Mexico: Teachers defy repression in fight for education

June 24, 2016

CNTE protest against neoliberal education reform, Mexico City, June 24. Photo: TeleSUR.

Marathon talks between the Mexican government and teachers protesting neoliberal education reforms in the face of deadly repression ended on June 22 with no resolution, TeleSUR English said the next day.

The talks came after a reported 12 people were killed in violent police repression in the southern state of Oaxaca on June 19. The CNTE teachers union had blocked roads in protest against President Enrique Pena Nieto's education reforms.

After the talks, education minister Aurelio Nuno said Mexico “will continue to deepen” the controversial education reform.

Teachers have been protesting the measures since 2013, when Pena Nieto presented education reform as part of a set of 11 radical neoliberal reforms in key areas such as finance, health and the energy sector. The CNTE resumed protests last month and called for a national strike due to the government's refusal to discuss the reform.

CNTE and other critics say the reform is an excuse to engage in huge layoffs, and does not respond to the needs of Mexicans, especially those in marginalised rural and indigenous areas.

The CNTE is also protesting the arrest of its leader in Oaxaca, Ruben Nunez, who is accused of money laundering charges, and his deputy, Francisco Villalobos, accused of stealing textbooks. Supporters say they are innocent and have been targeted for political reasons.

On June 22, Democracy Now! spoke to Gustavo Esteva, founder of the University of the Land in Oaxaca and author of many books, including New Forms of Revolution. Gustavo has also been a columnist for La Jornada. The interview is abridged below.


Can you please explain what has happened this week?|

It is the beginning of the war. And we are surprised and amazed that the authorities are following the script, literally the script of 10 years ago [when huge teacher protests were violently repressed by authorities] — first the teachers' mobilisation, then the sit-in, then the repression.

This is a very complex war. It did not start in Oaxaca. The teachers' struggle is a global struggle. It started in Colombia, in Brazil, in Chile, in the US — everywhere.

And today we are in a war trying to say a very firm no to this kind of [neoliberal] education. We can offer an alternative for education. And we are saying no very firmly to all the so-called structural reforms that mean basically a change of only ownership.

They are selling our land, our territory. The people are resisting. And then we are resisting with them to oppose this kind of operation.

What exactly are the teachers calling for? You talked about a different kind of education. But what exactly are they placing their bodies on the line for, risking death for? And how do you link this to other struggles? Would you link it to the students, the student teachers, who disappeared last year?

The teachers had a whole plan for real education for the indigenous people of Oaxaca. And they are saying no to a reform that put many teachers out of a job. It is not privatisation of education, but abandoning the education, particularly in indigenous areas.

The teachers are joined by the indigenous people, protecting the education, real education, for the children. But the teachers are also saying no to the so-called structural reforms.

Forty percent of Oaxaca has been sold for 50 year concessions to private companies. And the people are resisting, protecting their own territories, because it is basically indigenous territories.

And this is, of course, connected with the case of Ayotzinapa, the 43 [students] that we are still missing. It is again evident that in the case of Mexico, we cannot draw a line separating clearly the world of crime and the world of the institutions.

Are people planning to engage in more actions?

Yes. We are just at the beginning of this battle. This is not the end. It was a very bloody weekend, but this is just the beginning.

We, in Oaxaca, knew very well that after the elections, that they were waiting for the elections to start this kind of repression. For us, the teachers are clearly the target now, because if they suppress the teachers, this will intimidate all the other people resisting.

The authorities did not learn the lesson of 10 years ago. They are following the [same] script.

I want to go back to 2006, when we spoke to you in the midst of a bloody state crackdown on striking school teachers in Oaxaca that sparked a popular uprising that lasted months. The residents of Oaxaca turned the city into an autonomous zone. Where has that movement gone? Has the situation changed in this past decade?

Well, it has deteriorated. It has not improved in these 10 years.

We learned a lot of lessons. The experience is cemented in the hearts and the minds of the people here in Oaxaca. We learned a lot. We will not commit the same mistakes that we committed 10 years ago.

After the teachers' mobilisation, there was a horrible media campaign against the teachers. Then, after that, came the repression.

And this is exactly what we are seeing today. After the teachers' mobilisation, we had a horrible media campaign against them, preparing the public opinion for the repression, and then we had the repression this weekend.

But we learned the lessons. We are prepared. Basically, one of the things that we are saying is that David can always win over Goliath if he fights in his own territory.

We are saying that, for example, the teachers have their own territory, the classroom. They can organise the first, the most important struggle in the classroom, trying to bring back real education for the people in Oaxaca. And second, we want also to be in the streets supporting this struggle.

We are struggling for our life. Our movement has consolidated. We have for the first time, after lessons of 2006, conversations between the teachers and civil society. We have something that we call espacio civil — civil space — where 100 organisations, grassroots organisations, collectives, community organisations, NGOs, many people are together, joining the teachers in this very complex and long struggle. This is just the beginning.

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