Teachers Protest Mexico’s Education Reforms

Thousands of teachers are protesting against the Mexican government’s new educational reform bill that is designed to introduce teacher evaluations and reduce union power over hiring decisions, according to Olga R. Rodriguez of The Associated Press.

The new bill, parts of which were approved by the lower house, introduces teacher evaluations and reduces the power of corruption-ridden unions in hiring teachers.

On August 23, striking teachers “strangled traffic and blocked access to Mexico City’s international airport. Several thousand teachers blocked the main expressway leading to the airport; they had vowed to seize the terminal, but police were called in to block the march.”

The comprehensive education reform bill, signed by Mexican President Enrique Pena, will weaken the union’s power substantially in the country’s education system. The law – which will usher in changes on a scale that the country has not seen in more than 30 years – seeks to break the system by which teaching and administrator positions are not granted on merit but are instead sold or inherited.

The legislation had a tough time making its way into law, but was eventually approved by the country’s Legislature and gained support from the majority of lawmaking bodies in the country’s individual states. It is considered a great victory for Nieto, whose Institutional Revolutionary Party swept into power on the promises of sweeping reform.

Mexico City residents, weary of almost a week of constant protests, are expressing anger at city authorities “who seemingly allowed the teachers to block as many streets as they wanted.”

“Unfortunately, this happens because the government allows it,” said businessman Jose Marmolejo, who was stuck in snarling traffic for three hours before reaching the airport. “These teachers are not from Mexico City and they don’t understand the chaos they are creating.”

Hundreds of striking teachers who belong to the radical teachers’ union called CNTE began gathering in Mexico City. The teachers battled police at the Congress building and later blockaded streets around the building, forcing lawmakers to meet in a convention center to vote on the education reform bill.

Mexico City police chief Jesus Rodriguez Almeida defended the non-confrontational approach of the city’s leftist government. Past demonstrations have shown that the city’s police do not have the training or skills to contain such protests without using excessive force. “We are avoiding confrontation at all cost, to avoid bloodshed, to avoid this becoming a battle ground,” Rodriguez Almeida told local media.

Claudio Mendoza is a teacher from Oaxaca, who traveled to Mexico City to take part in the protest. Mendoza said that teachers plan to remain in the blockade until the federal government heeds their demands.

“We have asked the Mexican people to join our protest,” Mendoza said. “We are sorry we are affecting regular citizens but this is the only option the government has left us.”