Mexico Police Repress Opponents of Neoliberal School Reform
Through harassment, arbitrary detention and violence, Mexico sweeps teachers and students
OSCAR LEÓN, TRNN PRODUCER: On Friday the 13th at 4 p.m. local time, 3,600 riot cops, backed up by military units on standby, evicted thousands of teachers from all over the country who were protesting what they consider an attack on their labor rights. They have been occupying el Zócalo Plaza in the heart of the capital for 5 months now.
And while the great majority of teachers retreated to observe Mexico’s “cry of independence” day on September 15 and 16, 29 of them where arrested that day. Now they are charged with injuring 11 police agents while fighting back the eviction of their encampment.
During the aftermath of the eviction, a post came out in social media claiming the detention of an American citizen, Wesley Marshal, who had been riding his bicycle near el Zócalo. The Real News contacted Wesley to set it on record.
WESLEY MARSHALL, LECTURER AT UNAM, MEXICO DF: I’ve been in Mexico for about 11 years. I came here to do my master’s, and I stayed on to do my doctorate, post-doctorate. And now I’m working as a professor.
On Friday the 13th, I was at home working. I saw some very worrying images on the internet about what was happening in the Zócalo when they were about to force all the teachers out. I heard and saw the Blackhawks overhead. And I was very worried about my girlfriend, who’s [miEri]. So I went over to get her on my bicycle.
I did manage to find her right outside of where the area of conflict was. And as soon as I picked her up, that’s when we saw a confrontation about 50 meters in front of us of some supposed archivists throwing objects, bottles, rocks at the police. The police then bum rushed us from the north and from the south, kettled us all in, threw rocks at us, beat some people in front, and then detained the rest of us. They allowed the injured to leave, then the women to leave, and then the striking teachers with their credential to leave. And then the rest of us who were left were basically people like me, in the wrong place at the wrong time, some people who had been supporting the teachers. And we were all taken to the command center and we were all eventually charged with mutiny. And I am still charged with mutiny.
And the reforms being pushed through are very anti-popular, and the populace in general is aware of how they will negatively impact on them. And the only way of any sort of political communication here is through peaceful protest on the street. Once we eliminate that, we’ve really cut off all dialog and all opportunity for people to have some sort of voice in the political system.
LEÓN: Since assuming presidency, Enrique Peña Nieto has faced protest and opposition of diverse social groups, like the students of #yosoy132, the farmers, the teachers, and a great numbers of citizens who oppose the president’s plan to open Pemex, Mexico oil company, to the market.
Not only the teachers have been treated with a heavy hand. The young students protesting with the movement #yosoy132 not only faced police brutality, but also persecution, intimidation, and arbitrary detention, like in this video where students are detained for having a political conversation in a public place, in Mexico’s capital city’s subway system.
PEOPLE IN THE SUBWAY: They haven’t done nothing wrong.
Leave them alone. They were just talking.
PEOPLE ADDRESSING THE POLICE: Hurry up. We need to keep moving.
Leave then alone. They were doing nothing wrong.
They were just talking. Let them go.
No, don’t take them. Hey!
They were just talking. Don’t take them.
LEÓN: You can see how they are taken away for merely speaking in public.
The neoliberal policies are hurting Mexican society, and protest has been heavily repressed. We asked John Ackerman, professor at the Institute of Legal Research of the UNAM, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
PROF. JOHN MILL ACKERMAN, INSTITUTE OF LEGAL RESEARCH, UNAM: Mexico is not a democracy. Our elections are rigged in Mexico. The last two presidential elections have been very unclear who the real winner is and who was actually playing by the rules. If democracy is a system in which political actors play by the rules and there is fair competition, Mexico is not a democracy. The last two presidential elections, 2006 and 2012, have been elections in which the oligarchy has imposed its candidates through fraud, through overspending, through vote buying. The Mexican people do not feel reflected, represented by their president, by their political class.
Today, Mexico is in a situation very similar to how Venezuela was before Hugo Chávez, how Ecuador was before Rafael Correa, how Bolivia was before Evo Morales, of total discredit of the political class and of public institutions, and of–actually, kind of worse, because in those countries there was still faith in the electoral process. All three of those presidents came to power and have been reelected through democratic means, elections. In Mexico, after these last two presidential elections, society is disenchanted, to say the least, with the electoral process.
And so they’ve taken to the streets to protest these neoliberal reforms, which have not let up for the last 30 years. And this protest is met with, once again, authoritarian repression, arbitrary detentions. And what’s–most puts the fear of God into this political class is precisely the union, the synthesis between different social movements, students, teachers, peasants. And that’s what’s started to happen. And that’s why the police have responded in this way: in order to stop society from organizing and demonstrating to this corrupt political class that democracy is possible in Mexico, but it’s a democracy that has to come from below.
ENRIQUE PEÑA NIETO, MEXICAN PRESIDENT: Fellow Mexicans, long live the heroes that gave us liberty!
LEÓN: Enrique Peña Nieto celebrated the “cry of independence” at el Zócalo, in front of a friendly crowd and a lot of security. Now el Zócalo has been sealed to prevent any return by the teachers, who are now camping on the Monument to the Revolution. On Wednesday, many marches where reported all around the country, in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Xalapa, and other regions.
On Sunday, September 22, the National Teachers Union will join forces with MORENA, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s political movement, runner up in the last three elections, which some claim he actually won. This cohesion by many social groups and movements as an articulated opposition has replaced the classical political party dynamics, since most of the political parties are acting as Peña Nieto’s allies.
It remains to be seen what impact the protests will have on the implementation of Enrique Peña Nieto’s political agenda.
Reporting for The Real News, this is Oscar León.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.