Teacher Protests in Mexico

Protests & Violence

Shortly after his inauguration in 2012, President Enrique Peña Nieto presented a packet of education reforms, which was later approved by both houses of Congress and deemed constitutional in 2013. However, the government has faced growing resistance to the implementation of the education reforms, especially in areas where teacher unions are particularly strong, like Oaxaca.

The most vocal teacher’s union is the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, which has over 100,000 members and is strongest in the states of Oaxaca, Michoacán, Chiapas, and Guerrero (which are also Mexico’s poorest states). While there are several criticisms of the education reform, the CNTE focuses on the evaluation of teachers, claiming the reforms place too much emphasis on this component, rather than on resources for schools and training for teachers. In protest of the implementation of the reforms, teachers in Oaxaca (CNTE Section 22) left class on 15 May and blocked several major highways. The blockades in Oaxaca have been on and off since May, and have spread to other states. Even Mexico City has experienced road closures due to the teachers protests, as groups are frequently bused in to march down Reforma to the Zocalo.

In response, the Secretaría de Education Pública (SEP) requested that local authorities let go of teachers who failed to attend class and teach, presumably punishing those participating in the protests. Teachers were also fired for failing to appear for their evaluations. In April, at least 1,300 teachers in Guerrero were dismissed for not showing up for their evaluation exams.

On 19 June in Nochixtlán, Oaxaca, protesters blocking a highway clashed with police, resulting in nine deaths, two disappearances, and hundreds of injured persons. The CNTE (Section 22) detained three federal police and two journalists after the initial clash, holding them for two days and only releasing them after a mediation session with the Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH). However, the police were not the only perpetrators of violence. On 4 July, the CNTE (Section 7)  attacked and cut the hair of teachers presenting themselves for evaluation in Chiapas. On 7 July, in the municipal of Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán, CNTE members attacked police as part of an effort to rescue detained teachers — the confrontation left four officers injured and five teachers arrested.

Furthermore, as a result of the blockades, Asociación Nacional de Transporte Privado General Director Leonardo Gómez said companies have resorted to trains to transport goods, which has increased the cost of moving goods (25 percent in the cost of security, logistics, and technology), which is being felt by the consumer. In some instances the blocks have made basic foodstuffs and goods inaccessible for marginalized areas of Oaxaca. The protests have an economic impact on Mexico City too — Cámara de Comercio en Pequeño (Canacope) President Ada Irma Cruz said between 5 and 6 July, small businesses in Mexico City lost US$4.87 million due to the teacher protests.

Initially, the federal government indicated they would not negotiate on the education reforms with the CNTE. However, after continuing violence and demonstrations, the Interior Secretariat (Segob) agreed to discussions with the union, but they are constantly on-again-off-again. Finally, the two groups decided to meet on 11 July to discuss the 19 June incident and other concerns.

Despite agreeing to meet, CNTE Section 22 intensified their blockades of highways, preventing local traffic, international transports, and vehicles with state and federal decals from passing on the Oaxaca-México highway, Oaxaca-Puerto Ángel highway, the airport access road, the Pan-American highway, and the access road to the Benito Juarez monument. The CNTE also sectioned off the Instituto Estatal de Educación Pública de Oaxaca (IEEPO) headquarters. They blockades were joined by similar efforts in Mexico City, where parents and teachers blocked at least six points in the city, including Picacho-Ajusco highway, Eje 1 Norte, Eje 5 Sur, Agenda México, Calzada de Águilas, and others. In Michoacan, the CNTE blocked nine different train railways.

Unlikely Allies

Given the broad impact of education reform in Mexico, the most likely ally of the CNTE would be other teachers unions. However, while the other unions may want changes to the reforms, they do not necessarily have the best relationship with the CNTE. The Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE) came out on 6 July demanding the SEP make changes to the reforms and eliminate the evaluation process and other punitive actions while taking into consideration conditions of inequality. CNTE Section 9 leader Francisco Bravo called SNTE’s move “political opportunism,” saying SNTE was taking advantage of the CNTE’s efforts and that until that moment the SNTE has defended education reform. The union Mexicanos Primeros also asked the SEP to make revisions to the education reform, including a system for lodging complaints against its improper implementation. Yet, Mexicanos Primeros have accused the CNTE of resorting to blackmail, violence, and disinformation (about the reforms) to return to a system of selling or inheriting teacher’ positions.

While the CNTE does not have much support from its fellow unions, it has drawn support from and even created alliances with other groups. For example, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) announced on 7 July it is going to send ten tons of foodstuffs and goods, valued at US$15,700, to CNTE members to support their fight against the government. And from within the government, CNTE leaders successfully created a pact with leftist PRD, PT, and MORENA senators on 11 July to challenge education reform. The leaders also asked for the senators’ assistance with the release of other detained CNTE leaders, the revision of the country’s education model, and the reinstatement of fired teachers.

Even though there are seemingly clear allies and enemies of the CNTE, other groups are also taking advantage of the current situation. Not necessarily concerned with education reforms, some radical anarchist groups are infiltrating the teacher protests in Oaxaca and Chiapas. These more radical groups will likely try to keep disruptions and protests going through 2018, when Mexico holds its presidential elections.

Moving Forward

As a result of the CNTE-Segob meeting on 11 July, the two have agreed to hold three separate round tables throughout July on the topics of politics, education, and social issues to reestablish peace and governability, especially in Oaxaca and Chiapas. While the round tables are supposed to open up dialogue and create a sense of understanding between the two groups, it is important to note the discussions do not include other teachers unions with grievances against reforms. Also, it seems improbable any substantive changes to education reform will be made as a result. The reforms were already passed by Congress and included in the Constitution. Even though the CNTE has garnered the support of some political parties, it would still need support from PAN or PRI to make changes — which would be very unlikely. Furthermore, quickly after the 11 July talks, Osorio Chong ruled out the possibility of changing the reforms. If the government makes any compromises, it will be with respect to the timeline of implementing the reforms, but changes to the core of the reforms, like teacher evaluations, will not happen.