Mexican police have attacked members of a radical teachers union who were striking against neoliberal education reforms in the southern state of Oaxaca, leaving nine people dead and over 100 injured.
Police had been attempting to remove teachers from a road blockade on the Oaxaca-Puebla highway when the gunfire starting, causing a four hour clash between the police and protesters that quickly turned violent as the demonstrators threw stones and Molotov cocktails while also burning vehicles, reports The Boston Herald.
“The resistance is peaceful but we are preparing barricades for the evacuation and excessive repression by the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto,” said a spokesman for the CNTE’s Section 22 who declined to give his name for fear of reprisals.
The blockade had been set up by teachers from the National Coordinator of Education Workers, or CNTE union, referred to as Section 22, in an attempt to raise awareness of an education reform implemented by President Enrique Peña Nieto, as well as the arrest of several union leaders that occurred over the last week.
The reform was introduced by Peña Nieto in 2013, requiring teacher evaluations in order to determine which applicants would be placed in the open positions throughout the public school system across the nation.
Critics argue that the mandatory testing has created an excuse for mass layoffs and does not actually effectively measure teaching skills such as the knowledge and skills required to teach in rural areas or indigenous communities.
A spokesperson for the union noted in a statement that included in the number of those who died were Andres Aguilar Sanabria, 23, and Santiago Jimenez Aylin, 28, who were both trainee teacher students.
The statement went on to say that the police were to blame for the violence, referring to it as an “attack,” and pushing the government to begin talks with the teachers on strike.
Five deaths have been confirmed by the public prosecutor’s office in Oaxaca. However, Proceso magazine reported six deaths, while the CNTE union states nine have died in all.
Police reported that at least 21 arrests were made.
Reports on social media state that the injured were left untreated after the police took over the hospital in Nochixtlan, only allowing injured police to receive treatment there. Claims suggest that injured protesters were instead treated at a nearby church.
In a separate incident, violence erupted between teachers and police in the city port of Salina Cruz, also located in Oaxaca, as the group was trying to block the road that connects the state with those along the Pacific Ocean. While local media has reported dozens of teachers being injured as a result of the clash and dozens more arrested, local authorities have not released an official statement yet.
Last week, Renato Sales Heredia, national security commissioner, announced that the government would be making use of force when necessary in order to push back against the groups of protesting teachers. Heredia said that a “moderate use of force” would be employed in these instances, but only as a “last resort.”