A march demanding the freedom of the students arrested and imprisoned.
By: Tanalís Padilla*
Sunday, May 23, 2021
The Mactumactzá students’ protest and the Chiapas government’s repression show us one more time the precariousness under which the rural teachers schools subsist. The trigger for this conflict was the insistence of the educational authorities on administering the admission exam virtually even when the socio-economic condition of the applicants presents them with immense difficulties in having access to a computer or to the Internet.
On May 18, faced with the students’ occupation of toll booths on the San Cristóbal-Tuxtla Gutiérrez highway to demand an in-person exam, the police arrested 74 women and 19 men who have been charged with the crimes of mutiny, gang activity, robbery with violence and attacks on the communication routes (highways).
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urged the government to investigate the excessive use of force against students who have been booked into the El Amate prison. From the beginning, the arrested students denounced sexual assaults like touching and undressing. In various parts of the Republic, including Mexico City, students from sister rural teachers schools have mobilized to demand their freedom. Members of the National Coordinator of Education Workers have also raised their voices in protest of the arrests and expressed their solidarity with the rural teachers colleges (known as “normales”). On May 21, Olga Sánchez Cordero, head of the Interior Ministry (Gobernación), reported that the Ministry and the SEP (Secretary of Public Education) were in dialogue with the Chiapas government so that those arrested and detained can carry out their criminal proceedings at liberty.
It goes without saying that the students’ protest and the State’s repression is nothing new. But this latest episode takes place in the urgent conditions that Covid-19 has exposed on a global scale. If the neoliberal model of the last four decades has decimated the social infrastructure, the health crisis has further wounded entire sectors of the population. For affluent groups technology has been a tool for continuing their work in times that require social distancing. For the rest it has accentuated the historical social inequality. Instead of acknowledging this reality, from above they insist on proposing –and imposing–technological responses to social problems. When, with their protests, the students call attention to this inequity, the response is the traditional repressive machinery.
It shouldn’t be like that, especially at times when, also from above, we talk about the 4T. The rural teachers colleges were created at the start of a transformation. The Mexican Revolution, the Constitution of 1917 and the reforms that were implemented in the 1920s, but especially during the 1930s, restructured the country’s political, economic and social system. The agrarian reform, the oil expropriation, labor rights and the massive construction of schools, represented a redistribution of the wealth that had been concentrated in a very few hands or bled towards foreign capitalists during the Porfiriato.
The transformation process was arduous and depended on the mass mobilization whose force was the channel for counteracting the power of capital. Let’s not forget that the trigger for the oil expropriation in 1938 was a strike by its workers. When British and American companies refused to recognize the workers’ rights, President Lázaro Cárdenas intervened in their favor by declaring the expropriation.
A similar process occurred with the agrarian and educational reforms. Many of the estates expropriated were thanks to the initiative of the campesinos who invaded lands and demanded their redistribution and delivery as ejidos. They not only demanded land, but also a school and teacher. Sometimes the teacher arrived early and would lead the organizational process. The communities built little rustic schools and from there demanded that the State recognition and the necessary resources.
The rural normal system, which had 35 schools in 1936, had the logic of articulating these reforms on a national scale and consolidating the project of transformation. It’s not surprising that a revolutionary ethic has been concentrated there, which is demonstrated in the repeated demands of the students for their class rights.
How to enforce those rights before a State that over the course of the years became not only indifferent, but also hostile to its demands? The form that the rural teachers college students found was collective organization and mobilization. It’s a process that begins not with the taking of tollbooths, roadblocks or hijacking busses; the actions that the communications media and the good people condemn so much, so concerned about the protection of private property.
The process begins with education, not the formal education that they receive in a classroom, but rather that of consciousness raising that since 1935 the Federation of Socialist Campesino Students of Mexico has been concerned with imparting in each generation of teachers college students. This has several components: clarifying that their place in the teachers college is a right, not a gift from the government; publicizing the accumulation of aggressions that the rural teachers colleges have suffered historically; and that only with mobilization of the student body—even with risky actions—have they managed to survive.
It’s a condition of siege that rural teachers colleges have experienced ever since the revolutionary process stopped in 1940. If we’re really talking about a Fourth Transformation, it’s a normality that must change.
* Professor-Researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Author of the book “Después de Zapata: El movimiento jaramillista y los orígenes de la guerrilla en México,” 1940-1962 (Akal/Inter Pares, 2015)
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Sunday, May 23, 2021
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee