Inside Mexico City, there is another city...whose police force carry no weapons.
It is the campus of the National Autonomous University, UNAM. It’s also called University City.
What makes UNAM special compared to regular public or private universities is that stingy little “A” in their name.
UNAM has always been the breeding ground of avant-garde thought in this country, you could trace back any social or political movement to it, and the main reason why they can behave that way is because UNAM is independent from the Mexican government, despite being founded by it.
Unlike regular state universities (even the autonomous ones) UNAM’s autonomy is written into the Mexican Constitution... because of that, it behaves almost as a city state; just one with no permanent population, and over 700 hectares of land. It’s reach goes beyond though, as UNAM operates university campuses and high schools across the country, even offices in other countries.
It is a fantastic college, and a symbol of resilience to many. But UNAM’s independence has been challenged lately, not only by significant funding cuts, but also by violence inside the campus.
UNAM is mostly considered a very safe area of Mexico City. Yet recent, and very public, flaws in their security apparatus have perpetrated the idea that UNAM needs to allow more security forces from the local governments.
Many say it would be a breach of the independence, some argue that people shouldn’t be shot and/or killed inside a campus belonging to largest university in the country.
In the end, no part of Article 3 of the Constitution grants UNAM sufficient autonomy for them to refuse Mexico City’s police, or in fact any other force, entry: the autonomy is down to academics, administration, and use of funds. But ever since 1968, when the Federal government violently quashed the student protest, it has been an unspoken agreement between UNAM and the borough, city, and federal governments that they can take care for themselves.
This agreement freed UNAM, and let it become a “safe space” for protestors and counterculture to grow inside an otherwise restrictive country. Those in favour of keeping police away claim that UNAM would be safer if “porros” -groups of protestors not part of the institution- were not let into UNAM and cause trouble. Those wanting more security claim that it is abnormal that murder, drug trafficking, and rape are occuring inside the campus.
Today, a fight between two street vendors inside UNAM culminated with shots fired and an injured man, which is not good for UNAM’s claim to autonomy, specially after one of their students was murdered a few weeks ago in one of the separate campuses.
Although it seems like a small conflict, the topic of administration and security has been the reason behind countless student protests in the last years.
It’s a strange time for universities here. UNAM’s sister instituion, UAM, just came out of a three month strike, and dozens of other institutions across the country face important funding cuts, or increased scrutiny into their administrative practices. As it develops I can only imagine UNAM is going to need more help to resist important and destructive change to their ways.