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Column 092313 Wall

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ousted Mexican Teachers Driven from One Landmark take Another

By Allan Wall

Mexico City is the political capital of Mexico and its economic and cultural capital as well.  An interesting fact about Mexico City is that it was not named after the country of Mexico; rather, the country was named after the city.

Tourism is an important part of Mexico City’s economy. For tourists, Mexico City holds many attractions and is certainly worth a visit.  Personally, I’ve found it to be a fascinating city.  Despite the city’s size, its tourist attractions are very accessible.

For more on Mexico City, see my article Mexico City: Forward Looking City with a Pre-Hispanic Past.  Click here for a gallery of Mexico City photos taken by my wife and sons.   The gallery includes photos of the Zocalo and the Monumento a la Revolución, mentioned later in this article.

Public protest is also an important part of Mexico City life.  There is always some group protesting something -- one of the latest and loudest being teachers opposed to education reform.

It's important to clarify which teachers union is protesting, as there are two with similar names. The dissident teachers union, known as the C.N.T.E. (Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación), has been protesting the passage of a new education reform law. The larger S.N.T.E. (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación) supports the reform and is not protesting it.

For a month, protesters from the C.N.T.E. were camped out on the Zocalo.  The Zocalo is the main plaza of Mexico City.  Historically, it’s been the heart of the city since the Aztecs founded their city of Tenochitlan on an island on Lake Texcoco.  That city became the capital of their empire and the nucleus of present-day Mexico City.

The Zocalo is the location of the National Cathedral and the Palacio Nacional, the Mexican capital building.  Nearby is the Templo Mayor Aztec archeological site and museum.  The Zocalo is a major tourist attraction.  But there is usually some group of protesters on the plaza.

So the C.N.T.E. protesters were camped out on the Zocalo.  The problem was that Mexican Independence Day celebrations were coming up.

Mexican Independence Day is the 16th of September, but the festivities really begin the night before on the 15th.  A special celebration is held in plazas throughout Mexico at 11 p.m. the night of the 15th of September.  Certainly, the biggest celebration of all is held at the Zocalo.  So something had to be done.  But the C.N.T.E. folks refused to budge.

In order to persuade them to leave, on September 13th the Mexican federal police used water cannons and tear gas, and systematically pushed them out of the Zocalo. Of course the police had their riot gear, as they had to endure some rocks being tossed by the striking teachers.  But they got the plaza cleared out. (For a photo gallery and video of some of the events click here.)

Tear gas, also known as CS gas, is often used in crowd control and dispersal.  The defining component of tear gas, or CS gas, is the compound 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile (also known as o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile).  CS gas is rather unpleasant.  I had a little experience with it in my military training, click here for a related article.

The C.N.T.E. protesters, undaunted, relocated at another Mexico City landmark, the plaza of the Monumento a la Revolución.  The government, however, is offering individual protesters a return bus ticket to Oaxaca, from whence many of them came, for $260 pesos.

Protests can be very disruptive for ordinary citizens, especially when they block traffic routes.  Indeed, blocking traffic routes was a goal of the demonstrating C.N.T.E. protest marches.

Mexican pundit Sergio Sarmiento, in a recent column, criticized the Mexican government for allowing such disruption.

According to Sarmiento, “The security forces have not intervened until now except to protect the presidential residence of Los Pinos, the Senate and the Legislative Palace, or to dislodge the Zocalo for patriotic celebrations.  The prolonged blockades of principal thoroughfares have been carried out with the participation of relatively small activist groups due to the decision of the security forces not to intervene.  The blockades do not affect federal and Mexico City functionaries.  The most important can travel by helicopter.  They also have the special support of the security forces that open for them the blocked routes that apply to others.  The functionaries also have alternative offices in which they can work when access to the officials' offices are blocked.  For normal citizens, however, the blockades become significant losses of time and money.”

But then, if protesters don’t attract attention what’s the point?

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Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at http://www.allanwall.info.


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