Mexico: police attack teachers’ strike encampment

Carrying plastic shields and armed with nightsticks and tear-gas canisters, some 3,600 helmeted Mexican federal police moved in on Mexico City’s main plaza, the Zócalo, at 4 PM on Sept. 13 to clear out an encampment teachers had set up as a base for actions that they had been carrying out since Aug. 21 to protest changes in the educational system. The National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), the dissident union group leading the protests, had negotiated an agreement with the government to vacate the plaza in time for the Sept. 15-16 ceremonies that traditionally celebrate Mexico's independence from Spain, but a smaller group of teachers from the militant locals in the southern state of Oaxaca tried briefly to hold out against the police. Confrontations followed for several hours involving police agents, teachers and local anarchists. National Security Commission (CNS) head Manuel Mondragón gave a preliminary count of 29 people arrested. (Los Angeles Times, Sept. 13, from correspondent; La Jornada, Mexico, Sept. 14)

The clearing of the Zócalo provoked protests in other cities on the evening of Sept. 13. In Oaxaca City militant teachers and supporters occupied the main plaza while other supporters seized city buses and used them to block off the city's historic center. Police agents managed to detain one teacher, but the protesters responded by detaining two police commanders; all three were eventually released. Other groups occupied the installations of the Corporación Oaxaqueña de Radio y Televisión, took over Radio Universidad, the station of a local university, and blocked two highways. In the central state of Tlaxcala teachers blocked highways leading to the state capital, while in the eastern state of Veracruz protesters cut off access to the Minatitlán airport and the Orizaba industrial park. (LJ, Sept. 14)

In Xalapa, a city in central Veracruz, some 100 police agents armed with cattle prods removed about 300 teachers from the main plaza. Police also attacked the media in the Xalapa operation. Freelance journalist Melina Zurita was beaten by police agents, who stole her camera, and agents from an anti-riot unit seized the equipment of Oscar Martínez, a photographer for the Reuters wire service, returning it a half hour later after erasing the images. (Proceso, Mexico, Sept. 14)

CNTE leaders indicated that they planned to reoccupy the Mexico City Zócalo on Sept. 18 and would hold their own Independence Day celebration there. (LJ, Sept. 15)

The teachers were protesting an "educational reform" plan that they say will lead to a partial privatization of the system, part of a "reform" package being pushed by President Enrique Peña Nieto that also includes the partial privatization of the energy sector and changes in the labor code and the tax system. Peña Nieto was expected to propose extending the value-added tax (a sales tax known by its initials in Spanish, IVA) to food and medicine, but the program he announced in a speech on Sept. 8 continued the food and medicine exemptions. Instead, the president proposed new taxes on capital gains, carbon emissions and soft drinks; a gradual elimination of a gasoline and diesel subsidy; and increased income taxes on people making more than the equivalent of US$39,000. The president said the increased revenues from the new taxes would go to support a universal pension system, unemployment insurance and the educational system. The center-right National Action Party (PAN), which generally backs Peña Nieto’s reform agenda, had little to say about the tax plan. "The government is 100% in charge of this," PAN president Gustavo Madero told the New York Times. "Let the government defend it." (NYT, Sept. 9 from correspondent; LJ, Sept. 9)

In other news, on Sept. 12 a three-judge panel from the 20th circuit federal court, based in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of the southeastern state of Chiapas, denied an appeal by Alberto Patishtán Gómez, an indigenous schoolteacher who has been serving a 60-year sentence since 2000 for his alleged involvement in the killing of seven police agents in El Bosque municipality in June of that year. Patishtán, a supporter of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) who denies any connection with the incident, has no further options for appeals in the Mexican court system, although he can appeal to international bodies or request a pardon from the president. Former center-left presidential candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano condemned the court’s decision, which he called "totally unjust, inappropriate." Chiapas governor Manuel Velasco Coello also condemned the decision, saying that Patishtán should seek the pardon. Asked on Sept. 13 about the possibility of an appeal to the president, the prisoner himself answered: "I've always said I’m not going to resort to the pardon. What will I request a pardon for? On the contrary, they’d have to ask me for a pardon for what they've done to me." (LJ, Sept. 12, LJ, Sept. 13, LJ, Sept. 14)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, September 15.

  1. New York in solidarity with Mexican teachers

    On Sept. 19, New York-area Mexicans and their supporters came out for a protest in solidarity with the CNTE teachers at the city's Mexican consulate. Among those on hand were students from the City University of New York (CUNY), who have repeatedly protested over tuition hikes—and more recently over ex-CIA chief David Petraeus' new teaching gig there (Daily News, Sept. 18).

    Photo: John Penley