Mexico’s Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (National Coordinator of Education Workers–CNTE), the powerful teacher’s union, took to the streets of Mexico City yesterday to protest President Enrique Peña Nieto’s educational reform, including a 3.5 percent increase in teachers’ wages. The leaders of the union sent a message to the president calling the increase “a joke.”
The education reform seeks to professionalize Mexico’s teachers, some of who have been accused of being "maestros aviadores" (aviator teachers) because they regularly fail to attend class. The protests in the capital come a month after local governments in Oaxaca, Chiapas, Michoacán, Sonora, Zacatecas and Baja California were taken to court by the Peña Nieto’s administration for not adhering to the rules of the reforms, and the laws of the “Servicio Profesional Docente” (Professional Teaching Service).
The educational reform project began with an agreement among Mexico’s three main political parties, known as the Pacto por México (Pact for Mexico). The reforms have faced stiff opposition, especially in southern Mexico where protests in Guerrero have turned violent and over a million students in Oaxaca missed nearly two months of class in September and October of last year. After taking to the streets on May 15, teachers threatened to call for more powerful protests and mobilizations against the Peña Nieto government.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed new rules yesterday aimed at increasing oil production and boosting the economy.
The proposed legislation includes the creation of eight new laws and the modification of 13 existing laws. Mexican Secretary of Tax, Luis Videgaray, and Secretary of Energy, Pedro Joaquín Coldwell, have said that, with the exception of public gasoline sale, the new rules would open the sale of energy resources to foreign and private firms while keeping them under state control. Videgaray maintained that the laws will reduce Mexico’s high fiscal dependence on oil revenues.
If the rules are approved by Congress, it would end a 75-year monopoly by the state-run oil company Pemex, which was created by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) under President Lázaro Cárdenas in 1938. While giving new businesses the opportunity to invest in Mexican oil, the laws would also lower taxes on Pemex from 79 percent to less than 65 percent. Pemex would also be guaranteed at least a 20 percent stake of business in oil deposits in defined territories.
Political opposition parties, the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) and the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PDR) have both pushed back against the reform. The PAN has made its support of the new rules conditional on the passage of electoral reform that would weaken the PRI’s influence. The PRD is hoping to overturn the proposed reform altogether.
On March 24, Enrique Peña Nieto presented the Mexican Senate with a bill for a new telecommunications law that complements the constitutional reforms he approved in 2013. The legislation proposes, among other things, to promote competition in the sector, improve telecom services, and regulate the radioelectric spectrum through the new telecommunications regulator, the Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (Federal Telecommunications Institute—IFETEL). The bill is now being revised, and is expected to be approved in the coming days.
However, the proposal is already raising eyebrows and creating waves in the digital sphere, where it’s being labeled as a form of government censorship.
According to Article 2 of the bill, the legislation is intended to “protect the nation’s security and sovereignty,” and the most controversial articles in the initiative are preceded by mentions of criminal prosecution and promoting the public interest. There is room for discussion on the potential effectiveness of this objective, but much like the current debate in the U.S. over the NSA’s capabilities vs. individual freedoms and privacy, citizens in Mexico are worried about ceding too much power to the federal government. The far-reaching legislation has created a number of trending topics on Twitter, under hashtags like #EPNvsInternet #ContraElSilencioMx and #NoMasPoderAlPoder (roughly translated to #PeñaNietoV.Internet, #AgainstSilenceMx and #NoMorePowerToTheOnesInPower).
One of the most popular bloggers in Mexico, “Sopitas,” criticized Peña Nieto’s proposal by stating that social media has been the only widespread communication channel where the public can express its dissent with the current government. On April 21, #EPNvsInternet became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter and, as these words are being written, “netizens” in Mexico City are organizing a massive demonstration at the Ángel de la Independencia monument in downtown Mexico City, which also hosted many of #YoSoy132’s protests against Peña Nieto’s alleged alliance with Televisa in the 2012 presidential elections. When the neutrality of the largest news media conglomerate in the country is in question, citizen journalism becomes crucial.
