Monday, September 16, 2013
(yet Annual) Rebellion of Teachers in Mexico
Conflict and struggle are key words at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year in Mexico. After a summer
break, the controversy over education reform laws promoted by the Peña Nieto administration and backed by the country’s
major political parties is back at center stage.
In recent days, tens of thousands of
teachers and their allies have taken to the nation’s streets, plazas and highways to register their firm opposition
to the education reform package, including the professional service law recently approved by the Mexican Congress that establishes
a new educator evaluation system requiring teachers to pass No Child Left Behind-like standardized tests. President Enrique
Peña Nieto hailed the new law as a “step forward” in improving Mexico’s educational system.
Backers of the measure contend it will raise teaching standards and clean up a corrupt job assignment
system, both of which form a “notoriously dysfunctional public education system” in the words of Univision.
For their part, opponents decry the reform as an outright attack on labor rights, a culturally
insensitive policy for an economically and ethnically diverse nation, and an instrument to cleanse dissidents from the ranks
of the teaching profession. Protesters demand the abrogation of the Peña Nieto educational reform.
In the first days of September, protesting teachers disrupted traffic to international airports
in Mexico City and tourist-popular Baja California Sur, seized highway toll booths in Chihuahua, Puebla and Veracruz, slowed
traffic crossing the Bridge of the Americas between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, blockaded Cancun’s hotel zone, and “collapsed”
the Chiapas state capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez for six hours on Friday, September 6. Protests have broken out in at least 22
states, or more than two-thirds of the national territory.
Mexico City, teachers held a read-in at a historic monument. Among the shouts heard emanating from the educators: “Read
to be free!” “Books against barbarism!” “We teachers read!”
Significantly, the movement has expanded beyond the traditional strongholds of the National Coordinating [organization]
of Education Workers (CNTE) and spread to areas not usually known as hotbeds of activism. In the small Pacific coast state
of Nayarit, 17,000 teachers rallied against the professional service law, while thousands of educators staged a march in Merida,
Yucatan. In some areas of Mexico, teachers have declared strikes, including in the usually quiet state of Campeche.
First erupting last February, the now more than six-month-old teachers' movement has acquired a fresh sense
of urgency and a rejuvenated burst of energy.
The CNTE proposes
that instead of the Federal Education Secretariat, as stipulated by the professional service law, teacher evaluation should
be carried out collectively by school principals, educators and parents.
protesting educators complain that the new education laws ignore pressing problems like classroom overcrowding and decaying
school buildings. Another common grievance of teachers is that they were not consulted in the drafting of either the primary
education reform law that was passed by the Congress last December or the newly-approved professional service legislation.
“In order to carry out an education reform, one first has to take all the necessities into account, beginning
with the (school) infrastructure,” said a member of the Resissste movement in Ciudad Juarez.
Teacher militancy has provoked counter-reactions by sectors of society. Some groups of parents
demand a reopening of shut-down schools, and even the use of soldiers as substitute teachers to break the strike. However,
contingents of parents and students have joined the protest movement in Veracruz and other states.
Lawmaker Ricardo Anaya, president of the lower house of the Mexican Congress, implored federal
and local officials in Mexico City to take action against teachers who’ve repeatedly filled streets with demonstrations
in the Mexican capital.
“I am definitely convinced that minorities can’t
be taking the city hostage, and much less the (political) powers,” Anaya said. “In this Chamber of Deputies, we
have been very clear in saying that everyone has a right to be heard, but there is a limit and that limit is the right of
third parties.” State officials in Chihuahua and Baja California have announced that they will dock pay and levy other
sanctions against striking teachers.
“We will not allow teachers to halt work and damage the education of the
little ones through demonstrations,” said Pablo Espinoza Flores, Chihuahua state education secretary. “We accept
their right to demonstrate their disagreement, but let them do it outside working hours.”
Pedro Gomez, Chiapas teacher leader, blamed the government for escalating tensions. “The social explosion
is getting nearer, and we are not provoking it -- the federal government is,” Gomez insisted.
More border crossing blockades, toll-booth occupations and school shut-downs are possibly in
the works. The rising teacher protest coincides with emerging protests over gasoline price hikes, proposed border zone tax
increases, and the Peña Nieto administration’s energy reform legislation awaiting action in Congress.
“This is a fraternal call,” said Oaxaca protest leader Ruben Nuñez. “We
are building the unitary front and going together to the national strike and civic stoppage in this season of resistance and
Bubbling up from below in an ample stew
of social protest, the convergence of causes is promising a very interesting fall. Ciudad Juarez sociologist and political
commentator Carlos Murillo noted in a recent column that the fall season has long figured prominently in the political bio-rhythms
of his country.
According to Murillo, September is the time of national
independence, October the anniversary of the 1968 student revolt and massacre, and November the month of the 1910 Mexican
“The autumn has a profound significance in the
historic memory of Mexicans,” Murillo wrote. “If some important event in the life of the country is going to happen,
many possibilities exist that it will happen in this season of the year.”
warn of repression against the burgeoning teacher movement.
might not occur in Mexico City, but it could happen in the states,” wrote Jesusa Cervantes, a columnist and political
analyst for the newsweekly Proceso. “There, far from the reflectors, in faraway communities, with a communications
media more coopted than in the center of the country, (repression) is easier to do.”
El Sur/Agencia Reforma, September 8, 2013. El Sol de Tijuana, September 7, 2013. Article by Feliciano Castro Loya. La Jornada,
September 4, 6 7, 9, 2013. Articles by Emir Olivares, Roberto Garduño, Enrique Mendez, Arturo Jimenez, E. Gomez, Karina
Aviles correspondents, and editorial staff. Proceso/Apro, September 4, 6 and 8, 2013. Articles by Isain Mandujano, Rosa Santana,
Sergio Caballero, Arturo Osorio, Patricia Mayorga, Jesusa Cervantes, and editorial staff. Arrobjuarez.com, September
6, 2013. Article by Carlos Murillo Gonzalez. Lapolaka.com, September 6 and 8, 2013. Univision, September 4, 2013. El Universal,
September 4, 2013. El Diario de Juarez, September 4, 6 and 8, 2013. Articles by Francisco Javier Chavez, Alejandra Gomez,
Excelsior, Agencia Reforma, and CNN. La Opinion, September 5, 2013. Article by Gardenia Mendoza Aguilar. El Semanario
de Nuevo Mexico/Agencia Reforma, September 5, 2013. Article by Enrique Lomas. La Jornada (Guerrero edition), September 4,
2013. Article by Margena de la O.
Uprising," reprinted with authorization from Frontera NorteSur, a free, on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news source; translation FNS.
Frontera NorteSur (FNS)
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Cruces, New Mexico