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Mexican Labor News & Analysis
June , 2016, Vol. 21, No. 6
Contents for this issue:
June has been a month of extraordinary repression directed against Mexican teachers in the state of Oaxaca. The Federal and State Police killed nine people, wounded more than a hundred others, and have beaten and jailed many. We dedicate this issue to accounts of the attack on the teachers.
Dan La Botz
BLOODY JUNE: MEXICAN GOV'T KILLS 9, WOUNDS MANY IN BATTLE WITH TEACHERS
By Dan La Botz
The Mexican Federal Police and Oaxaca State Police killed nine people and wounded more than one hundred others, while dozens more were beaten and yet others were arrested and jailed in what has been the most violent and bloody attack on teachers and their supporters in Oaxaca since the tremendous upheaval of 2006. Several teacher leaders have been arrested and jailed on a variety of charges and warrants have been issued for others.
The state murder of nine people led to an immediate outcry and demands for investigation by national and international human rights groups, such as the Mexican Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. Amnesty International also called for an investigation into the human rights situation in Mexico. Consequently, for the first time in a year, the Mexican Minister of the Interior agreed to negotiate with the National Coordinating Committee (la CNTE) of the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE).
The protests by teachers and their supporters, which have been ongoing in Chiapas and Oaxaca, spread to ten states: Chihuahua, Guerrero, Jalisco, Mexico State, Michoacán, Morelos, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Zacatecas. This represents a significant expansion of the movement from its core states of Chiapas, Guerrero, Michoacán and Oaxaca. Teachers in all of these states engaged in marches and other forms of protest, while in Oaxaca teachers blocked more than 35 different roads and highways.
Murder Followed by Negotiation
On June 19 in the small town of Nochixtlán, whose population is made up of indigenous Mixteco people engaged in small-scale commerce, the Federal and State police using high-powered automatic weapons attacked teachers, students, and residents, killing 8 and wounding scores. A ninth person, an innocent bystander, was killed in the city of Oaxaca.
The Nochixtlán massacre comes less than two years since police in Guerrero were involved in the killing of six, wounding of 25, and disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa Rura Teachers College students.
Faced with another international scandal, Minister of the Interior Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong agreed to meet with leaders of la CNTE, the organization that has headed up the massive demonstrations in Oaxaca and other states. Osorio Chong said, however, that the purpose of the negotiations was only to reduce tension and restore order to the state, and that the Education Reform Law would not be up for discussion. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, on a tour of Canada before the meeting of North American heads of state, reiterated the point, saying that there would be no negotiation of the Education Reform Law.
Once again, as in the case of Ayotzinapa, there have been demonstrations in solidarity with the Oaxaca teachers and protests against the Mexican government at its embassies and consulates in Canada, the United States, and in Europe. As Peña Nieto toured Canada, on his way to the “Three Amigos” summit he was accompanied by protests over the government killing of the teachers.
La CNTE, a dissident caucus within the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE), has argued that the Education Reform Law exists solely to weaken the teachers union, to exert greater control over teachers, and that it represents the cutting edge of a policy aimed at the privatization of education. Peña Nieto has denied that the government has any intention of privatizing the schools.
Negotiators for la CNTE reported that the first day of negotiation had been fruitless and with the government refusing to discuss the law this leads to the expectation that negotiations are taking place only to enhance the image of the government. So, as bloody June ends, there seems to be no end in sight for the conflict between Oaxaca’s teachers and the Mexican government. More protests, more repression, and more bloodshed can be expected.
IN PUSH FOR EDUCATION REFORMS, MEXICAN GOVERNMENT KILLS TEACHERS IN THE STREET
By Jane Slaughter
Mexican federal police killed a dozen teachers and students June 19 when they opened fire on a demonstration in the small town of Nochixtlan, Oaxaca.
Teachers and supporters were protesting the government’s brand of “education reform,” which they say will not help students and is designed to get rid of teachers and break union power.
“The government chose force,” said Francisco Bravo, a leader of the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), the activist caucus within the official union. “They thought they could end our struggle quickly by arresting our leaders, that we would back down. They were wrong.”