Attempts to control speech on the Internet are not new. One need only consult Global Voices’ Advocacy project to see that, when given the power to do so, governments unequivocally use Internet restriction as a means to block and control dissent.
But how would the president’s telecom law proposal trample on free speech? What are netizens protesting against? Here are some highlights:
Supporters of the proposed telecom law might argue that these new attributions would allow government to better combat organized crime, but the other side of the story shows that if the legislation is approved as-is, any government would be legally awarded the power to read emails exchanged between its detractors, know their location and cut off their communications.
Would the government consider a mass protest on Avenida Reforma to be an event against public security, and thus block cell phone communications in the area? Those opposing the new law seem to think this is a possibility.
This developing story has caused outrage on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. Will this outrage help write a different conclusion—one in which the proposed telecom bill is overturned? Or will Mexico join the ranks of censorship-friendly countries such as Cambodia, Turkey and Venezuela?
The Mexican Senate voted 95 to 28 to pass President Enrique Peña Nieto’s signature energy reform bill Wednesday morning, just one week after the body approved the electoral reform bill that the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) set as a precondition to bringing the controversial measure to the Senate floor. If passed by the Chamber of Deputies, the bill would loosen the state’s control over the oil industry.
President Peña Nieto has advocated for various reforms since he took office in 2012, including telecommunications and education laws, but the energy reform bill has been seen as the centerpiece of his efforts to boost the Mexican economy. If passed, the bill would allow for private investment, exploration and profit sharing with the state-owned Pemex. Those actions were banned 75 years ago when President Lazaro Cardenas nationalized the oil industry.
While the alliance between the PAN and the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) has majorities in both chambers, there has been vocal opposition to the passage of the bill. Legislators from the leftist Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Democratic Revolution Party—PRD) interrupted debate on the measure on Tuesday in an effort to keep it from passing before the end of the year. The PRI and PAN have been accused of “treason” by PRD members for championing the bill that would inject private capital into the industry that seen a downward trend in recent years.
Despite the opposition, the Chamber of Deputies is expected to pass the energy reform bill before the winter recess on December 15. It would then need to be approved by more than half of Mexico’s 31 states and the federal district.
Likely top stories this week: Xiomara Castro leads her supporters in protest against last Sunday’s election results; Juan Manuel Santos visits the United States; petroleum exploitation moves ahead in Ecuador; Mexicans protest as President Peña Nieto completes his first year in office; a fire engulfs the Latin America Memorial in São Paulo.
Honduran Election Result Sparks Demonstrations: Thousands of Hondurans marched in Tegucigalpa on Sunday after the country’s electoral authority declared Juan Orlando Hernández the winner of last Sunday's presidential elections. Challenger Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, who is demanding a vote-by-vote recount at all Honduran polling places and an investigation of the elections by the attorney general, called on her supporters to march peacefully to protest the results. Salvador Nasralla, another candidate, is also challenging the results. On Sunday evening, Honduras’ election tribunal said it would be willing to let LIBRE (Liberty and Refoundation party—Liberdad y Refundación) review the electoral record but declined to say whether it would consider a full recount.
Santos Visits the United States: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos arrived in the United States on Sunday for a three-day visit that will include a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama. Santos will also make an appearance at the University of Miami on Monday before traveling to Washington D.C. for visits with Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, and a meeting at the OAS, among other activities. The purpose of Santos' trip is to encourage additional U.S. investment in Colombia and to discuss Colombia's peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC).
