Teacher protests in Mexico continue despite deaths, food shortages

A woman holds a sign: "Teacher your fight is my fight! No to the education reform!" at a CNTE protest on Wednesday. (Credit: Valeria Méndez/Flickr)

Parts of southern Mexico are running out of food, medicine, gasoline and other critical supplies as thousands of teachers belonging to the National Coordinator of Education Workers, or CNTE, continue with violent protests against the Mexican government’s education reforms.

Despite the promise of talks between the teachers’ movement and the government, the prolonged strike and roadblocks have spread from the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas to Mexico City and other regions of the country. Tensions are particularly high on the road that connects Oaxaca to Mexico City, Vice News reported, and the government is threatening to again use force to clear the roads.

The current wave of protests has been violent since last month, when clashes between police and protesters left nine people dead and around 100 injured after police tried to stop teachers from blocking roads and highways. According to NPR, one of those protesters died Tuesday from a head wound suffered during the violence.

But the union has announced it will continue the protests indefinitely, and the road blockades have no end in sight.

As of Tuesday, there were at least 13 blockades in place throughout Oaxaca, where in some areas the blocks have been in place for more than 20 days. In parts of Oaxaca hit hardest by the food and gasoline shortages, some stores have closed and hotel reservations have been canceled, threatening Mexico’s summer tourism industry and potentially forcing hotels to lay off staff.

Asked how much longer the government would tolerate roadblocks by the teachers, Government Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio said in a radio interview last week that the government had reached its limit with the protests, which have been “affecting the rights of the majority of people in Oaxaca and Chiapas.”

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“We haven’t stopped pursuing dialogue, and we won’t stop, but there must be favorable circumstances … for the dialogue to continue.”

But there has been little dialogue between the CNTE and the government of Enrique Peña Nieto, which has often resorted to repressing the protesters with security forces, since the education reforms were implemented in 2013. The reforms are an effort to establish merit-tested jobs and improve the quality of public schools in Mexico, which currently scores the lowest in education among the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

CNTE teachers are demanding the repeal of the education overhaul, which established a regime of teacher evaluations and put an end to longstanding union privileges. They are also protesting the policy that brought an end to Mexico’s national system of teacher training schools, allowing anyone with a college degree in any subject to be hired to teach.

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Next Monday, a meeting will be held between members of the CNTE and the Interior Ministry to attempt to resolve the conflict regarding the reform. But there is little hope that a compromise will be reached anytime soon, since Peña Nieto has so far remained firm that the educational reform will not be changed.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com