AUSTIN, Texas — A brutal attack on protesters in Mexico has drawn expressions of solidarity from around the world, including a vigil held on Thursday at the Texas State Capitol.
At least eight civilians were killed and dozens injured on June 20, when police opened fire on a group of teachers, students and their allies blocking a section of highway connecting the state of Oaxaca to Mexico City. A journalist was also killed during the protests.
“They’re killing our people,” Magdalena Maria Gutierrez, a resident of Austin, Texas, who was born in Oaxaca, said in an interview with MintPress News before she spoke to the crowd gathered at the Texas State Capitol on Thursday for a vigil organized by the Committee in Solidarity with Teachers in Mexico.
Teachers and labor activists have taken to the streets throughout Mexico to protest proposed neoliberal education reforms that they fear could devastate the country’s public education system. The reforms would institute nationwide standardized testing, similar to programs that have been controversial in the United States. They would also threaten the “normal” school system, a traditional system of teacher-training colleges whose graduates often promote a social and economic justice agenda.
— Kit O'Connell (@KitOConnell) June 24, 2016
Protests intensified in Oaxaca after a number of leaders of a division of the country’s powerful teachers union, who were vocal in their opposition to the reforms, were arrested on June 12, The Nation reported.
“Taking union leaders hostage, firing thousands, and closing one of Mexico’s most progressive institutions are serious violations of human and labor rights, and of the rule of law itself,” The Nation’s David Bacon wrote on June 17.
In 2014, 43 students at a normal school in the state of Guerrero went missing, and activists have accused the Mexican government of complicity in their disappearance. Gutierrez told MintPress that she believes “the government is involved” in allowing or even endorsing both the Ayotzinapa disappearances and the more recent attacks on protesters in Oaxaca.
After his release, a teacher from a group of three arrested during the protest in Oaxaca said police told him, “If we disappeared and burned 43, imagine what we’ll do with you three,” a deliberate reference to the missing from the Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos, the normal school better known as Ayotzinapa:
According to Gutierrez, the reforms would also increase the cost of education for students and their families, which is another factor in the intense protests in Oaxaca, one of the poorest states in Mexico.
“In Oaxaca, a lot of communities don’t have even the basic services, they don’t have water or electricity,” she said. “Sometimes they have to walk miles and miles to walk to the nearest villages to [buy supplies and staples].”
“We are fighters,” she said, expressing her belief that the protests in Oaxaca will continue despite attacks by police.
She framed the protests as a struggle against systemic corruption and inequality:
“We want justice for everybody, not for some, not for politicians only, we want justice for everybody. Especially for the kids, because kids are our future. Don’t try to take away our education that is the basis for that better future.”