National Autonomous University in Mexico City (UNAM)
Global neoliberalism prompts
by Roberto Flores
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This last demand was a point of heated discussions. Finally, after 4 days of intense negotiations the two sides agreed to include a calendar that allows for both sides to publish the agreements on the six demands and synchronize the implementation of the 6 demands as the strike is simultaneously lifted.
The author is fully aware that academic decorum dictates that objectivity comes more easily with the passage of time. If not, how would we distinguish journalistic reporting from academic analysis? The amount of opinion and analytical pieces, regular article and editorials in both journals and newspapers and the technologically super-speed with which this information is facilitated, allows me (with some amount discretion and prudence) to attempt an initial analysis, a work-in-progress, if you please. It is the hope of the author that, this truncated and preliminary analysis of the UNAM strike provides a basis for discussions and further analytical works on neoliberalisms impact on the universities in general and the specific case of the UNAM strike in particular and on civil societies response to privatization of higher education.
Part of the importance of the UNAM Strike is that this 8-month strike has been taking place in Mexico, which, through the NAFTA (2) partnership, is a major consumer of US goods as well as one of Mexicos major importers. The US in turn has historically developed as the main investor in Mexican private enterprise.
In addition to the economic, Mexico shares a 2,000-mile border and a long history of social, cultural, political inter-change. Although the English-speaking media in the US has decided not to disseminate information on the student strike, the Spanish TV and Radio have had regularly reported its developments. The University Administrations decision to apply a fee system for enrollment was what triggered the strike. Taken all together, the students demands reflect an effort to resist any and all World Bank-encouraged attempts of the University to privatize.
Another significant element of the strike is its globalized nature. The growing economic interdependence of nation-states created by globalization seems to be bringing people at the bottom together as well. The latest news break on the strike is that on that same day that the above-mentioned agreements were signed, the students sponsored a demonstration in front of the U.S. embassy that turned violent. The reports conflicted but in their statement immediately posted on the Internet web site, the students were able to put out their point of view. A few hours ago, through an evidently planned provocation that was carried out by no more that six individuals that infiltrated a contingent of the march (sponsored by the General Strike Council) the government of Mexico D.F. launched the police and granaderos (special swat force) against a contingent of students at a time when the students were already retreating. Ninety-eight students were arrested many were badly hurt , (CGH, Boletín de Prensa).
To a limited but significant extent, the world had instantaneous reports from the all sides involved on the issue. This on real time globalized information leads to the possibility of a globalized form of struggle. The Zapatistas through their extensive use of the Internet first made this form of struggle popular. For this reason the Zapatista form of struggle has been labeled the first post modern net war. (Castells, 1997; Schugurenski, 1999).
No less important is the overall progressive historic role of the Mexican University students and their contributions to the democratization of Mexico. Just recently, Mexico celebrated the 30-year anniversary of the massacre of Tlalteloco. The estimates, of the (at times selective, at times indiscriminate) mass murdering of students, range from 200 to 2000. The author of this paper was an anti-Vietnam War striking student at UCLA at the time of this Mexican massacre and can attest to the solidarity felt for the cause, the martyrs and the survivors, as well as to the reciprocal sharing of democratic leadership methods and strategies and tactics.
The organic and open connection between the striking students and the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional and the urban parallel organization the Frente Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional is perhaps the dynamic of most significance. Strategic visits, communiqués, open letters and invitations to national discussions, mutual invocation are just some of the ways that the striking students and the Zapatistas have been relating to each other. The organic tie goes back further than the Strike. The person which is alleged to be Sub-comandante Marcos, military commander of the Zapatistas, was an activist student at UNAM some 20 years back and later, a professor there, as well. Immediately, upon the uprising, hundreds of UNAM students were immediately won over to what 90% of the Mexican population agreed were just demands of the Zapatistas and to their analysis and notion of a neoliberal state. The Zapatista analysis of Mexicos political economic was the topic of discussion in many of the UNAM classroom, (Sandoval, Interview, 1997).
