Mexico City: the Teachers’ Protests and the Heaven’s case – Weekly News Summary: August 30

coffee-by-flikr-user-samrevel1The Mexico Institute’s “Weekly News Summary,” released every Friday afternoon summarizes the week’s most prominent Mexico headlines published in the English-language press, as well as the most engaging opinion pieces by Mexican columnists.

What the English-language press had to say…

This week, teachers’ protests were one of the main topics on debate. Mexico City was (is) paralyzed by teachers who belong to the “Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación” union. The main driver of the protests, as reported by The Washington Post, is the Government’s intention to overhaul the nation’s public schools by changing how teachers are hired, fired and evaluated.

As reported on our previous Weekly Summary, the teachers blocked the Nation’s Congress forcing lawmakers to work on the city’s outskirts. They destroyed several cars and blocked the main roads to the airport, causing thousands of passengers to miss their flights. This week the protests continued. They  forced Mexico City’s marathon to reroute, and as   pointed out by The Washington Post, hundreds of ski-mask-wearing, rock-throwing, teachers smashed windows and set fire to the offices of the major political party in Guerrero. Thousands more flooded Mexico City, blocking national TV networks, subway lines and swarming the roads around Los Pinos, the official residence of the President.

Protests have also prompted President Peña Nieto to change the date of his annual State of the Union address. According to the Wall Street Journal, this episode of the Peña Nieto administration could decide the fate of the President’s agenda, which, in addition to the education overhaul also includes a contested proposal to open the state’s oil monopoly to private investment. The Mexico City Chamber of Commerce estimated that teachers have caused lost sales of around $25 million for businesses in downtown commercial and tourist zones, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

On a separate note, other violence-related events occurred in Mexico City. Local authorities discovered a mass grave holding the bodies of 13 people in a poor suburb. Officials on Friday confirmed that five of the bodies belonged to a group of 12 young people who vanished in a mass kidnapping in May from the nightclub “Heaven”. According to Los Angeles Times, prosecutors have removed seven bodies from the grave but reports say a total of 13 were found. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Mexico City authorities say that while the city has seen some shocking events in recent months, figures show a general decline in crime. Forbes similarly pointed out that even with such events, Mexico City remains relatively safe thanks to the sheer number of police it employs.

What Mexican columnists had to say…

This week’s columnists centered in the teachers’ protests that stalled Mexico City. Jorge Fernandez Menendez noted that the lack of a coherent strategy and coordination between the federal and local government to address the teachers union’s demands is a blow to Mexico City’s inhabitants and will likely come at a great political cost. Meanwhile, Jesus Silva-Herzog criticized Mexico City’s Mayor for acting as a spectator of the protests rather than ensuring the access to the City’s public buildings for fear of a blood spill. On Silva-Herzog’s view the Mayor is implicitly acknowledging his government lacks the capacity and technical training to maintain the rule of law in the City.

For Jorge Castaneda, this week has been one of the worst for President Enrique Peña Nieto. Not only did Cuauthemoc Cardenas strongly reject the Energy Reform, the PRD refused to approve the Teachers Professional Service Law, expected GDP growth diminished to 1.8% and the President had to cancel an official visit to Turkey in the midst of the teacher’s protests. For Castañeda, this calls for a change in strategy by the President: to leave aside the “Pacto por Mexico” and pass the reforms with the votes of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and the Partido Accion Nacional (PAN).  On the other hand, Maria Amparo Casar notes that, apart from former President Ernesto Zedillo, Enrique Peña Nieto will have the worst approval rate for the last 5 presidents at the time of their first State of the Union address. Mexico’s inhabitants are less interested in the perceived successes of this Administration (Pacto por Mexico and the subsequent structural reforms) and more concerned over wages, education and security.  In her view, the President must work on a short-term strategy to improve those concerns and not wait for the effects of the reforms.

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