MS Risk Blog

Daily demonstrations by the teacher’s union in Mexico underline widespread disillusionment with the government, amid rising levels of violence

Posted on in Mexico title_rule

June and July have seen daily demonstrations by the National Education Teacher´s Union (CNTE- Spanish abbreviation) across a number of states in Mexico, in particular the southern states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca, as well as in the capital, Mexico City.

The CNTE continue to vociferously oppose the government´s education reform and has been actively protesting since 2012. However, this summer events have seen increased tensions between state authorities and the protesters, following the June detention of two key union leaders, which was labelled by CNTE supporters as an act of “political disappearance”.

In late June the protests became particularly violent during a road blockade in Nochixtlán, on the main highway out of Oaxaca by a PEMEX refinery. The blockade turned violent as factions of the federal police and gendarmerie encircled the protesters and allegedly pushed them back into the town. Seven people were killed during the clashes and tens of citizens were injured. In a normally peaceful rural town, the clashes have left a significant mark on the local population and many questions still to be answered. Why did the police push the protesters back into the town, where they knew any clashes were likely to also involve bystanders, including children. A normally peaceful rural town, the events in Nochixtlán have left a significant mark on the local population and more wider across the country as the authorities have been slow to give clarity surrounding the events of the night. While at first the police claimed they were not armed, pictures circling on social media quickly contradicted this. The question thus remains, who fired the first shot? 

An independent Ombudsman report is investigating why federal police entered into the town blocking off certain areas, rather than removing the protest from the highway. As the town remains in a state of shock following the violent incidents, protesters both in Oaxaca and across the country increasingly blame the police for heavy-handed measures further polarising the protesters and factions of the state.

On 20 July in the southern state of Chiapas, another CNTE heartland, factions of the police removed a CNTE road protest on the highway between San Cristobal (state capital) and Tuxtla Gutiérrez. Events became violent as the police set the camp on fire and clashed with protesters. Such events are becoming increasingly common as the CNTE have set up road-blocks across numerous state highways. This is significantly affecting businesses, most small and multinational, who are unable to move their cargo across swathes of the country and are reportedly losing vast amounts of money.

The capital, Mexico City, is brought to a standstill most days as the major thoroughfare Reforma Avenue is closed off for CNTE protests, these usually take place during peak afternoon traffic times. While this significantly affects those travelling into and out of the city, the protests continue to be peaceful with the police allowing protesters to march along Reforma avenue, with a heavy police presence. Yet, as the summer holidays enter into their second month the protests are noticeably increasing in volume and size and the government remains silent with no cohesive plan to negotiate with the CNTE. 

While the protests are organised by the CNTE, they have moved from just focusing on the education reform and are a wider manifestation of widespread disillusion with the government. Protesters chant against entrenched political corruption, human rights abuses and the on-going humanitarian crisis concerning those who have ¨disappeared¨ with no one held accountable. At the same time, violent crime statistics are rising throughout the country to levels seen under former-president Felipe Calderon´s administration during the peak of the ¨war on drugs¨.

As Mexico enters into the third stage of the government´s six-year tenure in office,the protests are likely to grow louder and stronger as citizens put pressure on the political elite to give way to a new form of politics. Independent candidates are increasingly popular, as the electorate move away from the traditional bastions of the right – the National Action Party (PAN), the left – the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) and the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The rise of political academic Denise Dresser will be an interesting element to watch in future politics, as well as the left-wing MORENA party, who actively support the CNTE and are strongly opposed to the country’s energy reform, enacted by the government in 2013.