A Student Strike Becomes an Occupation, for 17 Years

It remains unclear exactly who occupies the building and how many members compose the occupying force. Insular and mercurial, they refused repeated requests for interviews.

“We’re against the mass media,” explained one occupier, who declined to give his name, saying it was a policy of the occupation not to grant interviews without consent of “the general assembly.” He was standing in what was once the lobby of the auditorium, its walls now covered with insurrectionist stickers, graffiti, posters and murals.

“I don’t want to be assimilated into the mass media,” he said.

But what is absolutely clear is that the administration of UNAM, the largest university in Latin America with more than 230,000 undergraduate and graduate students, lost control of the building nearly two decades ago.

And despite the occupation’s widespread unpopularity on campus, the university authorities seem incapable of, or uninterested in, regaining possession and returning it to the general use of the UNAM community.

(The occupiers do not have a monopoly on reticence: UNAM’s communications office ignored or refused repeated requests for interviews and information about the matter.)

The occupation began after a crippling student strike that started in 1999 and stretched for more than nine months. Strikers were protesting the administration’s attempt to raise tuition for some students, threatening the institution’s longstanding promise of a nearly free, quality education.

The auditorium had for years been a focus of political and cultural life on campus, hosting presentations and conferences involving prominent writers and intellects from Latin America and elsewhere. Since the late 1960s, the building has been commonly known as the Che Guevara Auditorium.

“This has been the most politically symbolic space that the university has had in its entire history,” said Imanol Ordorika Sacristán, head of UNAM’s office of…

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