One of the questions that the author approaches this paper with is; why after almost 500 years of free education did the oldest and largest University of the Western Hemisphere, almost a year ago, decide to implement quotas? The University stated that the tightening economy has forced cuts in education that have impacted their ability to keep growing.
On February 16, 1999, the former President of UNAM, Francisco Barnes, and an ex-Marxist announced unilaterally (EZLN, May 12, 99) that he would implement a fee system as a response to meet the rising cost of education. Under the pressures of an austerity plan being implemented by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Mexican Congress felt obligated to balance the Mexican budget by cutting expenditures in education. The Presidents of all 57 Universities had to follow suit and implement the cuts and then implement an austerity measure that would shift the burden and cost of education to civil society.
In this paper we focus on the connection between economic pressure in an austere neoliberal Mexico and the charging of fees at UNAM. It is no secret that Mexico is currently implementing what is referred to as a neoliberal policy. Neoliberalism, a policy adopted and implemented as part of an overall globalization of Mexicos economy which the paper will explain in some detail has been the targeted cause of Mexicos general economic political state.
Daniel Schugurenski provides a recent and useful model to explain the impact of the globalization of economies and their impact on the university. Schugurenski offers a critical definition of globalization that is comprehensive, precise and prophetic. Globalization, he says, is a dynamic that has economic, political, social and cultural ramifications, implies the intensification of transnational flows of information, commodities, and capital around the globe (eroding technical, political, or legal barrier), the development of new trading blocs, and the strengthening of supra-national governing bodies and military powers, (Schugurenski, 1999, p.285).
Schugurenski identifies globalization as having a direct and deleterious impact on the welfare state (3). The global goal of the 60s, 70s and 80s to universalize education and make available the resources to do this has turned into concerns about unlimited enrollment. Expansion was brought to a halt because it allegedly led to a quality decline, and financial resources could not continue growing indefinitely. Schugurenski lists some of the more common effects that cutbacks have had numerous negative effects:
The assault on welfare liberals by a powerful laissez-faire conservative global bloc has forced the welfare liberals to take refuge in a hybrid model, one that contains aspects of both the welfare state the conservative commercial state. The commercial dimension includes a variety of policy instruments promoting the spread of private institutions, corporate-like management, faculty entrepreneurialism, client fees, consumer-oriented programs, contracts with industry, and a multiplicity of fund-raising, cost-recovery, and cost-saving mechanisms, (Schugurenski, 1999, p. 297). Meanwhile, the dying Welfare State can exercise some controls but it is important to note those controls are within a neoliberal framework. For the most part, the actions of the weakened Welfare State seem be accommodating at best. Controls over the universitys behavior through budget controls and new funding mechanisms are typically exercised by the state.
The market place aspect seems to dominate and include a rampant increase of private consultantships and administrative positions, departmental mergers, outsourcing, stress on cost-reduction and cost-saving as bottom-line mechanisms. Vocationalization, stricter admission policies, rhetoric of excellence and an explicit rejection of models based on open access or compensatory justice for disadvantaged groups, (i.e., affirmative action), are creating a swing back in the long dated quality versus equality debate, (Schugurenski, 1999, p298)
Mexico, a neoliberal (5) capitalist country and a product of globalization, is characterized by growing inequality and diverse social classes whose interest, necessities and demands are not only different, but in some cases, diametrically opposed. Mexico's economic disparity cannot exist without there also existing social, political and cultural inequality (Ponton, 1989). It is estimated that at present 40 million of its 100 million population live in dire poverty (Bastos, La Jornada, 19 de Septiembre, 1997). Only one of these classes has dominance and appears as the supreme arbitrator in a scenario of constant contradictions. The dominant class, who is principally but not exclusively represented by the Partido Revolucionario Intitucional (PRI), controls the state (6) and maximizes its use to intervene in the social political life of the country in order to insure its perpetuation.