The government at first denied that its troops were using live bullets, but was forced to retract that assertion. The dead included two middle school students and a motorist, according to the People’s Human Rights Observatory. Most were in their twenties.
The wounded, who numbered in the dozens, were turned away from the hospital at Nochixtlan, with only injured police officers being admitted. Twenty-one people were arrested and later released.
Two CNTE leaders, who headed the national union’s Section 22 in the southern state of Oaxaca, had been arrested June 12, charged with financial crimes, and immediately flown to a federal penitentiary in the north. At least seven CNTE members have been arrested thus far, with arrest warrants issued for 24 more in Oaxaca.
Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s poorest states, is where teacher-union activists have been most militant, holding dozens of sit-ins and highway blockades over the years. The June 19 demonstration was called to protest the leaders’ arrests and to continue CNTE’s three-year fight against education reform.
“Apparently the government didn’t know that CNTE is horizontal and doesn’t depend on just the leaders,” Bravo said.
A protest march in Mexico’s capital June 24 drew 25,000 people, he said. Teachers in New York and Chicago picketed Mexican consulates.
CNTE is calling for a “dialogue,” but its meetings with the government over education reform last week and yesterday yielded no results. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, on a state visit to Canada, intoned, “Laws are not negotiable.”
Tomorrow U.S. President Barack Obama, Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau, and Peña Nieto will meet in Ottawa for their first “Three Amigos Summit.” The Toronto Star published an op-ed titled, “Mexico is massacring its citizens and nobody seems to have noticed.”
A 'Structural Reform'
The teachers are fighting constitutional changes promoted by a business group called Mexicanos Primero (Mexicans First) and proposed by Peña Nieto 10 days after he took office in December 2012. Ten days later Mexico’s Congress ratified them—after no public debate or discussion with teachers.
CNTE says the true goal of the changes is mass firings of teachers. They are now required to take a national knowledge test, a process that does nothing to evaluate how a teacher performs in the classroom. As in the U.S., where education reformers want to replace experienced teachers with brand-new college graduates from Teach for America, in Mexico under the new rules anyone with a degree can take the qualifying exam and become a teacher, with no training.
A goal is to get rid of the system of teachers colleges, which mostly educate students from poor and indigenous families—and which traditionally have been centers of radicalization.
In September 2014 in the town of Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, 43 teachers college students were about to participate in a protest when they were kidnapped. The teachers colleges traditionally have been centers of radicalization. The government blamed a drug gang, but the government has no credibility with its own people.Ever since, the killings have caused protests throughout the country. Marches, posters, and graffiti call for punishment of the guilty. The teachers of la CNTE have been at the forefront, demanding an impartial investigation.
Mexican journalists Renata Bessi and Santiago Navarro F. report that Peña Nieto’s education reform was proposed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an organization mostly made up of the Western world’s richer countries. The “OECD-Mexico Agreement to Improve the Quality of Education in Schools of Mexico” is just one part of a “structural adjustment” program for Mexico, they say, guided by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Inter-American Development Bank. The goal is to open up services traditionally provided by government to investors, including foreign investors.
Ten other structural reforms to Mexico's economy have also been approved, including pro-employer changes to labor law and changes in treasury, finance, energy, transparency, electoral procedures, and telecommunications. Twenty-two more demanded reforms are in the pipeline.
In December the Mexican Stock Exchange put government education bonds on the speculative market: National School Infrastructure Certificates. They were bought by BBVA Bancomer and Merrill Lynch for 8.581 billion pesos (around $450 million U.S.).
Up the Ante
Since 2013 teachers have protested education reform by blocking highways—a common tactic in Mexico—holding ongoing encampments in the main squares of state capitals, and marching through the streets of Mexico City. CNTE upped the ante by calling for a national teachers strike May 16. Participation was uneven nationally but saw strikes and protests in states where they had not taken place before, such as Coahuila. For a time teachers in Chiapas blocked four highways.
The government moved quickly to fire 3,360 striking teachers in states other than the four southern states—Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero, and Michoacan—where CNTE is strongest. Later, the Department of Education announced it would fire 4,500 in those states, but those firings have not been carried out yet.
On June 11, 1,000 police using tear gas evicted teachers from their tents in front of the Oaxaca education department. Teachers and supporters resisted with rocks and barricades and moved to the main square in the central city.
