News and Analysis: Feb 11 - Mar 3, 2013

1 - GORDILLO IN PRISON, EDUCATION REFORM APPROVED
2 - EZLN NAMES NEW SUBCOMANDANTE
3 - SOBERING LABOR STATISTICS   

1 - GORDILLO IN PRISON, EDUCATION REFORM APPROVED

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Newly elected President Enrique Pena Nieto of the PRI is on a political roll, passing a groundbreaking education reform bill on Monday and arresting Elba Esther Gordillo, “president for life” of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE), the following day. The powerful leader of 1.5 million teachers is charged with stealing US$200 million from the union, which may be the tip of the iceberg. Gordillo reportedly spent US$1 million on a house on an island near San Diego, US$3 million at a single Neiman Marcus store, and US$17,000 on plastic surgery (of which the unflattering result is often referenced in the Mexican press). Her declared earnings on tax returns from 2009 to 2012 were US$88,000 per year. Every Mexican knows she is a criminal, especially the teachers, despite her recent deluded claim, “There is no one more loved by their people than I. I care about the teachers.” She should have been prosecuted years ago. Call it legal cover for a political decision.

 

By Wednesday, the SNTE named a new leader, Juan Diaz de la Torre, who immediately called off public protests of the new educational reform law, agreed to reach a quick accord on new salary structures for teachers, and, according to news sources, will abandon Gordillo to the judicial process - all this at the behest of the Pena Nieto administration. Gordillo wasn’t the only union leader with her hand in the piggy bank, perhaps accounting for the quick agreement, but the replacement was still stunning in its swiftness, leaving one of Mexico’s most powerful political operatives swinging in the wind without friends.

 

Gordillo is an historically corrupt figure. Named to head the SNTE in 1989 in a backroom deal orchestrated by former President Carlos Salinas de Gotari of the PRI, Gordillo’s main credentials seemed to be party loyalty and her willingness to murder her opponents. Gordillo was elected to the House of Deputies three times, including in 2004 when she became the head of the PRI caucus. Astute at reading the changing political winds, in 2000 she began to develop strong political relations with PAN President Vicente Fox, then became the key operative behind Felipe Calderon’s fraudulent presidential victory in 2006. She also formed her own party, PANAL, and was subsequently expelled from the PRI in 2006. Her betrayals left the PRI angry, but for 12 years under successive PAN administrations she tightened her hold on the SNTE, essentially running the national education system as her personal fiefdom while enriching herself by reportedly collecting salaries for thousands of phantom positions. The OECD reports 92% of Mexico’s education budget is spent on teacher’s salaries, providing some semblance of her overall control of the public education system.

 

In this context, Pena Nieto’s reform measures may be popular, at least initially. He’ll be seen as the giant-slayer saving Mexico from corruption. He will no doubt gain political capital, to be used in the immediate future for attacks on other unions, implementation of the labor reform bill passed in the final days of the Calderon administration with his support, and plans to privatize Pemex. Carlos Romero Deschamps, President of Pemex, is now on notice to abandon his previous opposition to the privatization plans. The PRI recently took the first steps toward privatization at its national assembly, wiping away decades-old internal party rules prohibiting PRI members of Congress from backing such measures. In addition, Pena Nieto was appointed to head the party’s permanent political commission, thereby consolidating his power within the PRI as he pushes his neoliberal agenda.

 

The education reform is sweeping in its scope, and some of the measures will be popular. For the first time, the federal government will conduct a census to find out how many teachers, students and schools are in the system. The law also establishes mandatory testing for teachers and prohibits the sale or inheritance of jobs. Most rank and file union members are opposed to the reforms, though most will also likely applaud the downfall of Gordillo. However, this leaves them in a very difficult position to fight the neoliberalization of public education. With less autonomy, mandatory testing for teachers, and standardized tests for students, rural areas will likely fall further behind urban centers, and teaching will lose its appeal as a profession. The stage managed appointment of a new union President hardly leaves the SNTE in a position to challenge the reform bill. The National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), a dissident movement within the SNTE with notable strength in Mexico City, Guerrero and Oaxaca, may finally have the political space to gain more control of the union. Many teachers around the country hated Gordillo, but did nothing to oppose her rule for fear of losing their jobs. The next few months will be interesting. With much of the CNTE’s strength located in indigenous regions, not coincidentally the same regions that have the most to lose from neoliberal education reforms, look for a public battle over control of the union - and public education.

 

2 - EZLN NAMES NEW SUBCOMANDANTE

Subcomandante Marcos, the spokesperson and military leader of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), presented a new subcomandante last week, former Teniente Coronel Moises. This is the first subcomandante publicly named by the EZLN since the uprising in 1994. Moises is Tzeltal and has long been in charge of national and international relations developed through the Otra Campana. The announcement appears to be part of preparations by the EZLN to open dialogues and extend relations with the Zapatista movement throughout Mexico and worldwide. An August meeting is planned in Chiapas, though details have not yet been announced.

 

In related news, Marcos announced the imminent publication of two books produced by Zapatista communities that explain the dynamics of the movement. Apparently the books will be distributed widely in an effort to explain Zapatista customs and traditions, how the Juntas of Good Government function, and how Zapatismo has been constructed over the past two decades.

 

All of this recent activity may - or may not - be related to a federal initiative to renew the Comision de Concordia y Pacificacion (Cocopa). New members from all the political parties represented in Congress were named this week to the reconstituted body which will be in charge of negotiations (if they ever restart) with the EZLN. Despite former President Vicente Fox’s 2000 campaign commitment to settle the crisis in Chiapas “in twenty minutes,” there is still no negotiated peace with the Zapatistas and the federal government. An aborted version of the San Andres Accords was passed during the first two years of the Fox administration, but was quickly rejected by the EZLN and nearly every other indigenous group in Mexico. Since then there have been no formal discussions between the two sides. However, there seems to be tentative moves on both sides, beginning with the 40,000-strong silent "we're still here" march by Zapatistasbases in December, that may eventually lead to renewed negotiations. The PRI appears to be angling to negotiate from a position of strength by increasing both paramilitary and judicial attacks on Zapatista communities in recent months, and this could very well backfire. In the final analysis, the Zapatistas are building autonomy through the successful establishment of the Juntas of Good Government. Zapatista communities enjoy higher standards of living than other communities in the region, including better health care and education. With or without a government settlement, this process will continue. The EZLN has its own political agenda and has a long history of conducting politics on its own schedule. The PRI may well blow another chance at peace if the party doesn’t back off on the violence and instead try to build some basic conditions of trust. It was the last PRI President, Ernesto Zedillo, who spent nearly two years negotiating the San Andres Accords before throwing them in the trash after his representatives signed them. It’s up to the PRI to make the first positive moves, and a curtailment of local PRI-affiliated attacks on Zapatista communities, for example San Marcos Avíles in the municipality of Chilon, would be a good first step.

 

3 - SOBERING LABOR STATISTICS

The Secretary of Labor published a series of sobering statistics last week revealing the depth of the labor crisis in Mexico:

  • 6.6 million workers earn less than US$5 per day

  • 4 million workers don’t receive any salary

  • 2.5 million are completely unemployed, meaning they don’t work even one hour/month

  • 6.2 million young people neither work nor study

  • 800,000 youth enter the job market each year 

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