MEXICO CITY -- Mexico’s top law enforcement agencies said Tuesday that they were poised to order the removal of a group of masked individuals who have occupied the main administrative building of the national university since Friday.
The occupation of the university’s rectory tower is linked to a relatively minor political dispute at one of the campus’ public feeder high schools, yet the incident has struck a nerve at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM by its Spanish acronym, which has an enrollment of more than 330,000 students this year.
Students have gathered outside the rectory to vigorously debate the merits of the building’s occupation. Some argue in support of those inside; others say their right to an education is being infringed.
UNAM, whose autonomy from the country’s political structure is fiercely defended and is seen as a symbol by many in Mexico, has experienced numerous student-led occupations over the years at its facilities in south Mexico City.
The longest started in April 1999, when a general student strike lasted 10 months and shut down the campus after the administration attempted to raise fees for students able to pay them. Hundreds were detained after federal officers raided strike encampments. Ultimately, changes in the university’s fee structure were kept, but they were made voluntary.
On Friday night, a group of about 15 people -- most of whom have not been positively identified -- broke into the rectory, demanding that the expulsion of five students at the Naucalpan campus of one of the university’s preparatory high schools be retracted.
The five students were involved in violent protests in February at the Naucalpan campus of the College of Sciences and Humanities, or CCH in Spanish, officials said. Students there have been protesting proposed changes to the CCH general curriculum, which would include making English instruction a requirement.
Jose Narro Robles, UNAM’s rector, said Monday that he would not negotiate with the occupants of the rectory until they allowed campus employees to resume work there.
Narro said he had asked the federal attorney general’s office to investigative the takeover and warned “there shall be no impunity” against those who “violently” took over the administrative headquarters. He said various university functions, including payments to contractors and enrollment for new students, were being affected.
“To those directing this embarrassing incident, I tell you, don’t you dare sack the patrimony of the nation once more,” Narro said, referring to the CCH clashes in February.
In images shown on news broadcasts, the masked occupants were seen breaking glass windows and doors to set up camp in the rectory.
One of the occupiers has been identified in news reports as Jose Uriel Sandoval, a student demonstrator injured during violent confrontations between federal police and opposition and anarchist groups at the Dec. 1, 2012, inauguration of President Enrique Peña Nieto. Sandoval lost his right eye in those clashes.
On Tuesday, Manuel Mondragon y Kalb, national commissioner for public security, told reporters that he was awaiting word from the attorney general on whether to order the rectory cleared out.
The UNAM’s internal tribunal announced Tuesday that it had upheld the expulsion of the five CCH Naucalpan students. The protesting students said they would be willing to “liberate” the rectory tower by 5 p.m. Wednesday if their demands were met.