Correa Announces Petroleum Exploitation in Ecuadorian Amazon: Despite major protests by Indigenous and environmental groups, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced Saturday that Ecuador would permit the exploitation of 13 petroleum blocks in the Ecuadorian Amazon near the border with Peru and on the edge of Yasuni National Park. Correa said that Chilean Ambassador Juan Carlos Lira and a businessman were injured in the protests last Tuesday. Ecuadorian Minister for Non-Renewable Natural Resources Pedro Merizalde said that the first three blocks up for action could hold as much as 1.5 billion barrels. So far, Spain's Repsol YPF, Chile's ENAP, Belarus’ Belorusneft, and China's Andes Petroleum have presented offers for four of the petroleum blocks.
Protests as Peña Nieto Completes First Year of Presidency: Thousands of Mexicans protested in the streets of Mexico City on Sunday as Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto celebrated the completion of his first year as president. Protesting teachers, union workers, and self-declared anarchists marched in opposition to Peña Nieto's recent education, tax and energy reforms. According to a poll released Sunday by Reforma newspaper, 48 percent of respondents disapproved of the president's job performance—up from 30 percent in April.
Fire Latest Accident to Hit São Paulo: Less than a week after a construction crane collapsed at São Paulo's Itaquerão stadium and killed two workers, the city's iconic Latin America Memorial—a landmark building which hosts an art gallery, an auditorium and other facilities— was engulfed by a fire on Saturday. The memorial and cultural center was built in 1989 by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who died last year at age 104. It is still unclear how the fire started, but it appears no members of the public have been injured in the blaze. Meanwhile, construction workers returned to Itaquerão stadium on Monday to address the damages caused by last week’s accident.
An overhaul of Mexico’s private-sector lending system was approved by four key Senate committees on Wednesday, moving President Enrique Peña Nieto’s financial reform one step closer to passage. The housing, public credit, justice, and legislative studies committees all voted to pass the bill, following its passage in the Chamber of Deputies. The full Senate will discuss the 70 provisions of the bill today, with an expected vote on Tuesday. If any major changes are introduced, the bill would go back to a lower chamber for approval. Otherwise, it will go to President Peña Nieto to sign into law.
The bill, part of the Pacto por México (Pact for Mexico) reforms agreed upon by President Pena Nieto's Partido Institucional Revolucionaria (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) and the country's main opposition parties, would increase lending among Mexico’s banks, lower interest rates on loans and make credit more accessible to small and medium enterprises. The governor of Mexico’s Central Bank, Augustín Carstens, said in May that the proposed reform could help grow the economy by 0.5 percent over the next two to three years.
President Peña Nieto, who will reach his one year anniversary in office next month, has staked significant political capital in the Pacto por México reforms, ranging from education and energy to security and telecommunications. The most controversial reform thus far has been the proposed privatization of Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the state-owned petroleum company to help attract investment and technology to Mexico’s ailing energy sector.
September has been a difficult month for U.S. policy toward Latin America. Between the crisis in Syria and the NSA surveillance disclosures, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry cancelled an address to the annual CAF conference, Vice President Joe Biden cancelled a trip to Panama, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled a state visit to Washington DC.
The sole exception to the raft of cancellations was the launch of the U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue (HLED), which still took place on September 20 in Mexico City, in the presence of Biden and several U.S. cabinet officials.
That the Mexico trip was planned at all testifies to the importance of the economic relationship with our third-largest trading partner. That it happened according to schedule says a great deal about Biden’s emerging role as an envoy to the Americas, and about the Mexican administration’s pragmatism and diplomatic maturity.
Biden first outlined the Obama administration’s commitment to deepening engagement with the Western Hemisphere at the Council of the Americas’ 43rd Washington Conference on the Americas in May. Soon after, he traveled to Brazil, Colombia, and Trinidad and Tobago. He also hired Juan S. González, a well-respected Latin Americanist as his Special Advisor on the Western Hemisphere (a first for his small foreign policy team). This week, he is scheduled to meet with Uruguayan President José Mujica as well as with members of U.S. Congress for a wide-ranging conversation on the region. Previous presidents have appointed special envoys for the Americas, but in Obama’s second term, the vice president himself has emerged as the de facto—and much more powerful—emissary for U.S. interests to Latin America’s rising economic and diplomatic powers.
