Guatemala: students march against ‘reform’

Joined by activists from other social movements, hundreds of students from Guatemalan teachers’ colleges marched nearly 50 kilometers to Guatemala City from El Tejar in the central department of Chimaltenango starting on March 10 to protest what they called the “arbitrary and anti-democratic form” of an educational “reform” passed last year. Students from local private schools began joining the marchers as they arrived in the capital around 6 AM on March 12. The protesters headed to the National Congress and surrounded it, demanding a dialogue with Education Minister Cynthia del Aguila. The minister initially refused to meet with the students, but at the end of the day Del Aguila held a press conference with Dialogue Commissioner Miguel Barcárcel and student representatives to announce plans for a discussion—although Del Aguila said this didn’t necessarily mean the government was backing down from the reform.

The 2012 Strategy for Quality Education eliminates the old teaching certificate and requires teachers to have a diploma with “orientation in education” and to complete a three-year tĂ©cnico universitario program (similar to an associate degree in the US). Teachers’ college students objected that they don’t have the resources to pay for the additional schooling. Protesters held a sit-in in front of the Education Ministry for three weeks in February and brought a legal action before the Supreme Court. “We’re not opposed to educational reform,” one of the student leaders, Walter Salazar, said on Mar. 10 at the beginning of the march, “as long as it’s agreed to by all the sectors of society [and] it isn’t prejudicial to the students and is really going to be effective.” (EFE, March 10, via La NaciĂłn, Chile; Prensa Libre, Guatemala, March 12)

In other news, six hooded men shot indigenous campesino GerĂłnimo Sol Ajcot dead on March 11 outside his home in Santiago Atitlán municipality in the western department of Sololá. Ajcot was a member of the National Indigenous and Campesino Coordinating Committee (CONIC) and part of the managing council of a local indigenous farmers’ association. The murder came just three days after the shooting death of Carlos Hernández, a leader in the National Union of Health Workers of Guatemala (SNTSG), on March 8 in Camotán municipality, Chiquimula department, near the border with Honduras. Guatemalan unionists are demanding a thorough investigation of the murder; they say Hernández may have made enemies of some multinationals because of his struggles against mining projects. (AFP, March 12, via El Heraldo, Tegucigalpa; Prensa Libre, March 14)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 17.