The restructuring of Mexicos national economy by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the adherence to the General Adjustments on Trades and Tariffs, (GATT), North American Fair Trade Agreement, (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (7) (WTO) has created what economist are calling a "neoliberal" (new liberal) national policy. The main objective of the Neoliberal Project is to carry out a micro-managed plan designed to 1.) Liberalize Mexico's Market, 2.) Make Mexico's macro-economy solvent and 3.) Be able to pay back the WB loan. The WB plan is normally referred to as "austerity programs" and may dictate currency devaluation, privatization of national industry, layoffs, down sizing and most often general cut-backs in social services and in public education. For Mexico as well as for other neoliberal projects, austerity programs have so far meant the degeneration of the micro-economy and of all aspects of the quality of life for the majority of citizens (Schugurenski, 1999).
A dramatic degeneration of the quality of life brought about by increasingly stringent austerity programs requires a drastic increase in the ideology of dominance (Flores, H., part II, La Jornada, 5 de Octubre, 1997; Pineda, L.O., 1994; Bastos, La Jornada, 19 de Septiembre, 1997).
In an exclusive press conference, in Mexico City, US world-renown educational critic, Michael Apple, discusses with La Jornada Newspaper reporter Lilia Rubio the negative impact of globalization on education.
La Maxima Casa de Estudios, is the name that Mexico has given its largest and oldest University founded in 1551 by Prince Philip. In 1595 UNAM finally received the blessing of the Pope and was christened the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico. The total current enrolment of UNAM is about 200,000 students. UNAM is somewhat like the UC system in California in that there are 5 total campus sites and is perhaps the largest University in the World. This is not surprising given that its central and main campus was born and presently exists in Mexico City, whose latest population figures range from 20 to 26 million, making it the largest urban area in world. Mexicos total population is 100 million; Mexico Citys contains 26% of the total. (Encarte Website).
The Zapatista uprising brings to the fore the direct confrontation of indigenous people who had been relatively isolated and marginalized for 500 years and a new global system that is taking exploitation and suffering to new heights. The Zapatista strategy is a world showcase that is utilizing unique and innovative methods of struggle to challenge the hegemony of world corporativism. Its approach is particularly evident in the area of reconstructing education. The Zapatistas have taken praxis based on critical theory combined it with an indigenous world-view and have pushed to a higher level of theory. The Zapatista autonomous model has systematized and made the creation and sustenance of the autonomous classroom, suggested by Pablo Freire and other critical theories, by providing a nurturing community context and linking it to on a global scale to similar social and political movements. In other words, in the Zapatista Communities the autonomous classroom is incubated in an autonomous community, where it is nurtured and supported by its creators, the entire autonomous community citizenry. The Zapatista message has had resonance on a global scale with all who believe that representative democracy has become corrupt and immoral. This global identification is added protection.
The Zapatistas thus seem to have solved the paradox facing progressive activist everywhere, who albeit all the intentions of changing the system they end up perpetuating it. The Zapatistas understand the ability of the Capitalist State to contaminate and quickly absorb any reform.
This organic connection to the Zapatistas is not just a phenomenon occurring with UNAM students but it exists nationally and transnationally. Hundreds of students throughout Mexico have consistently mobilized the Mexican people to take caravans of food, computers, clothing and medical needs to the autonomous communities in the Highlands and Jungle of Chiapas. In addition to the Zapatista analysis and perhaps as important is the impact and influence of their style of leadership. Luis Alvarez, a Mexican philosopher, believes that the Zapatista inter-subjective participatory style has re-introduced to the world a new/old leadership ethic. This leadership ethic is at once more democratic and inclusive and less egocentric. Todo para todos, Nada para Nosotros Todos Somos Ramona, Mandar Obedeciendo are articulated (verbalized) examples of this leadership ethic.
It is this leadership ethic that seems to have tremendous resonance among the Mexican youth. Youth that for the most part do not identify with and exhibit all the symptoms of being in organic dissonance with the neoliberal system and its grand paradigm (Torres & Puiggros, 1995). The importance of this struggle is that through it, its actors are re-pollinating an inclusive and participatory democratic leadership style. As an observer of both the Zapatista uprising and the UNAM struggle, I can hear the Zapatista call for equality and equity echoed in the voices of students. This is a defiant echo that does not even conform to laws of physics so instead of the volume diminishing, as it bounces from one mountainous struggle to the next, it is increasing. There are also hundreds of students here, in the US, on this side of the border, of all colors, creeds and nationalities that have been ardent students of Zapatismo and that have shown to be influenced by the UNAM struggle as well.
