Image credit: Creative Commons 2.0 by Eneas de Troya
Written this year with Humberto Beck, the fourth entry in my coverage of developments in AMLO’s Mexico is available in the spring issue of Dissent, and online. The piece, in Spanish is in Nueva Sociedad no. 299 and online.
On December 1, 2021, Mexico City’s central public square, the Zócalo, began to fill with supporters of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. It had been two years since there had been a public gathering of this size. Buses arrived from around the country, some organized by municipalities governed by AMLO’s party, Morena, and some by labor unions. After hours of musical performances, the president appeared. His supporters were happy to see someone that they looked up to both as a politician and as a moral authority. In his speech, AMLO highlighted the government’s signature policies and plans for the future. “In three years,” he said, “more than ever before, the mentality of the people has changed, and that is the most important thing of all.”
While AMLO’s supporters celebrated and the president touted his respect for the Constitution, a much smaller group had gathered about ten miles from the city center. Outside the gates to the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, students had organized an occupation in protest of the government-appointed rector who has led the institution since November. CIDE is a prestigious public university that focuses on training students in the social sciences. While the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México has more than 200,000 students, CIDE has just 400. It was founded in 1974 under left-wing nationalist President Luis Echeverría to train experts who could advise him on economic policy. In the 1990s, however, it became known for professors who completed doctorates abroad, which, in some cases, included training in market economics. AMLO alleges that during the neoliberal era that he so frequently criticizes, the institution“ended up abandoning public service.”
The CIDE students don’t see it that way. And when the new rector arrived last fall and contravened established practices in the university regarding faculty promotion and retention, they went on strike. Many worry that in an environment in which AMLO tends to equate public service with support for his government, there is real danger to academic freedom for those involved in research or advocacy that diverges from the government’s plans and policies. These fears are connected to other attacks on academia. Earlier in 2021, the Mexican government drew international criticism over its handling of a corruption case against several scientists who had received state support; the government overruled court decisions that favored the scientists and threatened them with severe laws normally used against drug traffickers. Students and faculty alike worry that AMLO’s administration has placed academics among its targets—and that it is using the politics of austerity to attack institutions that he perceives as hostile to his aims.