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Police and Students Violently Clash at Revered Mexico City School

The incident at the UNAM campus was considered a breach of the school's autonomy and heightened tensions as protests continue over the 43 missing students in Guerrero.

by Daniel Hernandez
Nov 17 2014, 7:20pm

Photo by Prometeo Lucero

A violent confrontation between police and students at Mexico's national university in Mexico City this weekend ended with shooting injuries and riot police entering a campus that is considered almost sacredly autonomous.

The incursion by shield-toting riot police to the deeply symbolic National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) sent shivers through those in Mexico who remember the results of previous police actions inside Mexico's autonomous "maximum house of learning." 

The incident Saturday at UNAM began innocuously, as students who gather to buy and sell books, handicrafts, and food just outside the Faculty of Philosophy of Letters reported seeing two women and two men, who were later identified as police detectives and one campus security official, arrive just after noon at the informal market in an unmarked vehicle. The agents began photographing and videotaping the market.

Students confronted the police and were quickly joined by others from inside the Che Guevara Auditorium, which has been occupied by various anarchist groups since 2002 and is considered autonomous to the university itself.

According to an account in La Jornada, one of the men responded aggressively to the students' shouting and produced a firearm, firing once at the floor to disperse the crowds who were surrounding them.

Students chased the police toward Insurgentes Avenue, where in recent weeks the Metrobus system has been attacked by masked people reportedly responding to the disappearance of 43 teaching students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School in Guerrero that has rattled the country over the past weeks.

As the students and one dog chased the plainclothes agents, one of the agents, Luis Javier Aguinaga Saavedra, turned and fired four to five more shots, injuring a history student with a shot through a leg and the stray dog.

Watch amateur video of the incident below. Scuffling between students and the agents begins at about 1:35.

The police vehicle was left abandoned. Students later smashed the car and dragged it to Insurgentes Avenue, where they torched it.

An estimated 500 riot police later arrived to claim the burned vehicle and reopen the avenue. A column of officers briefly entered the campus grounds, according to reports.

Police began leaving by 10:10 pm, after an hour of exchanging rocks and projectiles with protesters, La Jornada reported.

Protesters in Mexico vow to burn 43 buildings for missing students. Read more here.

The city government apologized to the "university community" for the confrontation and said it would reinforce respect for UNAM's autonomy, City Hall Secretary Hector Serrano said in a statement.

The incident came at a tense moment in Mexico, as large demonstrations and sometimes violent protests have swept the country in the aftermath of the Guerrero police attack and disappearances. The incident at the national university is unrelated to the Ayotzinapa case, but nonetheless inflamed tensions between Mexican students and authorities.

UNAM receives funding from the government, but otherwise governs itself. The images on Saturday recalled the worst of confrontations between the Mexican state and UNAM, which in 1968 was occupied by Mexico's military in the chaotic weeks before the student massacre at Tlatelolco.

Saavedra, the detective who discharged his weapon, was sent to Mexico City's north jail and is expected to face charges related to abuse of authority.

Mexico City officials also said the general director of the police department's southern division was fired in response to the incident. The city's human rights commission said it would investigate.

In a statement released Saturday, the Che Guevara Auditorium collective said the space has been subjected to constant harassment from federal and local police agents in recent weeks. Students planned demonstrations at the campus in response. On Sunday, a group of students protesting the police breach into the UNAM campus attempted to block the entrance to the university's rectory building, but were confronted by an opposing group of students trying to defend it.

Mexico City police arrested random bystanders while the National Palace door burned. Read more here.

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