Mexico passes ‘education reform’; demos continue

The Chamber of Deputies of the Mexican Congress voted 390-69 on Sept. 2 in favor of the Professional Teaching Service Law, legislation that requires teachers to be evaluated periodically, although it allows two retests for teachers who fail the evaluation. This is the third in a series of “educational reforms” being pushed by President Enrique Peña Nieto. The Senate completed the approval process the next day by voting 102-22 for the law. In both chambers the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) was split; five of the party’s 22 senators backed the law. (Europa Press, Sept. 2; La Jornada, Mexico, Sept. 4)

The main organization for dissident teachers, the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), had called for a national day of action on Sept. 4 even before Congress passed the law. Tens of thousands of teachers demonstrated that day in 22 states. Striking teachers blocked the airport in Los Cabos, in the western state of Baja California Sur, for two hours, while about 1,000 protesters in Ciudad Juárez, in the northern state of Chihuahua, marched to the Córdoba International Bridge on the US border, distributing fliers and intermittently blocking traffic. In the eastern state of Veracruz, 2,000 teachers took over a tollbooth on the Córdoba-Orizaba highway and let traffic pass for free; other Veracruz teachers blocked the Costera del Golfo, Nuevo Teapa-Cosoleacaque and Minatitlán-Coatzacoalcos highways. Unionists claim that 50,000 teachers observed a strike in the southeastern state of Chiapas; local media put the number at 30,000. (LJ, Sept. 5)

Thousands of teachers, many from the southern state of Oaxaca, continued the protests they had been mounting in Mexico City since Aug. 21. On Sept. 5 they held their second blockade of the city’s international airport in just two weeks; for nine hours the teachers kept vehicles from driving up to the facility. For a while it seemed that there would be a confrontation with the police, and protesters armed themselves with metal poles from a fence and with blocks of cement, but the protest ended peacefully in the early evening. (LJ, Sept. 6)

The dissident teachers insist that they would support a meaningful education reform, with improved funding for schools in the impoverished southern states, and are not simply fighting against evaluations. The CNTE posted a video entitled “Why are the teachers protesting?” to explain their position. In it a teacher denounces recent changes in the curriculum. “Before,” she says, “we studied Marxism starting in high school. Not anymore…. Before, we had logic and set theory in the field of mathematics, and now it’s nowhere to be found. So a lot of the areas of knowledge which helped us reason in an orderly, organized way are being taken from us. Why? Because they need for the kids who come out to be experts in English and technology, because that’s what the big maquiladoras need.” (Maquiladoras are assembly plants that benefit from tax and tariff exemptions while producing for foreign markets—in Mexico’s case, for the US.) (Latin Times, Sept. 2)

Peña’s “reform” agenda also includes partially opening up the energy sector to private companies. On Sept. 8 thousands of people rallied in Mexico City to protest the proposal. Former center-left candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (“AMLO”) called Peña’s plan “a vile and shameless robbery.” “It’s an act of treason to the country equal to or greater than that of Antonio López de Santa Anna,” he said, referring to the Mexican president who lost one half of Mexico’s territory to the US in the 1846-48 Mexican-American War. (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Sept. 8, from AP)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, September 8.