Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Once prestigious UNAM auditorium in the hands of ‘anarchists and punks’

An auditorium at the National Autonomous University (UNAM) that once hosted luminaries such as French statesman Charles de Gaulle and Italian philosopher and novelist Umberto Eco has fallen into disrepair after being in the hands of self-styled “anarchists and punks” for almost 20 years.

According to a report by the newspaper El Universal, the Justo Sierra auditorium at Mexico City’s University City was first occupied by rebel students in September 2000 just months after the end of the longest strike in the university’s history.

Today it serves as the home and workplace of members of four collectives that are continuing its near 20-year history as a bastion of anti-authoritarianism. A vegetarian fonda, or small restaurant, a tattoo parlor and a screen printing workshop all operate in the auditorium but access to bona fide members of the university community is limited at best.

Students can’t freely use the auditorium – now dubbed the Che Guevara in homage to the Argentine-Cuban revolutionary – are prohibited from taking photos or videos of its interior and are met with stern responses if they ask too many questions of its occupants.

It’s not surprising that not all students are happy about the situation.

“I believe that the [university] community should take [back] … the space. … I agree with there being self-managed spaces but why in a university … ? At the start, the takeover was important but those there today don’t have very democratic attitudes. They’re closed off and don’t lend themselves to dialogue,” said literature student Andrey Palma Márquez.

El Universal reported that the auditorium, named after UNAM founder Justo Sierra, had its glory days, hosting events featuring not only de Gaulle and Eco but also other influential figures of the 20th century including Argentine novelist Julio Cortazar, Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti, Chilean poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda and Mexico’s own literary superstar Octavio Paz. It was also once a rehearsal and performance space for the university’s philharmonic orchestra.

The seats have not been removed from the auditorium but the ceilings are cracked as a result of the twin earthquakes of September 2017. The bathrooms are in a state of disrepair, stink of urine and feces, and both vulgar and revolutionary graffiti is scrawled on the walls, El Universal said.

Other walls in the auditorium are plastered with anarchism-related images and messages in support of a range of social movements and leaders. Punk or ska music blares incessantly from two speakers, making it difficult for students anywhere in the vicinity to study.

One unidentified student told El Universal that the auditorium is now home to a “kind of very strange polygamous, communist commune,” adding “even children have been born here.”

El Universal noted that the occupants are aware that they could be evicted at any time and have stockpiled fire extinguishers, cudgels and shields similar to those used by riot police to stave off any attempt to kick them out.

If a confrontation over the auditorium were to ensue, the scenes would likely be similar to those seen at the UNAM campus in recent months, where thousands of students have been striking and protesting against gender violence and sexual assault by professors.

Source: El Universal (sp) 

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