Organic relationship refers to the mutual support and solidarity between two or more distinct contemporary movements separated by geographic space within one common economic-political entity. This economic-political entity could be a region of a nation-state (such as a state, county, municipality, city, etc.) a nation-state or an international region (global) supra-structure. In a sense, this global unity is itself made possible because of the globalization of the neoliberal mechanisms of oppression. The simultaneous development of new globalized communication technology has introduced mechanisms for resistance, coordinated participation and communication. (Castells, 1997).
The efforts of the organizers of the Battle in Seattle, aimed at stopping the World Trade Organization (WTO) from meeting, is a good example of convergent potential of organic relationship. The organizers were able to facilitate the coming together of different movement on a common agenda. This, of course, was partly possible because of the amount of convergence created by the WTO policies, projects and programs and the impact they are having on the lives of the common person.
Organic relationships then become the basis of bringing diverse people with perhaps diverse cultural settings, with diverse ideologies together in some kind of global alliance. This potential made possible because of an organic relationship, however, is not necessarily sufficient to facilitate the unity. There is another ingredient that is necessary to trigger the process and that is different style and definition of leadership that is being implemented; one where autonomy is of utmost importance and upon which the respect for difference is key. In one of the reports about the Battle in Seattle the reporter quotes the demonstrator-facilitator as saying we have many lieutenants, but no generals, that is why they cant decapitate this movement with the arrest of our leaders (La Jornada, 12/1/99).
An organic relationship is one that does not support or tolerate a pyramidal structure but demands a relationship between equals. The equal quality of this organic relationship (coming together) is what Carlos Lenkersdorf, a linguistic anthropologist, calls inter-subjectivity, (Lankensdorf, 1996). The natural potential that exists in an organic relationship cannot be activated except through a treatment of the other as different and equal. This treatment and conception of the other as complementary or equal because of difference, comes from a deep cultural intersubjective view.
One of the indigenous ethnic groups that make up the core of the Zapatistas is the Tojolabales (Hombres Verdaderos in Spanish or True People in English. Carlos Lenkersdorfs examination of the Tojolabal language revealed that the Tojolabales had a much different cosmovision (than the Western). In the Tojolabal cosmovision all objects disappear as they reveal themselves as different types of subjects, (Lenkersdorf, 1996). Lenkersdorf makes the point that communication is not possible without two equal actors that consider themselves as equals. If the two actors do not consider themselves as equals, communication is impossible because it is unidirectional or top-down or down-up.
In terms of the relationship between two distinct movements, the intersubjective relationship sets the basis for one movement not being in a dominating position. Domination is the reproduction of the very same oppressive system that both these forces are resisting. Organic relationship is one where there is an intersubjective relationship of equals. It is this organic relationship with intersubjectivity at its core that has brought together many forces resisting and proactively engaging transnationalism (global corporativism) and neoliberalism.
The intersubjective model is intrinsically an inclusive model given that it rejects a subject-object or dominator-dominated paradigm. The intersubjective model eliminates bossism (positions of alleged superiority) from the right as well as the left. It also eliminates the basis for sectarianism and ultra-leftism. During the first phase of Negotiations, in April of 1994, the Zapatistas declared that theirs was a vision of inclusiveness that even included the enemy. This laid the groundwork for the negotiations that although interrupted several times by government aggression, has garnered the Zapatistas global support (Segunda Declaracion de La Selva Lancandona, 1994). The main point here is that this organic relationship between the Zapatistas and the UNAM strike resulted in an immediate and natural alliance and coordination of work.
The following is a list of some of the important slogans that summarize new forms of struggle and of organization that flow from the intersubjective view, that seem to be integrated by the UNAM struggle.
