofficial referendum in which an estimated 700,000 people voted -- 89 percent affirmed that the federal government should guarantee free public education. On June 2, Barnes offered to make payment of tuition "voluntary." Although some students took this as a positive sign, the council still holds that Barnes is not addressing the student's demands, nor is he willing to engage in a debate. As the strike moves into its eighth week, it is unclear how seriously Barnes is taking the matter.
A similar uprising has taken place in Nicaragua, where students began demonstrating in early April to demand that 6 percent of the national budget be allocated to the universities.
The demand was met with repressive measures. During a demonstration on April 20, student Roberto Gonzalez was killed when shot anti-riot police fired at him with rubber bullets. That same day, 21 others were wounded and 77 were arrested. These confrontations took place after the students peacefully took over the Central Bank of Managua building. Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman Lacayo ordered an "exhaustive investigation" into the killing. During a candlelight vigil, a student observed "This is the third colleague who has died fighting for the 6 percent, something so easy to resolve," according to the Weekly News Update on the Americas, published by the nonprofit
Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York. In Chile, where government funding for universities has been cut in half since the 1960s, more than 40,000 students from several state-funded universities began striking in early May to demand increased funding for the universities and more scholarships for students. The demonstrations turned violent when police intervened, and on May 19, student Daniel Menco Prieto was shot in the face by anti-riot police in the northern city of Arica. In the wake of Menco's death two days later, President Eduardo Frei pledged to increase resources for the universities in the coming year, although he did not specify how much.
Elsewhere, in Argentina and Ecuador, students have been engaged in similar struggles. On May 19, Ecuadoran students protested urban bus-fare increases, and Argentine students and teachers demonstrated against President Carlos Menem's planned $280 million cut in the 1999 education budget. Yielding to popular demand, the Argentine Congress restored the $280 million cut in the education budget on May 12. Struggling for their right to higher education, Latin Americans are sending a loud and clear message that they are not going to continue to be the menial laborers for the "First World."
Antonio Prieto is project director for Information Services Latin America, a program of the Oakland-based DataCenter.
CR1999 San Francisco Chronicle </chronicle/info/copyright Page A25