Guatemala: teachers block roads, occupy plaza

Thousands of Guatemalan public school teachers blocked roads on Feb. 22 to push their demand for the government of President of Alvaro Colom to give them a 16% pay raise this year. According to Joviel Acevedo, head of the 80,000-member National Teachers Assembly (ANM), the protesters obstructed highways connecting Guatemala with Honduras, El Salvador and México, and blocked roads accessing Guatemala City. Amilcar Montejo of the Municipal Transit Police (PMT) told reporters the blockages had caused chaos in various routes leading to the center of the capital. A group of unionists including Acevedo occupied the Education Ministry (Mineduc).

The government had promised the teachers an 8% pay raise last year and another 8% raise in 2010, but it failed to deliver on the promise in 2009. Education Minister Bienvenido Argueta said the government would pay this year’s 8% raise but doesn’t have enough money for last year’s increase. The median salary for Guatemalan teachers is $440 a month, but many are covered by individual contracts that only pay around $240 a month. The teachers are also pushing for the national education budget to be increased to 12 billion quetzales a year (about $1.47 billion).

On Feb. 24 the teachers continued the protests by splitting into different groups and holding marches that tied up traffic in the capital’s four main entry points. Later in the day some 5,000 unionists from all of Guatemala’s 22 departments occupied the Plaza de la Constitución in the center of the city, camping out in tents and cardboard boxes and promising to remain until they get the 16% pay hike. (EFE, Feb. 22, 24; Guatemala Hoy, Feb. 25, 26)

In an apparently unrelated development, on Feb. 25 President Colom accepted the Constitutional Court’s order to remove Education Minister Argueta from office. The court had ruled on a request from legislative deputy Nineth Montenegro, of the opposition Encounter for Guatemala party, to remove Argueta for disobedience. Montenegro said Argueta had failed to turn over full information on the beneficiaries of a government family support program, Mi Familia Progresa (“My Family Progresses”). (Prensa Latina, Feb. 26)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 28

See our last posts on Guatemala and Central America.