Less than one year after taking office, the administration of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto faces serious challenges to its core policies. Leading the opposition are tens of thousands of public school teachers protesting the new No Child Left Behind-like law they contend will cost jobs, aggravate educational inequities and lead to privatization.
The protest, which counts months now, is expanding in both scope and participation and more and more assuming the character of a multi-issue popular movement.
Increasingly, the teacher protest is transforming from a single-issue opposition to the education reform into a broad movement against the cornerstones of the Pact for Mexico, the political program promoted by President Pena Nieto and the leaders of the Big Three political parties, which implements controversial educational, labor, energy and taxation reforms.
In Chiapas, for instance, teachers, labor unions, university students, farmers, and community activists have forged the Unitary Struggle Front from the fire of the teacher strike.
“This will help us because from now on every struggle will be shared by the working class and not just a particular sector,” said Alejandro Ovando Rodriguez, front spokesman. “That’s because the education, tax and energy reforms will affect all the Mexican people.”
This week, even as sizable chunks of the country were reeling from the left- right double punch delivered by Hurricane Ingrid and Tropical Storm Manuel, teachers and their allies intensified their protests.
Thousands of educators blocked not only the glitzy hotel zone of touristic Cancun for a repeat time, but temporarily cut off the principal access points to the entire city. Fellow teachers in Tlaxcala did the same thing.
In Baja California, teachers infuriated by the state government’s initiation of firing procedures against 75 strikers and the levying of fines against hundreds of others, blockaded commercial export lanes in the border city of Tijuana and announced the expansion of protests to Mexicali, Tecate, Ensenada, and the agro-export region of the San Quintin Valley. In Chiapas, where an estimated 70,000 teachers and their supporters staged a September 14 protest rally, rank-and-file members of the official SNTE union issued a call for a “teacher and popular uprising” and later occupied a Pemex plant.
As the week wore on, rolling work stoppages were reported in Michoacan and other states. Contingents of pro-movement parents, students and small farmers turned out for marches in Veracruz and elsewhere.
“If there is repression, there will be revolution!” chanted students and teachers in Xalapa, Veracruz, where police violently broke up a protest on the city plaza last weekend.
In Mexico City, thousands of public school teachers from around the country were undeterred by the government’s eviction of their protest encampment last week. Now reinforced by university students and faculty, the movement flexed its muscle with more street marches and demonstrations outside commercial television stations the protestors accuse of being behind a concerted campaign of teacher-bashing.
“The protests have made evident the enormous incapacity of politicians and media personalities to understand the nature, composition and behavior of the national teachers,” wrote La Jornada columnist Luis Hernandez Navarro.
“Every two days, an imminent end to the problem and a return of the teachers to the states is announced. The press even shows pictures of teachers packing their suitcases. Despite this, every day more teachers arrive in Mexico City and increase their protests in other places of the country.”
Organizationally separate from but ideologically akin to the teachers’ movement, another anti-Pact for Mexico mobilization picked up steam this week when a group of prominent politicians, intellectuals and activists issued a four-point statement that rejected President Pena Nieto’s education, energy and tax reforms as harmful to national interests.
Among the personalities issuing the call for peaceful civil resistance were Coahuila Bishop Raul Vera, former national university rector Pablo Gonzalez Casanova and human rights activist Miguel Concha. The appeal was jointly supported by left opposition leaders Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, two men who had long been politically distanced.
In a statement, the group slammed a “media campaign of lynching” against the “just causes” of the teachers, and urged the Mexican people to resist the “sacking of the nation and of our people that the government and transnational oil companies promote.”
In recent days, Mother Nature tossed another ingredient into an already boiling political stew. “Biblical” rains and flooding unleashed by Hurricane Ingrid on the Gulf coast and Tropical Storm Manuel on the Pacific side of the nation disrupted the lives of more than one million people and caused nearly 100 deaths, with the number of fatalities likely to reach much higher. Neighborhoods and commercial centers were inundated, highways and bridges washed out, homes buried in mud, and rural communities isolated.
The storms laid bare the myriad social and economic contradictions always simmering beneath the surface of Mexican life: rural versus urban, rich versus poor, indigenous versus non-indigenous, developed versus undeveloped, government versus society.
Already, sharp polemics are raging over the alleged unpreparedness of the government to first warn of and then respond to the double disasters. In Mexico and Latin America, natural disasters, which always contain a large man-made component, frequently have significant political consequences, as witnessed by the 1972 Nicaraguan earthquake that spelled doom for the long-running Somoza regime, or the 1985 Mexico City earthquake that is widely credited for eventually helping bring about an end to the domination of the Institutional Revolutionary Party.
