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Detention of teacher union leaders sparked clashes between protesters and authorities in southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, tensions likely to remain high in coming weeks

Posted on in Mexico, Uncategorized title_rule

Clashes are likely to continue and intensify in coming weeks as CNTE protests take place across the country, particularly in the union’s stronghold states such as Oaxaca. As a key tourist hotspot those travelling to Oaxaca are likely to experience disruption to travel as protests block main entrances into and out of the city. 

The CNTE was founded in 1979 as a dissident union to the mainstream SNTE and has since been particularly strong in poor southern rural states such as Oaxaca, Chiapas and Guerrero. They are strongly opposed to the government’s 2014 education reform. Despite constant pressure in the last two years the CNTE has refused to stand down to government demands to enact the education reform and are particularly concerned about losing their right to keep a seat at the table with government in determining how teachers are hired. They have constantly asked that the union be included as a partner on education, which the government has rejected.

Over the weekend federal forces detained the secretary general of the National Education Teacher’s Union (CNTE), Rubén Nuñez Ginez, in the state of México, as well as Francisco Villalobos, the leader of the Oaxacan Section 22 of the CNTE. Supporters of the CNTE are calling the detention a “kidnapping” by the state on political grounds. The Attorney General’s Office (PGR) claim that the two union leaders are being held for alleged money laundering, aggravated robbery and illicit enrichment.

The detentions underline the highly politicised nature of the government’s relation with the CNTE, who have maintained pressure on the government to negotiate the terms of the 2014 education reform, which they outright reject. While teacher protests are a regular occurrence in the capital Mexico City, particularly during school holidays, and in other major cities in the south, protesters have upped the ante since the arrests this weekend, constructing road blocks and preventing the federal authorities from entering Oaxaca state by the official highway. 


The CNTE is particularly strong in the poor southern state of Oaxaca, where the union believes rural teachers will be most affected by mass-lay offs and an education reform, which they argue does not respect local teaching practices in rural communities.

The government’s aggressive tactic to detain key leaders saw CNTE members and their families respond with vociferous opposition on Sunday, constructing more than 23 road blocks around Oaxaca city, and disrupting traffic from entering or leaving the city. Entrance and exit to Oaxaca airport and that of the beach town Puerto Escondido have been severely hampered by the roadblocks.  The authorities have responded in a heavy handed manner attempting to clear the protesters, firing tear gas and further inciting tensions between both sides. On Sunday night and Monday night clashes took place between the authorities and protesters throughout Oaxaca city. 

The Oaxaca faction Section 22 of the CNTE has maintained a strong protest movement against the government’s education reform in recent years and at key times – often in the school holidays – the teachers erect makeshift camps in major squares or outside government buildings in protest against the government’s refusal to negotiate on the terms of the reform. Throughout May authorities did not respond to the growing protests and road blocks in the city, likely because they did not want to threaten stability for the major PRI party ahead of the June 5 state election. However, with the PRI winning the state again, the authorities are now more likely to respond in a heavy-handed manner.

As such, tensions are expected to remain extremely strained in the coming weeks with regular clashes unless the government offers an avenue for dialogue or releases the detainees.

The education reform has been a highly contentious element of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s reform agenda. During the June state elections the governing PRI party suffered a series of defeats and the two-year old left-wing group MORENA, led by the charismatic Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador (AMLO) – formerly head of the PRD – made significant strides, notably in Oaxaca. AMLO has come out in support of the protesting teachers, which is likely to intensify the political debate around the education debate. However, with government unlikely to open new routes for dialogue with the CNTE, more disruption and potential violence is likely in the weeks ahead.