Information | Archive of Past Special
Reports and Features
Update on the
After nine months of unsuccessful negotiation attempts, the student
movement at México's National Autonomous University (UNAM)
suffered a severe blow in early February. During a January 20 plebiscite
held by University officials, less than half of the University community
participated. Yet of those who did vote, 87 percent called for an end
to the strike. The results were used to legitimize a series of repressive
actions directed towards terminating the movement. On February 1, the
UNAM-administered Justo Sierra National Preparatory School 3 ("Prepa
3") was taken by some 250 strike-breakers. Student activists arrived
to the scene and clashed with city riot police, resulting in 37 people
seriously wounded and taken to the Red Cross. Although things had calmed
down by the afternoon, UNAM Rector Juan Ramón de la Fuente reportedly
called for the intervention of the Federal Preventive Police (PFP).
248 strikers were arrested on the spot, charged with a variety of offenses,
including the serious felony of terrorism.
Then, on the early morning of February 6, over 2000 agents of the PFP
marched into the University's main Mexico City campus and arrested 745
students who were meeting in the Che Guevara auditorium. The students
- including several Strike General Council (CGH) leaders - opposed no
resistance, and were driven off to several prisons around the city.
After the operation, an inspection of the campus installations revealed
that allegations about the student's weapons hoarding and vandalism
were entirely unfounded. Nevertheless, students were charged with "destruction,"
"plundering" and, again, "terrorism," the latter
charge dropped after public outcry. On February 9, tens of thousands
of Mexico City residents marched down Reforma Avenue demanding the unconditional
release of arrested students.
Classes at the UNAM reopened on February 14, to the dismay and anger
of many who believed the Rector was failing to address serious unresolved
issues such as the CGH demands and the prisoners's plight. On March
6, strike supporters seized part of the administrative building (rectoría)
at the UNAM's main campus, demanding the administration drop charges
against the 181 students still in prison. They decided to end the action
two days later. Nevertheless, frustrated strike-supporters continued
engaging in other attempts at closing down University schools. Violent
scuffles with reporters and CGH critics often ensued. On March 28, Rector
de la Fuente called for a "respectful, inclusive and tolerant"
dialogue that include all members of the University. The broad offer
was rejected by the CGH, which claims it is the sole representative
of the students for strike negotiations. They also questioned the Rector's
honesty in light of the previous day's arrest of Guadalupe Carrasco
("La Pita"), a professor advisor to the CGH, accused
of mutiny and theft. The CGH undertook actions to boicott the Rector's
"conversation tables" installed around the University campus.
On April 6, it blocked the entrance to the administrative bulilding,
thus impeding the University Council officials form holding their work
It is in this context that the following interview with Tania Hernández
was made, published in La Jornada de Morelos on March 13, 2000.
Tania is one of the 745 students arrested on February sixth.
Women Political Prisoners from the UNAM
A conversation with Tania Hernández,
by Odina e Hijas del Mais
Major state crimes continue to go unpunished
in México. The most corrupt individuals are protected by the
system. But the students, young people who dare to defy the trends of
neoliberalism and demand a free education, are put in jail.
62 women from the UNAM's student movement are currently (March 12,
2000) jailed in Mexico City's Northern Women's Prison. They have been
behind bars for more than a month.
Tania Hernández, a 22-year-old psychology student, remarks,
"Prison has strengthened us. I feel that our political awareness
has grown, but it's pretty fucked that you have to go to jail in order
to fight for your education. Feelings of anger and rage have also increased
with this experience. In that sense, there are none among us who now
feel they want nothing to do with the CGH (General Strike Council),
or with the struggle. To the contrary, I want to get out of prison and
continue the struggle. After a month of jail, none of us regret having
been in the Prepa 3, or at the CGH assembly the morning of February
sixth. I remember when they arrested us, we yelled 'goya' (victory)
slogans, crying, feeling very firm in our beliefs."
The story of greatest concern that Tania tells is that of Erica Romero
Rubio, an 18-year-old who received blows to the stomach by the Federal
Preventative Police during the Prepa 3 eviction. She suffered a detached
uterus from the beating and hasn't stopped bleeding since. They didn't
treat her in jail until three weeks after her arrival. "How is
it possible she wasn't released for medical treatment?" asks Tania,
"her reproductive capacity was put in jeopardy at the age of 18."
Another prisoner, Rosario Paniagua, received a blow to the hip, leaving
her with a fracture. She has not been treated, nor have they taken the
Tania is very clear in explaining how prison has united the women.
