On the weekend of the 17th of June, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, known for its pristine beaches and charming capital, at least eight striking teachers from the radical Local 22 of the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) union were shot dead at a blockade action. Police, both state and federal, were in Nochixtlan, the town where the major clash took place.
The Federal government on Sunday the 18th claimed that their officers were unarmed and that “21 federal agents had been wounded three of them by gunfire” in Nochixtlan. The former claim, that they were unarmed, was refuted on social media shortly after, when people posted videos and images of Federales using and carrying guns at the blockade.
Adding to the mystery surrounding the incident, the government also claimed that, “The attacks with guns came from people outside the blockades who fired on the population and federal police.” It does seem odd that police would then shoot into the crowd in order to protect them.
To add insult to injury, dozens of wounded people were denied medical care when police surrounded the local hospital and refused admittance to the strikers. Some people had to travel considerable distances to get their wounds attended to. According to a human rights activist based in nearby Chiapas, Alejandro Reyes, who explained the situation in a recent interview, “We know about 20 (strikers) who were in serious condition are now in two other hospitals in other towns, one in the capital city of Oaxaca. We have some names, but much information about the condition of the wounded is lacking.”
In a separate incident last weekend, two men, including a reporter for the El Sur newspaper, Elidio Ramos Zarate, were killed outside of the Oaxacan city of Juchitan de Zaragoza and a third was wounded, when unknown gunmen opened fire on them. Zarate was a crime reporter who had covered looting by groups unrelated to the the striking teachers, believed to be taking advantage of the protests. Sadly, we must now add his name to the list of more than 80 journalists killed in the country since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
A Tradition of Violence
Unfortunately, this type of violent police action against striking teachers and other workers is not an unusual in the country. In mid-April, another local of the CNTE protesting a slate of neo-liberal ‘education reforms’ in Chiapas was set upon by police who used a helicopter to spray tear gas and ground forces who fired rubber bullets into the crowd, also injuring passersby. According to human rights groups in the area, 18 teachers “were arrested and taken by air to a maximum security prison,” as a result of the protest.
Authorities accuse those who have been jailed of being “corrupt”, an interesting accusation considering who’s making it. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) provided every Mexican President for the first 70 years after the revolution and has been accused of corruption on the municipal, state and federal levels many times. They finally ceded two six year terms to the right-wing PAN Party under Vicente Fox and Ernesto Zedillo respectively, from December of 2000 until PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto was elected President in 2012 and began undertaking neo-liberal reforms especially in education, medicine and the energy industry.
These accusations of union corruption, which have also put many leaders in Oaxaca’s Local 22 in jail, were reportedly based on union officers receiving cash voluntarily given by teachers because “state authorities froze not only the union’s bank accounts but even the personal ones of its officers.” The same source, The Nation Magazine also reported that 3,000 teachers were fired by Education Secretary Aurelio Nuno Mayer in Oaxaca, Guerrero and Michoacan for not working for three days during a previous strike action.
Just before, at the end of April, an independent investigation by international forensics and legal experts into 43 disappeared students in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, issued its report, citing concerns that their investigation had been hindered by the government. Two former members of the team recently met with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and reiterated their position that the Mexican government has an obligation to follow up on their 608 page report, which they say disputes the official version of events.
A major part of the reform efforts targeting education in the country is to close the “Normal Schools” like the one in Ayotzinapa, which have a tradition of protest and radical politics. Many of these schools train teachers from indigenous and rural communities that have historically been underserved by the Mexican State. These teachers are usually given other vital skills like building and maintaining water systems important to the communities they work in.
Free Trade in Bad Ideas
Much of this recent violence is a direct result of President Pena Nieto’s planned ‘reforms’ of Article 3 of the country’s constitution. As explained by sociologist and writer Andrew Smolski in a very well researched article on Counterpunch, “The reform utilizes Article 3’s first paragraph mandating the State’s guaranty of quality education to enact a teacher evaluation system, which will “demonstrate” compliance or non-compliance. The reform is also retroactive, stating that, “all income and promotions will be null that were not given in conformity with law.”
200,000 of the country’s Doctors recently joined the teacher’s struggle, realizing that the next round of reforms will further target them and continue the drive to completely privatize Mexico’s health system which already supplies only very limited services to citizens, especially in rural areas. If these planned reforms are enacted, they will further erode the capability of the state to provide even the minimal safety net now in place for all citizens of the country.
School closures and attempts to break teacher’s unions are an unfortunate fact of life not only in Mexico but in the rest of North America. Ideas about privatizing schools and creating unfair testing regimes come mostly from Mexico’s northern neighbor, although several provincial governments in Canada, Mexico’s other partner in NAFTA, are also eagerly pursuing these policies.
In the United States, from New Orleans to Chicago, there are ongoing efforts to stop funding and ultimately close ‘under-performing’ public schools and replace them with private charters, effectively dismantling teacher’s unions in the process. The demonization of teachers and the idea that making a profit is more important than ensuring that all citizens have the right to a public education offers just one more example of how morally bankrupt the philosophy of neo-liberalism has become.