Police vs Teachers leaves 12 Dead, 100 injured: What’s really happening in Oaxaca?

Oaxaca, Mexico (TFC) – The headlines are terrifying. The images are poignant. A battle in the street between teachers and cops has caught the world’s attention, but the story doesn’t begin there, nor is it likely to end there.

The protests that sprang up recently were triggered by a bizarre series of arrests made by the government of Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s President. The arrests targeted leaders of the teacher’s union. By most accounts, the charges are bogus or at least severely inflated. One of the union officials was arrested for stealing textbooks. Even in corruption prone Mexico, a black market for school textbooks has yet to show its face. Unsurprisingly, those arrested were also political opponents of Enrique Peña Nieto. The teacher’s union adamantly opposes the President’s reforms. The reforms are part of the President’s neoliberal campaign promises, and many in the union see them as a death blow to education in Mexico, particularly for the rural and indigenous communities. Some in the union are fearful of massive layoffs.

After the arrests, the teachers took to the streets and used escalating tactics to gain world attention. By all accounts, the teachers attempted nonviolence. However, the decision was made to block roads in the area. These roadblocks served to gain public attention, but they also disrupted the operations of a large refinery in the region owned by Pemex. The police moved in to tear down the barricades.

Image Source: TUBS, Creative Commons

Image Source: TUBS, Creative Commons

Pemex is a state-owned oil company that has been the source of scandal for the President. One of which, was the installation of his niece as highly-paid executive in a position for which she was completely unqualified. That isn’t hyperbole, she literally had no qualifications for the position. None. She graduated from university the year before. In a unique twist of fate the story of nepotism was broke by Aristegui Noticias. That outlet was founded by Carmen Aristegui after she was fired by MVS. She was fired because her team produced a segment about corruption and a $7 million dollar (US) mansion. The center of that scandal was, of course, President Enrique Peña Nieto.

When the police moved in, gunfire erupted. The government’s position is that some unidentified third party opened fire on police and the teachers to cause chaos. However, witnesses give a different version of events:

As soon as they [the police] arrived, they began to attack. And we were few, very few. Then we started running. But they began to attack right away, instantly. At no time did they give warning to clear the area. They began to attack right away.

In the barrage of gunfire, 12 people were killed. The clashes have left about 100 injured. The injuries have been split evenly between police and protesters. Government ministers have started resigning in protest of the repression. The labor minister stated he was resigning because of the

“authoritarian actions that repress and kill Oaxacan people who defend their rights and the government’s negligence to any possibility of dialogue.”

In most cases, it is difficult to unquestioningly side with dissidents. There are always lingering questions. Of course, in February of this year Foreign Policy boldly declared “Mexico is not a functioning democracy”. The corruption of the President has reached heights beyond even the worst stereotypes of Latin American governments. Even the Pope has spoke out against the systematic corruption. The President has promised an investigation. Undoubtedly, after the forces investigate themselves, they will find they did nothing wrong.

For their part, the teachers and locals show no signs of giving up.

…we are saying no very firmly to all the so-called structural reforms that mean basically a change of only ownership. They are selling our land, our territory. The people are resisting. And then we are resisting with them to oppose this kind of operation. This is a very complex war that just started. We are at the beginning of this very complex war against us, against our territory.