The strike continues (schools’ summer break begins July 15) and is strongest in Oaxaca. It was the first time, Bravo said, that members of CNTE in the four states had agreed ahead of time on a common strike date. It was “a step forward in organization,” he said.
CNTE (which received Labor Notes’ Troublemaker Award this year) was founded in the 1970s to fight the corruption of the official teachers union, the SNTE, and has grown into a power of its own. Bravo says SNTE leaders have given “unconditional support to the government” in the dispute over education reform. Even when members were killed last week, the union’s official solidarity statement with victims’ families expressed regret over “the way some have joined the debate with a belligerent position that promotes violence.” SNTE leaders went on to reiterate their support for education reform.
Wholesale Attack on Labor
The war on the teachers is part of an overall government and employer assault on unions in Mexico—one that unions are mostly losing.
In 2006 the head of the militant Miners Union was falsely accused of embezzlement; he fled to Canada. A huge mining company, Grupo Mexico, later evicted the union from the birthplace of the country’s labor movement, the Cananea copper mine.
In 2009 the president privatized an electrical utility, partly in order to crush the 40,000-strong, militant union there.
In 2012 a “labor reform” law granted management flexibility it hadn’t had before—to outsource, hire part-time and temporary workers, and pay by the hour. Last year indigenous farmworkers in Baja California struck for higher wages, but the strike was smashed by the army and police.
When labor law reform was passed, Dan La Botz, the editor of Mexican Labor News and Analysis, wrote, “The Mexican independent labor movement is weaker today than at any time in the last 25 years.” Given the big defeats suffered by Mexican workers under a succession of pro-employer neoliberal presidents, it is even more remarkable that the teachers are holding out.
Asked about next steps, Bravo said teachers would hold “demonstrations, protests, blockages, marches, and rallies, till we have something definite from the government.”
Today the Mexican press reports that 29 highways in Oaxaca are being blocked, and that teachers have closed four international bridges from Chiapas to Guatemala.
The article above was originally published in Labor Notes.
BLOODY CRACKDOWN ON MEXICAN TEACHERS SPURS CRISIS
By Frontera NorteSur
The June 19 government crackdown on striking Mexican teachers culminated in deadly violence in the southern state of Oaxaca, transforming a showdown between the Pena Nieto administration and the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) into a larger political crisis that once again cast Mexico in the international human rights spotlight.
Even as the controversy over the still-unresolved forced disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa college students in 2014 simmers on the world stage, the Oaxaca episode garnered fresh denunciations from non-governmental organizations and activists in Europe, South and Central America, Australia, and the United States. Jan Jarab, Mexico representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned the latest violence.
Weeks of intensifying protests against federal government’s 2013 education reform, which many public school teachers and their supporters oppose as an infringement on labor rights and a step toward privatization, took a violent turn Sunday, June 19, when federal and state police attempted to dislodge CNTE members and supporters from the town of Nochixtlan, Oaxaca.
The protesters regrouped and confronted police, who were then accused of opening fire on the assembled crowd. Eventually, after 15 hours of clashes, teachers and their allies forced the federal and state police forces from Nochixtlan and back to the state capital of Oaxaca City.
Differing accounts of casualties prevailed in the immediate days after the confrontation. As of Tuesday, June 21, the CNTE listed between eight and ten civilians killed (mostly supporters of the teachers), with scores injured and perhaps 22 disappeared. Government sources placed the death toll at eight or ten and the number of detained at 23. More than 100 people were injured, including 56 police and 53 civilians, according to official sources cited in the Mexican press.
On June 21, one of the slain individuals, 19-year-old Jesus Cadena Sanchez, was buried in Nochixtlan amid cries of justice from relatives and friends. Images of Sunday’s clash and its aftermath in Nochixtlan published by the Mexican media recall war scenes. Members of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights' Mexico office were reported in the Oaxaca town June 20 gathering testimonies about the preceding day.
On Monday, June 20, tens of thousands of demonstrators participated in a “march of indignation” in Oaxaca City, shouting “assassins!” and setting up barricades in the city center. June 19 was the bloodiest repression to visit Oaxaca since the 2006 uprising by the CNTE and the APPO, a statewide grouping of social movements and indigenous communities.
