A group of Mexican teachers and school administrators had their heads forcibly shaved in public for not joining the teachers’ strike in the southern Mexican town of Comitan.
After they defied a strike, 14 school workers were marched barefoot through town, whereupon they had signs strung around their necks that read “traitors to the country” and had their hair shaven. Mexico’s Education Secretary Aurelio Nuno promised he would ensure those responsible were punished.
According to The Telegraph, the victims were traveling from Comitan to Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas to deliver a list of teachers who did not join the protests so that they would not be fired for absenteeism. Along the way, they were taken hostage by members of the Independent Popular Organization Emiliano Zapata (OPIEZ), a radical faction of the National Education Workers Coordination (CNTE) leading the protests.
The strikes began after President Enrique Pena Nieto signed an education reform into law in 2013. The reform diminished the power of union leaders and required that teachers be evaluated on their performance of meeting education standards. Last month, the Mexican government announced that more than 1,000 teachers in Chiapas will be fired for missing work. The announcement, compounded with the pressures on union leaders since the reforms, sparked the demonstrations.
Before the attack, the union enjoyed support among the leading voices of Mexico’s political left, educational organizations, and many young people. They are demanding that cities’ mayors support the cause against the reforms and begin a nationwide pushback against the federal government.
The public shaming, however, has caused a precipitous decline in the group’s public image. Photographs and videos depicting old women having their heads shaved while throngs of young people encircle them laughing and photographing have gone viral and sparked an national outcry on social media.
Angry posts and tweets have flooded cyberspace, and the hashtag #chiapas has gone viral. “Outrageous. In Comitan, Chiapas teachers’ heads are shaved… Because they refused to strike and wanted to go teach class,” read. Another, “These cowardly aggressions from the CNTE against teachers who do work fill me with rage.”
For its part, CNTE’s spokesman Jose Luis Escobar lamented his group’s use of violence and scare tactics. “We cannot endorse the violence,” he said. According to the website Fusion, Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) has fired the protesting teachers involved in the stunt, and the CNTE has tried to characterize the perpetrators as outside infiltrators who do not represent the group’s goals and ideals.
But, as reported by the Panama Post, not all union members renounced the episode in such terms. “What happened today in Comitán I think should be a sign for those teachers who have not yet understood that in this country public education is defended amid the ongoing struggle against the government’s neoliberal policies.”
Whatever the attackers’ motives or role in the union, it seems clear that the union may lose its case in the court of public opinion. One angry tweet read: “What type of idiot can support these criminals that humiliate all of Mexico’s teachers?”