"We are beginning to organize as women. In the CGH there was never
an attempt to do this, although there were some meetings among the women
students who went to Chiapas, despite the different political tendencies
within the group. Gender has not been a topic of reflection for the
student movement. The truth is that women have made very few advances
within the CGH. There have been some advances on an individual level,
but not as a group. Now we have realized that we are women within a
social movement and that this is something to take into account. In
our daily meetings here in jail, we talk about many things, including
men, and we reflect.
"We have much to contribute as women," continues Tania, "we
are planning to work together in writing a letter to the men that are
in prison, telling them that we will all get together, we will be united
again, that they shouldn't get demoralized. We women are very affectionate
among ourselves, we soothe each other, we say "it's all right little
one!" But the men are more hardened; they repress their affectionate
side. Us women have enormous political differences, but we deal with
them. Some of the women feel demoralized. It's hard when you realize
that we have already spent an entire month in prison. But our spirits
are generally high. We have been able to create a 'body spirit' ('un
espíritu del cuerpo'). We hug each other, we love each other,
we take care of each other."
Tania explains, "We have an evening meeting every two or three
days. Sometimes half the women fall asleep. We have to get up at 6:30
in the morning to turn in our mattresses. We go back to sleep after
that. On days when we are allowed visitors, we take a bath, get dressed,
and fix ourselves up. After that, we spend the day reading, writing
and in discussion."
Organization has given these women stability and allowed them to revive
their sense of struggle even behind bars. "One day the CNDH (National
Human Rights Commission) came to visit us, and cynically asked us how
we were being treated and things like that. We all began to yell that
thanks to them the university's autonomy had been violated. We organized
ourselves to say what we thought. We told them that we knew our human
rights quite well, one of them being the right to an education. Later,
we told them that they will pay for the suffering of our parents. Something
else we did was to write on a chalkboard we had been denied access to:
"Freedom for all political prisoners," and other stuff like
that. As you can see, we are strong, well organized; the guys are lazy
and unfocused; when the CNDH visited their prison and they didn't do
Tania explains the situation in jail: "There are ten to eleven
prisoners in each cell. It is very cramped. Fortunately, about a week
ago they started letting us leave the doors open. Now we can sleep in
the halls. We were practically on top of each other. During the day
we go out into the little yard. Some of the women sunbathe, other exercise,
we also yell slogans. We like to do this, it serves our purposes. The
guards don't allow yelling, but we always ask them to let us do it just
one more time. Now we are writing a letter to the head of the prison
requesting special permission to yell slogans."
A positive relationship has been established between the regular prison
population and the students. "Some of the girls have gone into
the regular prison area, since most of us are new. We have been told
it is good to get to know the other prisoners. Many women here that
have committed a variety of crimes have been tortured. So we explain
to them they have rights. We have asked the Miguel Agustín Pro
Human Rights Center to send representatives to record the prisoners'
The prisoners discovered certain gender-based inequalities within the
prison system: "The guys had newspapers from the very first day.
We weren't granted this privilege for three weeks." The prisoners
also noticed that neither the press nor other organizations came to
visit them as opposed to the attention directed towards the men. Nevertheless,
in working with the press, as with everything else, the women organized
themselves: "We have agreed to participate in everything on a rotating
basis," says Tania.
Not all the differences are to the women's disadvantage: "We have
had it easier than the guys with our parents; since, whether you like
it or not, we are females and they come at us with 'my poor little darling!'
There haven't been any cases of parents feeling hopeless. That's mostly
been with the men. Now, during every visit, we discuss different subjects,
like our bail. We write up communiqués for the parents. There
are long lines to use the telephone. Tania tells us that one of the
prisoners, Norma, has a boyfriend, Alvarito, that is in the men's prison.
In order to speak to each other, they both call the same house from
two different telephones, their friends then use three-way to connect
them. Necessity breeds invention.
Regarding the future of the student movement and the next steps to
take, the women prisoners have arrived at the conclusion that "this
must come out of the consensus process, from the meetings outside prison
that know where things stand. They are the ones who should make the
decisions. We are not making any statements about what to do; although
we are clear that the conflict has not been resolved. There is a list
of demands which need to be met; not only the demand for freedom of
all prisoners, but the very demands we were all struggling for."
Tania reflects: "We are afraid of freedom because the charges
against us will be heavy. We will have to watch out for ourselves. We
will have to see how each case moves along."
Translated by ISLA