Thousands of federal and state police troops were dispatched in mid-July to the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico to guard strategic buildings, patrol the skies and ensure that protesters cannot take over local radio stations.
The aim of this heightened police militarization? To prevent protesting teachers from exerting pressure on the administration of Gabino Cué Monteagudo, the current governor of Oaxaca, in their efforts to resist nationally imposed education reforms.
Protesting teachers have argued that the reforms, which were approved in 2013 by the Federal Congress and are being implemented in every state in Mexico, seek to reframe education as a private service, replacing current teachers with new workers who work on contract and have no labor rights.
“This is not an education reform as much as it is a labor reform; what they want is for the state to stop offering free and public education,” said Dolores Villalobos, a teacher and member of the Section 22 teacher’s union, which is part of the National Organization of Education Workers (CNTE).
“Before, the state had an obligation to provide public education,” Villalobos told Truthout. “As part of the reform that is changing. The concept is now just a ‘guarantee’ of education, and this means that there won’t be requirements, and it will be privatized. At the root of it, they want to reduce the number of education workers. With the reform it will become a system of contracts for one or two years, with no benefits.”
Teachers in Oaxaca, Michoacan and Guerrero have resisted the implementation of the reforms, arguing that the principal objective of the changes is the privatization of education.
With the backing of President Enrique Peña Nieto, Oaxaca’s governor took a major step to repress this resistance on July 21 by seizing control of the State Institute of Public Education of Oaxaca, which had previously been in control of the teachers of the Section 22 teacher’s union, which is part of CNTE (the dissident teachers’ union). Subsequently, the government canceled the CNTE’s bank accounts, blocked their radio channel and issued 32 arrest warrants for union leaders in the state of Oaxaca.
The intensification of the militarization process, which began after the state elections in June, has now become acute. Thousands of federal and state police troops were sent to guard strategic sites such as the plant belonging to the state-owned petroleum company Mexican Petroleum (Pemex), the state’s airports and tourist destinations on the Pacific Coast in Puerto Escondido and Huatulco. In Oaxaca City, nine federal police helicopters patrolled the skies, protecting malls, gas stations and radio stations so that they could not be taken over by the teachers’ union as a way to put pressure on the government, like they did during the education protests of 2006.