Mexico: Arson attack against student organisation – “We will not be cowed”

The humble headquarters of a Mexican student organisation, CLEP-CEDEP, “accidentally” burned down on the morning of the 26th of October. As expected, no one has claimed responsibility and the police, as well as the authorities of the Instituto Politecnico Nacional (National Polytechnic Institute - IPN), have given up pursuing the investigation and have decided that a short-circuit caused the fire (a “short-circuit” in a building where power is turned off every night). Once again, what is clearly a politically motivated attack – possibly conducted by the police itself – against a left wing organisation, will be filed for all eternity as a simple accident.

cledep cedep office burned 1History of CLEP-CEDEP

But before continuing, let us present some important facts about the context. The CLEP-CEDEP is a small but historically significant umbrella organisation for different student movements in Mexico, mainly based within the IPN, which is the main public scientific and technical institution for the education and training of skilled workers, professional technicians and engineering scientists in Mexico. In 2006 the Comité de Lucha Estudiantil del Politécnico (Polytechnic Student Struggle Committee) merged with the Comité Estudiantil en Defensa de la Educación Pública (Students Committee In Defence of Public Education), becoming the only student association that has existed continuously in Mexico since the 1968 Student Movement (another institution primarily based on Mexico’s National University, the National Strike Committee, announced its final dissolution in early 2008; this was the biggest and more influential student organisation since the 1968 Movement).

The CLEP is in itself a fusion of several cells, committees of struggle and organisations from each faculty of the Polytechnic Institute. It was formally created in 1997, but its fundamental origins are traceable to the summer of 1968, when the Polytechnic and Mexico’s National University organised massive demonstrations and strikes demanding university democracy and the end of political repression. Since the massacre of October 1968, the CLEP had kept a semi-clandestine profile, until it re-emerged to organise very important and decisive strikes in the late 80’s against the infiltration of thugs from political parties into the Polytechnic, as well as the 1992 strike against the rise of tuition fees (which were kept low thanks to student mobilisations –the current tuition fee in the Polytechnic is four times the daily minimum wages, which now stands at around 63 pesos per day, or £3).

The CEDEP was created in 1999 as a response to the ever rising number of young people that are not able to find a place in Mexican public universities. Since the demand is extremely high (even if the supply is not bad at all; Mexico’s National University has more than 300.000 students and is completely free), more than 100.000 young Mexicans are turned down from the selection processes of Mexico City’s four huge public institutions every year. CEDEP has been fighting for a significant rise in public spending for education and for the creation of new universities, especially in fast-growing municipalities around Mexico City.

CLEP-CEDEP is well known for its militancy, although its current membership is not as high as in the late sixties or early nineties. Its main demands are for a completely free, public education. As in many state universities around the country, CLEP-CEDEP fights for real democratisation. For many decades, local universities (as well as the Polytechnic Institute, even if to a lesser extent) have been high-jacked by local governments. Many university authorities are indirectly elected by local governors or ratified by local assemblies. One of CLEP-CEDEP’s fundamental demands is the respect of the legal autonomy of the Polytechnic, and therefore the direct elections of its authorities by the whole community, not only through indirect appointment by the Federal Executive power.

The attack is part of a bigger picture

But why would someone try to destroy the headquarters of a student organisation? CLEP-CEDEP has been storing a large heritage of books, articles, pamphlets and journals about the different student movements in Mexico since the late sixties. Some of them were lost in the fire. Besides, the student movement has been expanding very quickly in Mexico since last spring and it is questioning many aspects of the political and economic system in the country. In May 2012, an important if mainly middle-class and upper middle-class reformist student movement, mobilised tens of thousands of individuals for three months demanding the democratisation of the mass media, the annulment of the candidacy of Enrique Peña Nieto (who was eventually “elected” through fraud and is expected to take power on December the first) and strong control of media moguls and monopolies (which are unsurprisingly behind the political strength of Peña Nieto).  In October, thousands of mostly indigenous trainee teacher students mobilised in the state of Michoacán (in Western Mexico) demanding better conditions for their rural schools (transport, books, facilities). The police and repressive authorities arrested hundreds of them in circumstances of dubious legality.

cledep cedep office burned 4Mexican students are also worried about an attack on labour laws through a labour counter-reform that has been drawn up by all bourgeois parties in the Legislative Assembly. The reform includes the complete legalisation of outsourcing, the easing of underemployment conditions and an attack on trade union rights. The reform combines “flexibility” of the labour market with a strong defence of the corruption and the lack of transparency of corporatist trade unions (those close to the PRI), but also with severe limitations regarding independent trade unions and workers’ rights. Fighting against these reforms has given the student movements, new or old, a new lease of life, a reason to continue to exist. This is not only because students are afraid for their professional future – which is true– but also because for the first time since the seventies, the student movements is drawing closer to the workers movement. In their demands, students tend to include economic and political issues that immediately affect labour conditions and workers power.

The Movement Yosoy #132, (I am #132), the umbrella organisation of student initiatives since the spring, has strengthened its links with the workers in the electric energy sector, a powerful union that had really been attacked by the conservative government of Felipe Calderon (2006-12). But beyond this unity, students, workers and peasants are deepening their connections in order to make a stand against the government.

Another important factor in the timing of this attack against CLEP-CEDEP has been the weeklong strike of Polytechnic students it was leading right before the attack.

In this context, it is important to keep an eye on CLEP-CEDEP and acknowledge its fundamental role in linking up with workers organisations for many years. CLEP-CEDEP has inherited the oldest students tradition in Mexico and, therefore, it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the Mexican authorities have engaged in a frontal strategy of attacking and weakening the organisation, especially now than Enrique Peña Nieto, who has been deeply criticised by students and independent trade unions, is about to take power. Organisations like CLEP-CEDEP are essential in building the workers and students coalition and the country needs to oppose the state’s authority and violence.

cledep cedep office burned 7Student activists at the Polytechnic reacted very quickly to the attack, organising mass assemblies and rallies in the schools and faculties and marching on the headquarters of the authorities. Coming out of this mobilisation, the students took over new headquarters in a different IPN building from where they will continue their tireless struggle for student rights and for a united struggle with the workers for the transformation of society.

The campaign of the authorities against the CLEP-CEDEP also involves the spreading of lies and slanders against members and former members of the organisation. The CLEP-CEDEP has replied to this in a detailed statement on their site ( but has also called for a demonstration on Thursday November 8, as mass mobilisation is the best way to defend the movement's organisations.

We call on all our readers to show solidarity with the CLEP-CEDEP by adding their name to the protest letter on their site condemning the arson attack:

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