Striking teachers celebrated a meeting between Mexican officials and union leaders on Wednesday night as an achievement of the popular movement, sparked by neoliberal education reforms and harsh government repression against protests in the southern state of Oaxaca, that put pressure on authorities to agree to talks.
But tensions have yet to be smoothed over as details of state intimidation and threats of forced disappearance against leaders continue to surface and the union has vowed to keep protesting until their demands are met.
The meeting between Interior Minister Osorio Chong and members of the CNTE teachers' union from different states was held to work toward resolving the conflict.
The CNTE representatives said they were “very clear” that their goal is to see “the repeal of the disastrous education reform” and that their mobilizations won’t stop until the government meet their demands, the Mexican daily La Jornada reported Thursday.
The union has been calling for dialogue for months, but recent escalation of protests with road blockades in Oaxaca over the weekend and outrage over a violent government crackdown killing up to 12 people finally pushed the government to respond. The teachers reject neoliberal education reforms introduced by President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government, including mass layoffs and the criminalization of union leaders.
Meanwhile, reports of threats against striking teachers and their supporters suggest that state agents remain bent on continuing to intimidate and deter protesters.
A teacher released late Tuesday after being arrested in the protests that rocked the city of Nochixtlan, Oaxaca, on Sunday said that he feared for his life while detained alongside two others following death threats from officers.
“They were threatening us,” detained teacher Oscar Onesimo Bautista Sarmiento said to the media upon his release in a video circulated by Oaxaca Informada. “They told us that if they had burned and disappeared 43, what couldn’t they do with just three of us.”
The threat was a reference to the 43 Ayotzinapa teacher training students who were victims of enforced disappearance in the violent state of Guerrero in September 2014. The case, which remains unsolved in the face of a lack of political will to thoroughly investigate, has become an iconic symbol of Mexico’s state complicity in forced disappearances and systemic violence with impunity.
Meanwhile, Oaxaca Politico reported that multiple social media users denounced an alleged federal police agent identified as Hugo Vargas for writing insults and threats on Facebook targeting individuals who shared information about the Oaxaca teacher protests and government repression. Vargas reportedly also used Facebook as a platform to mock the victims killed in the violent clashes.
Despite the criminalization, the meeting with Chong was seen as a step forward.
CNTE representative from Michoacan Zavala Hurtado said the meeting marked an important achievement of regaining recognition from the government as “valid partners” in labor and policy negotiations, saying it was a source of “pride” for the union, La Jornada reported.
The union’s representatives are set to meet with federal authorities again next Monday in the hope of delving deeper into key issues on the agenda of thousands of protesting teachers.