Hundreds of academic, religious, popular, student, human and social rights organizations around the world signed a document Friday that condemns the “brutal repression” exerted by the Mexican government against teachers who reject the education reform by President Enrique Peña Nieto.
The letter was read Friday during a mass protest in Mexico City in which more than 14,000 people took part to demand the president and his education minister negotiate the reform, demanding the release of leaders who were arrested last week and currently face what they consider “wrongful convictions."
“We think that the authorities must commit to dialogue, recognizing the just demands of the teachers' movement, and not to force to solve this and any other conflict, especially in a country marked by violence and impunity,” the letter states.
Coming from the southern states of Oaxaca, Chiapas and Guerrero, all three of which are victims of widespread violence and impunity, the teachers belong to the CNTE union and Section 22 of the Mexican National Educational Workers Union (SNTE). They have been conducting a series of strikes since May, demanding talks with Pesident Nieto and his Minister of Education Aurelio Nuño.
"No to privatization of education and political prisoners. Freedom," reads a protester's banner.
Arriving in buses and joining their striking teachers, colleages who were already in Mexico City occupied a public square close to the education minister in the historic center of the Mexican capital.
Meanwhile, the government responded with a huge contingent of officers who were deployed near the main square of Mexico City, known as Zocalo, which holds the president’s office.
“It was an exaggerated thing, there were up to ten rows of riot police making a human strength that prevented access of teachers” said journalist Miriam Lira to teleSUR.
Striking teachers want the government to eliminate the evaluations clause contained in the reform and have tried to discuss it with the government, however the government has a heavy hand on its reform and has said that there will be no negotiation.
Peña Nieto unveiled an education reform in 2013 as part of a set of 11 neoliberal structural reforms implemented in his first 20 months of power. Since then teachers have been protesting, mostly in the violent southeast states where millions of children have been affected by the strikes.
The controversial law imposes teacher evaluations in order to determine which applicants will be chosen to fill open posts in the public school system nationwide. Critics say the testing only justifies mass layoffs and does not effectively measure teaching skills, like the special knowledge and demeanor needed to teach in rural areas and Indigenous communities.