Mexico: police break up Michoacán protests

Using tear gas and water cannons, hundreds of federal and state police ended student occupations at three teachers’ colleges in the southwestern Mexican state of Michoacán in the early morning of Oct. 15. Protesters and other students were beaten in the raids, which resulted in the arrests of 176 students—168 in the town of Tiripetío, two in the town of Arteaga and six in the autonomous indigenous municipality of Cherán. The students reportedly threw rocks at the police and set fire to 13 of the 90 vehicles, including buses and patrols cars, that they had seized during the weeklong protest. Michoacán officials said 10 police agents were injured, three of them seriously.

The students were demanding a one-year postponement of changes to the curriculum that would require them to study English and computer science; they also sought an increase in the number of fourth-level students. Mexico’s rural teachers’ colleges, which largely provide instruction for campesino and indigenous students, have suffered from neglect and budget cuts for years and have been a focal point for protests. This was the second major student protest in Michoacán so far this school year. Students started a building occupation and strike on Sept. 4 in the Michoacán University of San Nicolás de Hidalgo (UMSNH) in Morelia, the state capital; rightwing students led by a group called the “White Angels” broke up the occupation on Sept. 25 and Sept. 26.

The protesters at the teachers’ colleges received strong support from local and national groups. The Michoacán section of the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), a large rank-and-file caucus within the conservative National Education Workers Union (SNTE), backed the protests even before the Oct. 15 police operation. In Cherán local officials condemned the raid, which they said “broke into our community with great violence.” The town is the site of an often-violent struggle between residents and illegal loggers that has led the municipality to declare itself autonomous, with the municipal government chosen through indigenous customs rather than formal elections. The Network Against Violence and for Solidarity (RvsR), which grew out of solidarity work with the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in the southeastern state of Chiapas, denounced “the atrocious manner of humiliating The Other, the manner of treating youths who defend a just struggle with dignity. The violence has been initiated by the governments, by their reforms; they are the ones who are responsible.”

On Oct. 17 thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Morelia, tying up traffic and virtually paralyzing the city, to demand an end to the repression and the release of the 74 students who were still being detained. The protest was organized by the state CNTE; the organizers estimated the crowd at 40,000, while local authorities put the number at 15,000. Participants included local students; students from the teachers’ college in nearby Tiripetío; members of the Purépecha Nation, an organization of activists from the state’s main indigenous group; and leaders in teacher union locals from the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) and the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Tlaxcala and Veracruz. Later in the day, about 500 teachers’ college students seized a refrigerator truck and four buses, using them to block La Huerta Avenue, near a main highway, while about 100 other students demonstrated near the state attorney general’s office.

Demonstrations continued throughout the week. On Oct. 18 CNTE supporters and students started a sit-in at Melchor Ocampo Plaza, in Morelia’s historic center, while others began blocking Madero Avenue in two places the next day. The protesters said they would maintain the sit-in and the blockages until all the students were freed from detention. Also on Oct. 19, groups of students protested inside the state legislature building, holding up photographs that they said showed excessive use of force during the police operations. Legislators from the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD)—which lost control of the state to the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) with the election of current governor Fausto Vallejo Figueroa in 2011—backed the protesters and charged that the government treated students like criminals while not touching the drug cartels that have established themselves in the state.

In the DF, some 70 students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) blocked Insurgentes Avenue for almost four hours on Oct. 19 in solidarity with the students in Michoacán. As of Oct. 20 all but eight of the students arrested on Oct. 15 had been released, either without charges or else on bail. (Adital, Brazil, Oct. 16; La Jornada, Mexico, Oct. 16, Oct. 18, Oct. 20, Oct. 20, Oct. 21; Agencia Reforma, Oct. 21, via Terra, Mexico)

Outgoing Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa was scheduled to visit Cherán on Oct. 16 as part of a last official tour of Michoacán, his native state, but the Cherán visit was cancelled after the violence at the teachers’ college there. Calderón had been expected to announce promises of aid for the town. (Quadratín, Morelia, Michoacán, Oct. 15)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct 21.