Perhaps with history in mind, President Pena Nieto has been careful to visit Acapulco twice since Manuel slammed into the city. Manuel’s impact was hardest felt in the southern state of Guerrero, a stronghold of
the teacher and other social movements.
“Chilpancingo is totally collapsed,” is how Mayor Mario Moreno described the situation in the Guerrero state capital in the aftermath of Manuel. In the countryside, scores of communities were rendered incommunicado and the threat of hunger and deprivation mounted.
In a statement, the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain, a non-governmental organization which works closely with indigenous communities in the impoverished La Montana region, sharply criticized the government response to Manuel.
“There is a complete lack of coordination among the three levels of government and there is no political representation that is attending with speed the proposals and demands of the victims,” Tlachinollan charged.
“Until now, the victims of La Montana are not receiving sufficient attention from government agencies, and the worst consequences of these natural disasters falls on the population of the region in extreme poverty. Once again, the most marginalized men and women are also the most forgotten. “
In Guerrero’s biggest city and its environs, Acapulco, scenes of chaos erupted after the tourist resort suffered its worst disaster since 1997’s Hurricane Paulina, an event which also had a political impact. In the wake of Manuel, residents and tourists denounced food and water shortages, price gouging by some merchants and abandonment by government authorities. Some flood victims blocked roads demanding relief, while others looted big department stores.
On the other hand, utility company work crews in Acapulco and the community police of the CRAC in the Tixtla region were praised for quickly responding to the disaster and working to restore services and assist the population.
In Chilpancingo, business leaders declared that the government was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster and announced the formation of the “Let’s Raise Up Chilpancingo” collective to activate civil society alongside the Red Cross in flood relief.
Acapuclo, meanwhile, is expected to be without running water for up to three weeks because of severe damage to the city’s water delivery system. Striking on the September 16 holiday weekend, Manuel hit Acapulco when an estimated 40,000 mainly Mexican tourists were in town, or so they thought, for a three-day beach break from the daily druthers.
But with the Acapulco-Mexico City highway shut down from storm damage and the airport inoperative due to flooding, many visitors remained trapped in the city as the week dragged on and a blistering sun beat down on them. In response to the crisis, the federal government began flying tourists home from the Pie de la Cuesta military base outside the city. There, scuffles broke out between soldiers and tourists desperate to board flights. Less affluent tourists hurled complaints of discrimination, charging that soldiers were allowing well-heeled or well-connected tourists to cut in line.
One reporter sketched a scene of soldiers escorting “couples followed by their domestic employees carrying the children.” Nieces of soldiers, the writer continued, were afforded VIP treatment, as were their friends and “tourists with clear skin, and ‘good girls’ without a hair out of place and dressed like it was for a vacation fashion catalog.”
In the middle of a swirling enviro-political storm, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden landed in Mexico City for meetings with President Pena Nieto and other officials. Biden gave an endorsement to the Pena Nieto government’s education and other reforms as “necessary,” and the vice-president’s office noted U.S. and Mexican economic ties as a backdrop to the trip.
“The global competitiveness of both our countries requires continued and deepened economic integration, commercial exchanges and policy alignment,” Biden’s office stated.
As the fall season kicks in, the after-effects of Ingrid and Manuel, the militancy of the teacher movement, protests against the upcoming energy and taxation legislative packages, and a host of other contentious local and regional issues are all carving out a quite surprising and explosive political landscape.
Sources: El Sol de Tijuana, September 20, 2013. Article by Daniel Angel. El Universal, September 19, 2013. Article by Carina Garcia. Proceso/Apro, September 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 2013. Articles by Isain Mandujano, Jenaro Villamil, Alvardo Delgado, Marcela Turati, and editorial staff.
La Jornada, September 18, 19 and 20, 2013. Articles by Rosa Elvira Vargas, Carlos Paul, Alma E. Munoz, Luis Hernandez Navarro, Georgina Saldierna, Roberto Gonzalez Amador, Karina Aviles, Laura Poy, Notimex, and editorial staff. La Jornada (Guerrero edition), September 17, 18, 19, and 20, 2013. Articles by Citlal Giles Sanchez, Francisca Meza Carranza, Hector Briseno, and editorial staff. El Sur, September 18 and 19, 2013. Articles by Daniel Velazquez, Aurora Harrison, Karina Contreras, Francisco Magana, correspondents, and editorial staff. El Diario de Juarez/El Universal, September 17, 2013.
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