University and secondary school students have long played a leading role in Panama's political life, often acting as advocates of the interests of the lower and middle classes against the oligarchy and the military. Students also played a leading role in demonstrations against United States control over the Canal Zone. Using a combination of force and rewards, the Torrijos government largely co-opted the students at the University of Panama, gaining considerable influence over the Federation of Panamanian Students (Federación de Estudiantes Panameños--FEP), the largest of several student federations. But relations between the government and student groups began to deteriorate in 1976, and a variety of competing student federations developed, notably the Federation of Revolutionary Students (Federación de Estudiantes Revolucionarios-- FER), a group on the far left. Student groups were leaders in the opposition to ratification of the Panama Canal treaties, objecting largely to the continued presence of United States military bases in Panama.
Students and some teachers' groups played a major role in the 1987 protests. At least one university student was killed by the FDP, and the government closed the University of Panama twice and closed all secondary schools during the June protests. Periodic student protests took place throughout the year, frequently producing violent confrontations with the security forces. Although most student organizations were not part of the CCN, their growing opposition to the political role of the FDP and the policies of the government made the task of restoring order and stability even more difficult.
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