As different versions of the June 19 events continue to be sorted out, many Mexicans are speaking out on Nochixtlan. A letter signed by prominent Oaxaca painter Francisco Toleldo and about 100 other artists and academics urged President Pena Nieto and Oaxaca Governor Gabino Cue to halt police actions against the educators’ movement and immediately convene a negotiating roundtable.
In a similar vein, three bishops from Chiapas and one from Oaxaca appealed on the Pena Nieto administration and the CNTE to engage in dialogue, offering their services as intermediaries. Earlier CNTE proposals for dialogue were countered by Mexico City’s response that talks were fine but the 2013 reform law was non-negotiable.
In a series of tweets, President Pena Nieto expressed regret for “the loss of life,” voiced solidarity with victims’ relatives and pledged an investigation by the Office of the Federal Attorney General. Roberta Jacobson, the new U.S. ambassador to Mexico, said Washington was “monitoring” the CNTE-government conflict. Under the anti-drug Merida Initiative, the United States trains and supplies a wide array of Mexican government security forces.
Governor Gabino Cue, who was originally elected on a reform platform in 2010 but later had a falling out with teachers and other social activists, justified the crackdown as a measure to restore the rule of law and eliminate the highway barricades erected by the CNTE he said were violating the right to freedom of transit by Oaxaca’s citizens.
Federal Police Commissioner Enrique Galindo, whose officers were seen firing guns on videos posted on the Internet, claimed the police responded with deadly force only after they were ambushed with Molotov cocktails, “rockets” and gunfire directed indiscriminately at both security forces and civilians. Police officers suffered flesh burns and even lost fingers, Galindo said.
Quoted in the Mexican press, unidentified teachers said “infiltrators” were present in Nochixtlan who could have been responsible for starting the shooting.
On June 19, other confrontations unfolded elsewhere in Oaxaca, including the burning of a Federal Police post in the town of Huajuapan de Leon only hours after the events in Nochixtlan. On the same day, Oaxaca journalist Elidio Ramos Zarate and another man were shot dead in the city of Juchitan.
A very bloody day claimed its first political casualty when Oaxaca Indigenous Affairs Secretary Adelfo Regino Montes announced June 20 his “voluntary and irrevocable” resignation from the state post. Regino said he could not form part of a government that “uses public force and repression as a solution, instead of wagering on dialogue.” In addition to Cue’s immediate departure from office (the governor’s term ends later this year), the CNTE demanded the resignations and/or impeachments of President Pena Nieto, Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong and Education Secretary Aurelio Nuno. What’s more, the activist teacher organization appealed for the intervention of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Although many teachers have remained steadfast in their opposition to the 2013 reform, protests and strikes against the law re-escalated during the past five weeks, spurred on by the announced firing of thousands of educators for not complying with the new teacher evaluation testing or for allegedly missing too many days of work.
Additionally, the recent arrests of Oaxaca Section 22 CNTE leaders Ruben Nunez and Francisco Villalobos for alleged money laundering stirred an already boiling political pot. Further inflaming the stand-off, CNTE activist Eugenio Rodriguez Cornejo was arrested June 20 in Michoacan, two days after the detention of Juan Jose Ortega Madrigal, another historic leader of the teacher union in Michoacan. Both men are accused of damages and illegal privation of liberty. By June 21, thousands of CNTE demonstrators and supporters were marching or blockading roads in the state capital of Morelia and elsewhere in Michoacan.
In Guerrero, State Prosecutor Xavier Olea confirmed that outstanding arrest warrants exist for local CNTE leaders but added the legal orders had not been acted upon because of the political explosiveness of the moment. While CNTE-led protests have been staged across the nation, the movement has acquired an especially intense, mass character in the southwestern and southern states of Guerrero, Michoacan, Chiapas and Oaxaca, where many parents, social activists and indigenous communities have lent their support.
Disparate forces ranging from the Mayan Zapatista National Liberation Army and the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s Morena political party likewise back the teachers’ cause. In a joint communique on Nochixtlan, the Zapatistas and CNI urged widespread solidarity with the teachers, writing that a storm, “besides chaos and tempest, also makes fertile the land where a new world is always born.”
