Mexico: teachers block Acapulco highway

Five people were arrested and five injured on April 5 when some 2,000 agents of Mexico’s Federal Police (PF) removed more than 3,000 dissident teachers who were blocking a highway in the southwestern state of Guerrero to protest planned changes in the educational system. The demonstration, organized by the State Organizing Committee of Education Workers in Guerrero (CETEG), tied up traffic along the highway from Mexico City to the resort city of Acapulco from about 1 pm until the police action at about 6:30 pm; the road is heavily traveled during the spring vacation period around Easter. The protest took place at the spot near the state capital, Chilpancingo, where two students and a gas station worker were killed on Dec. 12, 2011 in a confrontation between police and students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College, in the Guerrero village of Ayotzinapa. (La Jornada, Mexico, April 6)

Later on the evening of April 5 about 100 teachers occupied a toll both at Huitzo on the Oaxaca-Cuacnopalan highway in the southern state of Oaxaca to express solidarity with the Guerrero teachers. Chanting “Guerrero, brother, Oaxaca supports you,” the protesters, members of Section 22 of Mexico’s 1.5 million-member National Education Workers Union (SNTE), let motorists pass without paying; the drivers responded by honking and blinking their lights. (LJ, April 6)

The April 5 road blockade in Guerrero was part of a series of protests planned for the week after Easter by the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), the largest dissident group in the SNTE. The union itself has kept a low profile since the Feb. 26 arrest of its former president, Elba Esther Gordillo Morales, on corruption charges. The dissident group holds that “educational reforms” signed into law by Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto on Feb. 25 are a step towards privatization of the public school system; the measures are similar to educational changes taking place in the US, with an emphasis on standardized tests and teacher evaluations.

Two of the CNTE’s main bases of support are Oaxaca’s Section 22 and the CETEG in Guerrero, and the most militant demonstrations were in those two states. Oaxaca teachers blocked access to Coppel and Sears stores, McDonalds restaurants, and other national and multinational outlets from 9 am to 4 pm on April 3 in the Valle, Oaxaca and Bella shopping malls in Oaxaca city, although they spared some locally owned businesses like cafeterias and ice cream parlors. About 1,500 Guerrero teachers intermittently blocked the Mexico City-Acapulco highway on April 4, the day before the police operation. Also on April 4 about 10,000 teachers from various states marched in Mexico City, some chanting: “If we have to evaluate, we have to start with [President] Peña.” CNTE national leaders said they would decide the next week on further actions; they didn’t exclude the possibility of an open-ended national strike.

Mexican officials usually insist that they need to negotiate with the SNTE, not the union dissidents, but they have responded to the current protests by talking with CNTE representatives, who have presented their own proposals for educational reform. Oaxaca governor Gabino Cué Monteagudo and Guerrero governor Angel Aguirre Rivero held talks with the state CNTE affiliates; both governors were elected by coalitions including leftist parties. On April 4 two officials from Peña’s centrist administration–Governance Undersecretary Luis Enrique Miranda Nava and Public Education Undersecretary Rodolfo Tuirán Gutiérrez—met for three hours with CNTE representatives and agreed to meet again on April 9. But as of April 7 none of these talks had produced an agreement. (LJ, April 4, April 5, April 5)

An April 7 editorial in the left-leaning daily La Jornada cited a 2007 report by the federal Public Education Secretariat (SEP) showing that a quarter of Mexican schools didn’t have electricity and a quarter lacked bathrooms, while in 44% of primary schools teachers had to teach more than one grade level in the same classroom. “In such circumstances,” the editorial continued, “the aspiration to evaluate all the teachers by identical standards, without its mattering whether their schools lack water, electricity and installations that are minimally decent for carrying out their work, constitutes an unjust and inappropriate measure which will be unlikely to help improve the quality of education.” (LJ, April 7)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 7.