Teachers Confront Cops in Mexico City

In preparation for President Enrique Pena Nieto’s first Independence Day celebration this weekend, police emptied the Mexican capital’s main square of protesters Friday by using tear gas and water cannons. The Zócalo had been filled with teachers on strike demonstrating against the new administration’s education reform. The new policies would limit union power as well as create a centralized body that would assess teachers’ qualifications and performance. Teachers from all over Mexico have come together in the capital to demand legislators enter in a conversation with them and consider their point of view.

Their demonstration, however, got in the way of the festivities in honor of the anniversary of Mexico’s Independence War. The teachers had been given the deadline to leave the square by Friday, and though many complied, a few remained. The BBC offers more information on the violent clash with riot police:

Most of the protesters left peacefully by Friday’s deadline. But some stayed on, and police backed by armoured vehicles and helicopters clashed with missile-throwing protesters on the square and in nearby streets.

Officers tore down the teachers’ temporary shelters and put out small fires started by the demonstrators and made a number of arrests.

The BBC’s Will Grant in Mexico City says government’s aim of clearing the square has been achieved – but the sight of riot police and armoured vehicles in the country’s most emblematic plaza is not the image of unity it wanted to portray hours before Mr Pena Nieto’s first Independence Day as president begins.

Our correspondent says that some of the demonstrators were thought to be radical anti-government activists who were not necessarily associated with the teachers union.

The educations reforms introduced by the government include performance-related tests for teachers.

Critics accuse Mexico’s teachers’ unions of being corrupt and having too much control over job allocation.

The government has argued that union control over teaching jobs has contributed to corruption, which has seen poorly trained teachers promoted over more qualified colleagues.

Every Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day is commemorated with “El Grito,” literally “the cry,” which echoes the revolutionaries’ call for an uprising against Spanish rule. This year the cry has come a few days early with a complex mix of educators’ pleas and laments brought about by police brutality in a showdown that brings into plain view the country’s discontent with a new president.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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