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LATIN AMERICA

Mexican government suspends salaries for dissident school teachers

The first official census on how many educators are on the public payroll is released

Luis Pablo Beauregard
Teachers protest in Mexico City last August.
Teachers protest in Mexico City last August.MARIO GUZMÁN (EFE)

Until now, Mexico has never known exactly how many teachers are on the public payroll. This important figure has always been kept a top secret by the National Syndicate of Education Workers (SNTE), the teachers union which has held a powerful grip on the government as a pressure group for many decades.

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration, which wants to curtail the SNTE’s influence, has said it needs to know the precise figure of how many teachers actually teach in the classroom in an effort to develop effective educational strategies.

So for the first time on Tuesday, Education Minister Emilio Chuayffet gave out preliminary numbers and said that the final official figure of pre-school, elementary and high school teachers will be released in March.

As of now the Education Ministry has counted 2,144,991 teachers for Mexico’s more than 25 million students.

About 157,000 dissident teachers, who have been protesting Peña Nieto’s education reform throughout the year, refused to take part in the census. Consequently, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) government has suspended their salaries.

“This census is the first of its kind in Mexico,” said Chuayffet, who was appointed minister soon after Peña Nieto came to office last December with a goal to introduce reforms and break the powerful SNTE’s grip on the education sector.

Nearly 1.5 million workers belong to the SNTE, whose former president Elba Esther Gordillo sits in a jail cell awaiting trial on embezzlement and other corruption charges. Once Mexico’s most powerful woman, Gordillo was arrested by federal police in February after she returned from the United States.

The census was carried out by the National Institute for Statistics and Geography (Inegi), which failed to get a full count in 15 of Mexico’s 31 states because of natural disasters affecting the area or high violence.

In three states – Chiapas, Michocán and Oaxaca – teachers are against the education reform and have carried out mass mobilizations with their supporters. Authorities, nevertheless, believe that in Chiapas – Mexico’s poorest state – there are some 57,293 teachers and 959,838 students who were not counted.

“If there is any teacher who is not included in the payroll, they will not receive a salary. One of the biggest dangers is refusing to be counted,” Chuayffet said.

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