The basic Zapatista premise, according to Javier Elorriaga, one of many coordinators of the Frente Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional, is that the only method to carry out profound structural change is through the proaction of Civil Society, (El Tiempo, 1996). Reliance on the development of Civil Society has been a central theme of many of the communique put out by the Zapatistas. In the Fourth Declaration of the Lancandon Jungle, the Zapatista make another of many calls to civil society. We reiterate, our disposition to a political solution in the transition to democracy in Mexico. We call on Civil Society to retake the protagonist role that it took during the first phase of this struggle to hold back the military phase of this war and organize itself to conduct the peaceful transition to democracy The development of national and international civil society becomes of utmost importance, (4th Declaration of the Lancandon Jungle, April, 1997).
In their first Manifesto, the students conclude with a call to all social organizations, to all university students in the country, to all the primary and secondary instructors, to all the electricians and all the workers to unite all the different struggles to resist. Lets unite so that we can hold back the project that the government is trying to implement. In this same manner we want to invite all to participate in the National Dialogue on the issue of a free and public University. The Dialogue will be held on the 9th and 10th of April in University City. (CGH)
One of the main strategies of the Zapatistas is their use of the Internet. There are at least 3 to 4 list serves and about 45 different Web sites covering the different issues taken up by the Zapatistas. The UNAM Website covers last minute updates, the result of a consultation, history, communications, resolutions of the CGH, discussion, directories, media coverage on the issue. The student Website also has links to Faculty Web-sites, a web-site dedicated in commemoration of the 1968 Student Movement and Strike, an ongoing consultation Web-site, and a link to the EZLN Website, links to a student art gallery and many others.
Todo Para Todos, Nada para Nosotros
This particular slogan can be considered the basic definition of leadership. We are building a society where there are no leaders, because everyone is a leader. It is also a slogan, point-of-view that implies the need for impeccable morality and subservience of the individual actor in reference to the larger group. The students were so impressed with this slogan, that the largest caravan to Chiapas was titled Todo Para Todos Nada para Nosotros. Everything for Everybody, Nothing for Ourselves implies clarity and transparency of purpose, the group before the individual and specific reference to an understanding that any benefit that comes through the struggle belongs to all. The all praise and glory to the leaders paradigm that is so pervasive in Capitalists societies gives exaggerated credit to the so-called leaders is absent and considered unethical by the Zapatistas. Within the current student struggle there has been a constant clash between these two views. The left sees itself as a vanguard detachment that will lead the struggle. As such they are the ones that know the direction and the strategies and tactics to get there. Marcos has written extensively on this issue. In several of the communiqués dedicated to the student strike he invites the whole country to debate on the question of direction and to discuss the question of the Ultra-Left. The Zapatistas have much experience on this issue since they have constantly come under attacks by the EPR (Ejercito Revolucionario de Pueblo). (EZLN, La Jornada).
Somos Una fuerza politica que no lucha por la toma del poder politico
One of the basic differences in both struggles then is that the Zapatistas as well as the students are making a conscious effort not to get glitzed (like many ex-liberationists) by the glitter, that is not to be taken by either money or position. You can be sure that by the end of this strike, many of the students would have been asked to join. Marcos makes this point in one of the early communiqués of the UNAM strike; What proliferates at this moment are the elite mafias of professors and researchers that are in the spheres of influence of the university administrators. Through these professors and researchers students get recruited, you want a scholarship? A grant? How about an Award? A position? What do you think of a little economic incentive? Would you like support for your project ? (EZLN, Paginas sueltas, May, 1999).
From the beginning of their struggles, both Zapatistas and striking students have made it clear that what they struggle for is ultimately another type of nation-state that reflect a different and ethical, intersubjective relationship between people; an Egalitarian Nation-State where difference and equality are not mutually exclusive. The Zapatista have no interest in obtaining power, prestige, or position within the neoliberal state.