Of those powers, Mexico is the clear priority. “The Western Hemisphere has always mattered to the United States, but I think it matters more today because it has more potential than any time in American history,” Biden pronounced at the conference in May. Last week in Mexico, he was explicit about the primacy of economic interests with our NAFTA partner: “There is no relationship that we value more, there is no economic relationship that we think holds the most promise and there is no part of the world that has the opportunity to do as much to generate economic growth over the next 20 or 30 years in the hemisphere.”
Casi desde el principio de su período, el presidente Enrique Peña Nieto comenzó a presentar una serie de reformas que—de acuerdo con el discurso oficial—permitirán que México avance. Las dos primeras, las reformas laboral y bancaria, suscitaron grandes controversias y provocaron la oposición de algunos segmentos de la población, aunque muchos otros no se dieron por enterados. En la laboral, se estableció el pago por hora, y en la bancaria, decidieron penar con cárcel a los deudores de los bancos, entre otras cosas más.
Pero fue la presentación de la reforma educativa la que detonó una seria oposición de parte de los maestros agrupados en la llamada CNTE (Coordinadora Nacional de los Trabajadores de la Educación) y de algunos segmentos de los maestros agrupados en el SNTE (Sindicato Nacional de los Trabajadores de la Educación), quienes se han manifestado en diversas ciudades del país, pero especialmente en la ciudad de México, donde permanecieron en el Zócalo por varios días hasta que fueron desalojados el viernes 13 de septiembre por la policía federal, después de haber sufrido un linchamiento mediático sin precedentes por parte de las dos televisoras del país.
Pero, ¿qué es lo que reclaman los maestros? De acuerdo con la reforma, se establece un sistema de evaluación que ellos deberán cumplir para continuar desempeñando sus labores. Hasta aquí, todo bien. El problema viene en la forma en que dichas evaluaciones se llevaran a cabo, pues más bien parece que con ello el gobierno busca recuperar el control del magisterio, pues fuera de la evaluación, no cambian en nada las condiciones en que se imparte la educación en México.
Mexican Foreign Minister José Antonio Meade arrived in Cuba yesterday to discuss a new bilateral agenda—the first visit to Cuba by a Mexican minister under the Enrique Peña Nieto administration.
The two-day visit follows a formal agreement in January between Peña Nieto and Cuban President Raúl Castro in Santiago de Chile to work toward promoting bilateral relations. Meade’s trip will include meetings with high-level Cuban officials to discuss trade and investment, as well as matters such as “tourism, migration, cooperation, education, culture, health, [and] energy.” Officials also plan to discuss the two countries’ participation in the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
Mexico’s move to reinvigorate diplomatic ties with Cuba comes after bilateral relations suffered tensions under President Vicente Fox (2000-2006) and President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012).
Under Fox, diplomatic ties were nearly severed over disagreements on human rights and accusations that Cuban diplomats had interfered in Mexico’s domestic affairs. In 2004, Fox recalled the Mexican ambassador to Cuba and reduced relations to charge d’affaires status.
Seeking to ease relations, Calderón assigned a new ambassador to Cuba in 2007, but tensions arose again when Cuba stopped commercial flights to Mexico for a month during the peak of the swine flu outbreak in 2009. Calderón was the last Mexican president to visit the island, during a trip in April 2012.
Peña Nieto’s majority party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI)—which governed Mexico continuously from 1929 to 2000 and returned to power in December 2012—has had historically amicable relations with the Caribbean nation. Notably, Mexico was the only Latin American country to maintain diplomatic ties with Cuba throughout the Cold War.
The first nine months of Peña’s administration have kept the press busy and all of the country’s eyes and ears focused on what will happen next. He’s been characterized as bold, action-oriented and dynamic but clearly, not a team player.
