The Mexican government’s vicious attacks against teachers and their allies in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca has resulted in the deaths of over 100 locals. Without fearing international pressure, the government has confronted protests carried out by the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), a teachers’ union, with armed police officers and ritualistic brutality.
The CNTE chapter in Oaxaca, known as Sección 22, has shut down streets, erected barricades, and found other means to rebel against neoliberal education reform, as well as representatives of the state who threaten to strip them of job security and further damage an already struggling education system.
Shadowproof spoke to laborer and activist Tony Rodriguez, who has been documenting these protests by way of social media, about Oaxaca’s history of rebellion, and the results of direct action and militant protests.
Rodriguez described Oaxaca as “a thorn in the side of the government for quite some time now since it does have a history of insurrection, most notably the 2006 Oaxaca commune.”
Over the last few years, CNTE, as well as other teachers’ unions, have organized against neoliberal education reform, leading them to become the backbone of the left in Mexico.
“Large sit-in encampments in public squares were common and were usually met with violent repression at the hands of police. More recently, blockades such as the one in Nochixtlán were met with more deadly force, using live ammunition that resulted in 9 people getting killed with around dozens wounded. The treatment of teachers in Oaxaca isn’t unique, the government is going after teacher’s unions and their movements anywhere. Just last year, cops beat an elderly teacher to death at a protest in Acapulco.”
Rodriguez noted the subjugation in Oaxaca and Guerrero, Mexico’s poorest states, happens on a much more brutal scale than in other parts of Mexico. This likely factors into how leftist movements have mobilized and chosen to engage in militant resistance.
These states are also where there are large indigenous populations. Neoliberal reforms endanger native tongues, since the government wants to push English and Spanish before their respective languages.
Support from the Mixteco people is one great example of the indigenous support for the teachers. They are viewed as “one of the few resources that are there for them since the government obviously leaves them with nothing.”
Protests have been ongoing since Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government announced its education reform proposal in 2012, which included the standardized evaluations of public school teachers.
Rodriguez tells Shadowproof that these protests intensified after the governor of Oaxaca, Gabino Cué Monteagudo, “went back on his word that he wouldn’t implement the reforms.” Protesters have gone on to receive more support from their respective communities, “particularly in the poorer areas where teaching is seen as not only a highly important part of educating their children, but also an opportunity to pull them out of crippling poverty.”
Community support for these protests is building, in part, due to what is seen as “an attack on the Normales schooling system, which involves teaching student-teachers leftist ideals so they in-turn go and teach in the poorest communities and pass on those politics.”
Solidarity with the teachers’ unions and activists rallying behind them is growing. Rodriguez says that many working class Mexicans and even “a good number of middle class Mexicans” are now rallying behind the teachers.
“University students are some of the most supportive as they immediately organized blockades of their own with marches and planned student strikes. They see the teachers’ struggle as part of their own.”
As the protests continue, Rodriguez says that many people he’s spoken to feel alone, “as if nobody in the world is seeing their dead, so it’s like they feel helpless.” But this hasn’t stopped those in Oaxaca from demanding not only that the neoliberal reforms be crushed, but for the building of a larger movement to find out what became of the more than 100 missing students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa.
What’s most inspiring, despite the struggles that lay ahead, is that leftist groups are united in this fight. Rodriguez tells Shadowproof that a “solidarity coalition” has appeared, with anarchists assisting in the erection of barricades in Oaxaca, “and socialists helping organize solidarity protests throughout the country.” As the rebellion in Oaxaca continues, “The government of Mexico has international silence firmly on its side, specifically silence on the part of Barack Obama’s administration. But the rebellion continues nonetheless.”