The Zapatista approach has been one of Let the words take the place of the weapons and lets silence the arms so that we can hear our words, of peaceful and negotiated settlement. In the Fourth Declaration the Zapatistas mention that they will continue to struggle without military force because civil society (through a consulta) told to go that way. We are an Army that does not want to be an army. Please (Civil Society) defeat our military purpose, never would a victory be so sweet, (Actas, Convencion Nacional Democratica). The student and the Zapatistas utilized the method of consultations as another strategy to make spaces for civil societies involvement and participation on the direction of the Zapatista Movement and within that on the direction of building a new type of nation-state. It is through these consultations that the Zapatistas and the students base their direction because it is their priority to figure out how to carry out what civil society has mandated, that is mandar obedeciendo. The results of the student consultation was that the students should not take the avenue of violence or provocations but they should act responsible and choose dialogue as the only way to resolve the issue. This has been another area of contention between the majority of the students and the ultra-lefts.
The character and method of leading by obeying requires listening and openness. It is essentially an intersubjective view of and towards civil society. The thinking of the CGH has been on of obeying the vast majority or civil society that has already said that they do not want nor will not tolerate aggressive violence. At this point this has been a much- debated issue. You can imagine being one of the fathers of the children or the husband of one of the women, or the son of one of the elders that were hacked to death during the infamous Acteal massacre. Forget about ego-tripping as a motive to exaggerate your opinion. Women in both struggles, I believe, are more able to carry this out better than men.
Recently, a Zapatista about 35, took a group from the US to one of the communities which was under attack by the PRI supported death squads. You could see that he was fearless but that he had to make an effort to lead by obeying the people mandate for dialogue. He told me of becoming enraged when he heard about the massacre at Acteal and of running about 10 kilometers non-stop toward a place were he knew were some hidden arms. A short distance before arriving to the abandoned cache, he turned and saw that his 14 year old daughter was right behind him. Almost out of breath, the daughter said, no papa, not like that, we have to stand firm. We have to defeat them with the truth. That of course brought tears to all of our eyes. The question of the role of women has been something of special interest to me. I really am convinced that women in different settings are best developed to lead us out of this mess. The involvement of women on an intersubjective level is absolutely essential. Many people misunderstand why the indigenous younger men are not at the fore when there is an army incursion in one of the Zapatista communities and the women are physically there to (with their hands and words) to push them back. The Indigenous and the Army knows that if a young male uses his male strength and prowess to try to resist that he will be killed and may even be the cause and excuse needed to start a chain of reactions. The women and the elders instruct the young men to stay behind and out of the way because they are best in treating their opponents and enemy with the respect that disarms them. If an army personal shots and kills an unarmed and physically less strong woman or elder that will weaken the armys moral stand and the world will know.
My image of Zapatismo and the UNAM struggle, the new creative movement in the U.S. developing around the vision of an alternative Intersubjective Nation State is one of a caring mother, protecting her children. It is my hope that this paper has posed many more questions than solutions. The WTO, Battle in Seattle, is another struggle with organic ties to UNAM and to the Zapatista movement. Its horizontal style of leadership, considers no one group a center or headquarters. This is a difficult concept for most of us who have been brought up to think linearly and vertically. Movements today that ascribe to this model conceive of a movement where all groups or individuals are points in a growing network of points throughout the world. What these intersubjective interconnected points offer is not a reaction to the neoliberal state but in proactive response.
Contrasting the vanguard sectarian tendency of ultra-lefts Freire mentions that the intersubjective type of radicalness is serene because it doesnt fear change when it is needed. That is why this type of intersubjective person is always open. Continuing a discussion and defending a certain argument makes no more sense to them if someone can convince them of the opposite. That is not the case with the sectarian, who will continue to defend their position even if convinced of their error. Intersubjective radicals are at the service of the truth; the sectarian at the service of their truth, which they hope to impose, (Freire, 1996).
In one of last communiqués put out by Marcos, he dialogues with one of several alter egos and asks the question: Will the students win? He answers, yes! His alter ego asks how can you be so sure? He answers his alter ego saying because they already have. Marcos answer that they have already won was referring to all that the students have done to contribute to the struggle against neoliberalism and its resultant lowering of the quality of life or the end of life in the cases of many of the poorer people of the world. His answer was in recognition of all that the world has learned from this intense 8-month struggle and all the networks that have been created.
|Published in In Motion Magazine August 19, 2001.
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