He was celebrated by many (yours truly included) in February when he presented an ambitious and much needed education reform but disappointed just as many after having this effort easily thwarted by militant and disgruntled unionized teachers from the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), which has taken Mexico City hostage in the last week to avoid needed secondary laws to enact the reform passing through Congress.
The inability to prevent and the lack of resolve to disperse a non-justified blockage of Congress as well as a blockade of the city’s main arteries—including those giving access to the airport and the Zócalo—has proven once again that political leaders are making decisions not based on the greater good, the rule of law or the citizenry’s interests, but on a political agenda serviced by interest groups holding more power than they should and unable to cooperate with each other.
Mismanagement of this situation could soon spark violence and create a larger-than-ideological divide. The affected citizenry in Mexico City will only stand so much. In a recent poll by BCG-Excelsior, 52 percent of Mexicans stated that they are so fed up with the CNTE’s irrational resistance to the education reform and their militant actions that they would justify use of public force to disperse the picketers.
And while the teachers take to the streets, both Peña Nieto and the city’s government cower from taking necessary action because of the political cost it would imply. Mexico City is not the only thing that’s paralyzed because of this—a broken education system puts the nation’s future talent pool at risk.
The other current hot topic in the president’s agenda is energy reform. As recently described by Christian Gomez on AS/COA, “the proposal includes constitutional changes that would open up Pemex, the 75-year-old state oil monopoly, to profit-sharing contracts and foreign investment.”
This new notion of natural resources no longer belonging exclusively to the nation poses a huge shift in paradigm. Reactions from the nation’s Left include accusations related to autonomy, national patrimony and the role of government vs. private investors in extraction and having access to revenues from one of the nation’s most important sources of income. The opposition understands that PEMEX’s inefficiencies and the plague of corruption need to be addressed, but they propose that a problem should not be fixed by creating another one.
One of the most respected voices from the Left, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, has recently stated that both PEMEX and CFE (federal electricity company) can become highly productive without having to edit the Constitution and without allow foreign and/or private hands in the nation’s riches. If national patrimony is challenged due to reforms to articles 27 and 28 of the Mexican Constitution, Cárdenas has warned he would call for nationwide protests and he would even take to the streets along with López Obrador’s Morena (National Regeneration) movement.
Given its current party composition, Peña can easily get approval for the energy reform in Congress but he would be naïve to think that this is the only hurdle he needs to jump and he is doing a terrible job at trying to get public buy-in to this proposal through vague infographics on TV.
If there is a possibility for effective energy reform, an open and inclusive debate needs to take place. This topic is not one that his team should be discussing behind closed doors and the hard questions will require real answers, not 20-second TV spots.
Peña’s government has been characterized by a “my way or the highway” attitude, which is an easier temptation to fall into than trying to build consensus in a country as complex and fragmented as Mexico. This dictatorial style is only possible because of the fact that PRI has a stellar position both in Congress and in the State governments to push its agenda forward, something neither former Presidents Fox nor Calderón had. However, Peña would do well in understanding that his constituency is not limited to the political parties or even the power elites.
Organized teachers have already proven what they can do in Mexico City given enough motivation. Sparked by national patrimony rhetoric, larger, non-organized social mobilizations could easily flare up in different key cities in Mexico and cause larger havoc. As former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza recently wrote, “these red flags, so to speak, are especially relevant given the influence and disruptive potential of many of today's social movements. The eruption of mass street protests in Brazil is just one recent example of a government being forced to change direction on a policy initiative and find a way to rapidly and constructively respond to the desires, often inchoate, of a newly emboldened and empowered population. It's a cautionary tale that begins with frustration and finds expression in mass action.”
Even when theoretically, Peña could powerball his reforms forward, both him and the PRI need to wake up and understand that they cannot be the only voice to determine the nation’s destiny. Vargas Llosa sarcastically called the previous PRI era “the perfect dictatorship” but today’s Mexico will not stand for a return of that so-called “perfect” model. Peña needs to learn to play well with others.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.