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Mexico teachers may decamp

Union says it will probably break up its protest to let Pena Nieto give El Grito.

September 13, 2013|Richard Fausset
  • Striking teachers intending to block a main avenue try to push past a wall of riot police this week in Mexico City.
Striking teachers intending to block a main avenue try to push past a wall… (Christian Palma / Associated…)

MEXICO CITY — Possible good news for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto: A leader of a striking teachers union whose campouts and roadblocks have wreaked havoc on this chaotic capital for weeks suggested Thursday that the group would probably clear out of the historic main square to allow the president to issue the famous "Cry of Independence" there Sunday evening.

Francisco Bravo, the leader of a branch of the striking National Coordinator of Education Workers, or CNTE, said in a radio interview that "all signs indicate that we're leaving" the massive tent city that the group erected weeks ago in the Zocalo, or central square, according to the news service Milenio.

That should clear the way for Pena Nieto, who was elected in December, to issue the first Cry of Independence of his presidency from the balcony of the National Palace, as tradition dictates.

The pomp-laden cry, known here as El Grito, is Mexico's most important public ritual. It is performed on the evening of Sept. 15 by the president and attracts thousands of revelers, who lend the event a New Year's Eve feel. With the ringing of a bell and shouts of "Viva Mexico!" the president honors the cry issued in 1810 by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla that kicked off Mexicans' struggle to liberate themselves from Spanish rule.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, September 14, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Mexico teachers: In the Sept. 13 LATExtra section, an article about striking teachers occupying Mexico City's main plaza said that President Enrique Pena Nieto was elected in December. He was elected in July 2012 and took office in December.

Tension has been rising for days over whether the recalcitrant teachers would abandon their camp and allow the festivities to take place. For Pena Nieto, the stakes were high. If the teachers had decided to stay -- and the government had decided to force them out -- things could have grown ugly.

This spring, CNTE members in the state of Guerrero took to the streets with pipes and brickbats, and on Wednesday in Mexico City, some pipe-wielding union members clashed with police in street demonstrations, leaving 17 officers injured.

But if Pena Nieto had been forced to change his plans and issue his first Cry of Independence anywhere but the Zocalo, it probably would have been seen as an embarrassing sign of weakness. Critics were quick to mock Pena Nieto this month when the teachers sit-in forced him to move his first state of the nation address from the National Palace to Los Pinos, the presidential residence a few miles away.

Federal officials have been engaged in intense negotiations with the teachers. In public, they have maintained a confidential air. When asked Tuesday whether the cry would take place in the Zocalo, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong replied, "Yes, of course."

The CNTE, which, according to its website, favors "the universal principle of class struggle" and claims to be "independent of the bourgeoisie and its state," is protesting a sweeping education reform package that was pushed by Pena Nieto and approved by Congress last week in hope of improving Mexico's dismal public school system. Among other things, it creates a method for evaluating teachers and seeks to limit the power of union leaders, who have been able to give jobs to family members.

Union members say the evaluations lack nuance, and they argue more broadly that the government should be spending more money on schools.

If the teachers do indeed clear out of the Zocalo by Sunday, it may not mean that the long-term drama is over. Bravo said they were discussing the possibility of returning to pitch their tents sometime in the near future.

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richard.fausset@latimes.com

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