Pause in teachers’ protest allows Mexico to celebrate its independence

Demonstrators are dislodged from the Zócalo so that “grito” ceremony can take place

Paula Chouza
Mexico City -
Mexico City's Zócalo square after protesting teachers were evicted on Friday.
Mexico City's Zócalo square after protesting teachers were evicted on Friday.SAÚL RUIZ

Protesting Mexican teachers are hoping to retake Mexico City’s main square after they were dislodged over the weekend to make way for the country’s Independence Day celebrations.

Negotiations between teachers’ groups and the national and Federal District governments failed to reach an agreement after protestors were asked to leave the Zócalo so that the traditional Dieciséis de septiembre festivities could be held.

Squads of riot police descended on the historic square on Friday to clear the plaza by force. Protestors swung pipes and threw objects at authorities as helicopters hovered above them. But by the afternoon the entire Zócalo was empty.

Now the National Education Workers Coordinating Group (CNTE) – a dissident faction of the country’s most powerful SNTE teachers union – has decided to send in protesting teachers once again after Monday’s military parade is over.

The government is aware that this [education reform] will produce resistance ”

Waving the tricolor Mexican flag more than 30 times, President Enrique Peña Nieto delivered his first gritos – or “vivas” to all the people who helped Mexico obtain its independence – on Sunday night. It was the first year he had taken part in this tradition, which is carried out by presidents in office.

Since his swearing in last December, Peña Nieto has introduced a series of proposed reforms that have encountered skepticism and resistance from different sectors. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) president insists that the reforms, including restructuring the educational system, introducing universal social security and opening the state-owned oil sector to private investment, are needed to modernize Mexican society.

Despite the eviction of dozens of camps on Friday, authorities had expected that the protesting teachers would return to the Zócalo. Afterwards, Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, the president’s chief of staff, said: “Today’s incidents don’t solve the teachers’ requirements.

“The government is aware that this transformation [education reform] will produce resistance,” Osorio Chong said.

The teachers have called nationwide protests against Peña Nieto’s reform, which plans to take away power from the influential Syndicate of National Education Workers, including the hiring process for classrooms.

At the same time, protesting teachers and their supporters continue to camp out at the Monument to the Revolution near the Zócalo. On Sunday members of the CNTE held a march on the Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City’s main artery, to coincide with Peña Nieto’s grito ceremony.

In Oaxaca, some 1,000 teachers also paralyzed the streets of the city on Saturday during their own demonstrations.

It is not known whether police will remain at Zócalo after the military parade. Some 4,000 officers from the Federal District’s public security force combined with about 708 patrols and a helicopter guarded the Zócalo during Peña Nieto’s appearance.

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