Mexico teacher rebellion gains support, repression

Widespread popular support and military repression cast ongoing teacher protests in Morelos state — home to famous revolutionary Emiliano Zapata — as a replay of events two years ago in Oaxaca. At issue are measures taken to privatize public education throughout Mexico.

President Felipe Calderon and Elba Esther Gordillo, head of the National Union of Educational Workers (SNTE), are accused of unilaterally imposing the Alliance for Quality in Education (ACE). The ACE program calls for independent councils to secure funds to maintain and operate schools, private gatekeeper agencies to test aspiring teachers, and independent (read private) organizations annually to assess teacher competence and school performance without regard to local circumstances.

Teacher demonstrations in Cuernavaca, ongoing for three months, led to protests in 13 nearby cities by members of the National Coordinating Group of Educational Workers (CNTE), a dissident group. In late September, teachers and supporters put up highway barriers in Xoxocatla.

Beginning Oct. 7, troops and police employing tanks, Hummers, jeeps and helicopters cordoned off the rebellious towns. Some 800 armed men wielded teargas and clubs to subdue women, students and peasants maintaining a highway blockade in Amayuca, arresting over 50.

Teachers in Xococatla removed highway barriers to promote dialogue and then re-imposed them in response to arrests in other towns. Their detention of five local policemen caused state and federal government deployment of 2,000 troops to subdue the 3,000 mostly indigenous citizens of Xoxocatla. Chaos ensued: teargas canisters landed inside homes, tires burned, some 50 teachers disappeared and 20 young people testified to beatings while detained. Schools were closed and scab teachers recruited.

Anti-government protests in Xoxocatla were fueled by resentment at recent moves to privatize underground water reserves and other natural resources. A “yes” answer to “Are you a teacher?” became cause for arrest. That was the situation, points out Jaime Luis Britto, in Mexico City 40 years ago prior to the army’s massacre of students at Tlatelolco. To signify protesters’ presumed criminal intentions, Morales state government officials evoked “Oaxacanizing” tendencies.

Parents, community members and progressive forces nationwide have rallied to the teachers’ cause, in part because of other issues they have raised. For example, one teacher manifesto linking the ACE with privatization of Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil company, condemned “the two largest privatizing projects that the spurious government has yet undertaken. Both threaten strategic sectors of the country and injure national sovereignty.”

Its list of complaints included: “the new ISSSTE law… unemployment, high prices, rising taxes on electricity, gas and water; and environmental destruction.” ISSSTE refers to Mexico’s social security system set for privatization under the Felipe Calderon government. New provisions are derisively called the “Gordillo law” in honor of SNTE teachers union president Elba Esther Gordillo, closely identified with the ACE school proposals.

Analysis appearing in La Jornada Morales under the name Dulce Maya characterizes the teacher conflict as a “detonator of citizen malaise by ultra-right politicians.” Workers Party leader Rigoberto Lorence López is cited as suggesting instigation of the repression by the Morelos National Action Party “in order to control the social movements because leaders don’t know how to govern. They look to violence to crush the dissidents and induce fear.” In Morelos, he adds, “the people are fired up and tired of government errors.”

On Sept. 21, a plenary session of the 11th National Congress of the left-center PRD party rejected the ACE, which spokesperson Erick Villanueva denounced as “politics agreeable to the World Bank” and as “inserting business management into the educational world.” At a joint press conference, Morales-based leaders of all major political parties except National Action called upon national counterparts to demand that President Calderon respect the states’ autonomy and withdraw troops. As of Oct. 13, negotiations to ease the conflict were underway. Federal troop concentrations were down.

Analyst Gregory Berger, writing on Narconews.com, reported that one of the teargas cartridges discharged inside a citizen’s home in Xoxocatla carried the massage in English “For use only by trained individuals.” He speculates that this and other weapons the Mexican Army uses to rout domestic opposition emanate from the United States under its newly elaborated “Plan Mexico,” established ostensibly to support “war on drugs.”