Two-time presidential candidate Lopez Obrador and Education Secretary Aurelio Nuno tossed verbal barbs even prior to the Nochixtlan bloodshed, with the former contending that the government was fabricating legal charges against jailed CNTE leaders Nunez and Villalobos and the latter declaring that Lopez Obrador was lying about the purpose of the Pena Nieto administration’s education reform policies, which Nuno insisted were aimed at strengthening and not privatizing public education.
Also on the eve of the Nochixtlan carnage, the California-based Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB) issued a statement in support of the teachers.
The message read in part: “As indigenous migrants, we contribute through the sending of remittances, the financing for the operation of schools in our communities. In all our towns, parents pay for the electricity, the water and the maintenance of the schools....the teachers are the ones who historically have been closet to our communities and participate actively in the defense of our rights as indigenous peoples. Many of the leaders of our organization, the FIOB, are also teachers...”
The CNTE and its allies quickly responded to the Oaxaca violence by taking to the streets. Teachers and rural education students blocked two streets in the Morelos state capital of Cuernavaca, comparing Nochixtlan to the October 1968 massacre of students in Mexico City.
In neighboring Guerrero, teachers and supporters protested in Iguala, Zihuatanejo Acapulco, Petatlan, Atoyac, Tlapa, Ciudad Altamirano, the Costa Chica, and the state capital of Chilpancingo. In Chiapas, demonstrators blocked access to the state capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez both on June 20 and 21. Father Marcelo Perez, parish priest of Simovejel, called on police not to kill.
As Frontera NorteSur was going to press, the popular movement maintained road blockades in many points of Oaxaca state. Residents of Huixtan, Chiapas, meanwhile, seized two Federal Police officers, demanding a halt to repression and threatening to lynch the officials if further aggression against the movement ensues. Other pro-CNTE demonstrations were reported in Sonora, Hidalgo, Veracruz, Mexico, and Mexico City. More protests are likely in store for the days ahead, including a June 26 mobilization uniting the teachers and the parents of the missing Ayotzinapa students.
Finally, in a move that could defuse the crisis surrounding Nochixtlan, CNTE leaders are expected to meet with Pena Nieto administration officials, including Interior Secretary Osorio Chong, on Wednesday, June 22, in Mexico City.
Whether the talks will lead to a genuine resolution of the long-running conflict is another matter entirely. Education Secretary Aurelio Nunez told the press that the June 22 dialogue was of a political nature arising from the urgency of the spiraling conflict, but would not address the education reform per se since the law was now part of the Mexican Constitution.
Sources: Aristeguinoticias.com, June 20 and 21, 2016. La Jornada (Guerrero edition), June 20, 2016. Article by Margena de la O. El Sur, June 20 and 21, 2016. Articles by Brenda Escobar, Jacob Antonio Morales, Alina Navarrete Fernandez, Israel Flores, Francisco Magana, Karina Contreras, editorial staff, Proceso, and the Reforma news agency.
La Jornada, June 19, 20 and 21, 2016. Articles by Jose A. Perez Alfonso, Alfredo Mendez, Rene Ramon, Rubicela Morelos Cruz, Ernesto Martinez Elorriaga, Elio Enriquez and editorial staff. El Universal, June 21, 2016. Articles by Natalia Gomez, Carlos Arrieta and Dennis A. Garcia.
Proceso/Apro, June 20 and 21,2016. Articles by Mathieu Tourliere, Isain Mandujano, Pedro Matias, Rodrigo Vera, Ezequiel Flores Contreras, and editorial staff. Nortedigital.mx, June 21, 2016. El Diario de Juarez, June 16 and 20, 2016. Articles by El Universal and the Reforma news agency. Desinformemonos.org, June 21, 2016.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news, Center for Latin American and Border Studies, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico. For a free electronic subscription email:firstname.lastname@example.org
WHY ARE MEXICAN TEACHERS BEING JAILED AND KILLED FOR PROTESTING EDUCATION REFORM?
By David Bacon
The Nation, 6/17/16
We urge readers to go to the link above to read David Bacon’s story and to see his fine photos of the movement. – Editor