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Police on USA University Campuses

The movement is primarily peaceful, pro-Palestine and Anti-Zionist, but not Anti-Semitic, terrorist or opposed to the existence of the State of Israel

Rafael Rojas

13 de mayo 2024

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 In Latin America, the tradition of university autonomy, despite all its cracks in the twenty-first century, triggers an instinctive revulsion at the scenes of soldiers or police repressing student protests, or advancing on a university campus. What we’re seeing at United States’ universities – including Columbia, Austin, Tulane and dozens of others – will always be antithetical to that tradition, whatever the cause of the mobilization may be.

From Deodoro Roco’s 1918 Manifiesto Liminar and the University Federation in Cordoba, Argentina, to the massive protest there known as the Cordobazo fifty years later; from the army intervention in the Autonomous University of Mexico that same year,1968, to the 1991 military incursions Alberto Fujimori ordered at the Universities of San Marcos and La Cantuta in Peru; the twentieth century in Latin America tipped the balance firmly into rejection of such actions.


In this case, the origin of the repression is nothing other than the cascade of demonstrations against the genocide in Gaza – a term the students take from the case South Africa has presented to the International Court of Justice in the Hague – as well as in opposition to the current US support of Israel.

These two indisputable things comprise the force behind the mainly peaceful student protests. Naturally, as in any student movement, there have been some extremists who’ve been responsible for aggressive actions and some vandalism, and whose demands have sometimes extended to asking for the destruction of Israel.

But – Do those extremist actions justify police abuse, the repression of the students and the security forces taking control of the campuses?  Clearly, no, and the cases of other universities where their professional and student leaders have succeeded in avoiding police intervention is evidence that repression isn’t the only way out.

First, I understand that different types of conflict don’t support identical political generalizations. There’ve been universities like the ones already mentioned, where the police intervened and forcefully dismantled the encampments. In other places, such as UCLA, the campuses became battlefields between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel demonstrators before the police actions.

In a very few, such as Wesleyan College (Georgia), the university authorities guaranteed conditions for the students’ peaceful protest and the establishment of their camps. As has been noted in these past weeks, that’s the most indicated solution for educational institutions that have learned the lessons of 1968, and that understand that the right to protest is an essential part of US political culture.

Nonetheless, despite these undeniable differences, the generalizations multiply. Beginning with US President Joe Biden himself, who stressed the episodes of violence and the most extreme demands. What’s certain is that, as Amnesty International and other global organizations sustain, the movement is primarily peaceful, pro-Palestine and anti-Zionist, but neither anti-Semitic, terrorist or opposed to the existence of the State of Israel.

This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.

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Rafael Rojas

Rafael Rojas

Historiador y ensayista cubano, residente en México. Es licenciado en Filosofía y doctor en Historia. Profesor e investigador del Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) de la Ciudad de México y profesor visitante en las universidades de Princeton, Yale, Columbia y Austin. Es autor de más de veinte libros sobre América Latina, México y Cuba.

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