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MEXICO
Teachers protest against education reform
Fabrizio Lorusso
6/30/2016
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Massive street demonstrations by education workers leave at least eight dead in clashes with police.

In the morning of June 19 the blood of protesters and teachers ran through the streets of the Mixteca indigenous community of Nochixtlán, in the southern state of Oaxaca. Eight persons killed by gunfire and a hundred injured was the result of clashes between local residents and teachers of the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE-National Coordinator of Education Workers), and the Federal Police (PF) following a failed attempt of an operation to disperse a road block.

Teachers had maintained a sit-in and a road blockade since June 14 as part of the national movement of protest against education reform by the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, approved in 2013 by the Congress, with votes of legislators from both the left and right main political parties.

The reform, which did not take into account the opinion of the teachers, includes the implementation of a standardized recruitment system and merit-based promotion process, based on evaluation of the teachers. The members of the CNTE point out that it curtails the rights of the workers, as they would lose the right to employment stability, and promotes the privatization of public education given that under the concept of “school autonomy” envisaged in the reform, more resources will be asked from parents for infrastructure, and public education would be opening to private investment.

On June 20, the General Commissioner of the PF, Enrique Galindo, said the events in Nochixtlán were an “ambush” of “radical groups” against the police and that “it has not been determined yet who fired the shots” that killed the local residents, among which was the journalist Elidio Ramos.

The CNTE has denounced “the aggression of police elements against their fellow members during the clashes,” and some videos are appearing on the Aristegui News portal showing that it is the police who fired their weapons. Galindo himself admitted that images have not surfaced of civilians firing weapons.

On the morning of the attack, hundreds of merchants were preparing to begin their market activities in the vicinity of the teachers picket and were harassed by the federal police agents. Residents of the community surrounded the agents and they responded with gunfire.

On June 22 the Permanent Commission of the Mexican Congress agreed to form a special commission to look into the violent events in Nochixtlán, asking “the heads of Government, Public Education and the Governor of Oaxaca to submit a report” in order to determine the causes and responsibilities.

“Tension is still very much present because there are many elements and patrols of the PF in Oaxaca, although not in the positions they held a few days ago. We are concerned about the dead; eight were confirmed but some say that there are 11,” Yésica Maya told Latinamerica Press. She is a member of the Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca (Committee for Parliamentary Dialogue and Equality Oaxaca), part of the Espacio Civil (Civil Space) network.

“The state is going to put little interest in the investigations, the challenge is to establish responsibilities, but the good thing is that there was a strong presence of the media showing how the police was armed,” Maya explains.

Democratic teaching
Since its formation in 1979, the CNTE represents the democratic views within the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE), controlled by the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). As for the SNTE, it was founded in 1943 and now has 1.5 million members making it the largest teachers’ union in Latin America and is facing serious allegations of corruption. Its leader Elba Esther Gordillo, appointed in 1989 as president-for-life of the organization, is now imprisoned for three years, accused of embezzlement.

Since 2013, the CNTE has conducted continuous awareness campaigns and demonstrations against the reform and made counterproposals and debates, included in the document “Hacia la educación que necesitamos los mexicanos” (“Towards the education we Mexicans need”), which proposes the recovery of humanist values over those of the market, increased education spending to 12 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) to address the educational gap, the lack of adequate infrastructure and a non-punitive evaluation for teachers.

Following the violent eviction endured by thousands of its members in September 2013 from the Zócalo square of Mexico City, where a protest camp had been set up, and after the definite ending of the dialogue by the authorities in June 2015, the democratic teachers had retreated. But this past May 15 they decided to resume their political initiatives following a wave of more than 3,000 dismissals of its members who were fired for participating in strikes and, as the education reform states, for accumulating more than three absences in a month.

The CNTE Assembly called that day for an indefinite work stoppage, and street marches and road blockades were intensified, especially in the region of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, but also in Michoacán, Guerrero, Chiapas and other states where the CNTE has a significant presence.

“The reform is really of labor and administrative matters, and it does not include substantive educational content, it does not address the important national problems,” commented the director of the Opinion section of the La Jornada newspaper and an expert in the teachers’ movement, Luis Hernández Navarro to Latinamerica Press.

“In fact what this reform does is create a working regime of exception for teachers ending employment permanence,” Hernández said, who was also perplexed about the new “punitive and standardized” nationwide evaluation system because “this is not an evaluation to determine what does not work and how to solve it, but to punish and watch over the teachers.”

June has seen a growing rejection to the reform among intellectuals, groups and organizations such as the Consejo Nacional Indígena (National Indigenous Council) and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) which, in a statement, has repudiated “the escalated repression with which they try to impose throughout the country the capitalist neoliberal reform that they call educational” while academics and artists called in an open letter for the opening of a “national dialogue to find results” and “the immediate release of all political prisoners.”

Discuss educational project
Francisco Villalobos and Rubén Núñez who are the CNTE Organizational Secretary and Section 22’s General Secretary, respectively, were arrested in Oaxaca on the 11 and 12 of June. The Attorney General’s Office accused the former of aggravated robbery in 2015 for the theft of free textbooks of the Public Education Secretariat and the latter was accused of money laundering by signing illegal agreements with companies that provided products and services to CNTE. They joined the nearly 100 teachers’ leaders jailed during the last six months for participating in various protest actions.

Núñez has sent a message to society in general and to his companions from the maximum security prison in Hermosillo, Sonora — where he is being held alongside dangerous drug dealers and criminals — urging them “not to lose heart” and to show that they are “prepared to educate Mexico’s children,” also to demand their rights and “those of the people because a detention is not enough to stop our struggle.” On June 15, tens of thousands of people joined teachers in a mega-march in Mexico City demanding the release of the teachers imprisoned.

The Interior Minister, Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, accepted to meet with the Negotiating Committee of the CNTE on June 22, thus resuming the dialogue.

“To get the government to sit down and negotiate is a triumph because it has refused to do so for one year,” says Hernández. “What the CNTE is proposing is that educational project of the country has to be discussed.”

The Interior Ministry said that one of the objectives of the dialogue is “to advance in the construction of solutions to return calm to the country’s regions that have been affected by their recent demonstrations.”

Rather than discussing the repeal of the reform and the release of political prisoners, as requested by the CNTE, the talks have focused so far on the agenda for the sessions to come. Osorio, in a press conference, stressed that the issue of reform “falls under the jurisdiction of the Legislature.”

Meanwhile, teachers have announced that protest actions will remain in place. —Latinamerica Press.


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Teachers march in Mexico City against education reform that would privatize public education. / Parika Benítez
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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