On Friday evening I passed Plaza Santo Domingo, just a couple of blocks from where I live, and encountered a veritable tent city. Hundreds of teachers had set up camp all across the plaza which is located directly opposite the headquarters of the Secretariat of Public Education. Teachers from some of Mexico´s poorest states had descended on the capital in the latest round of their ongoing dispute with federal authorities over educational reforms and in particular teacher evaluation. Most recently, the federal government had announced the dismissal of some 4,000 teachers for failing to attend school for four consecutive days due to industrial action. On Saturday morning, I headed back to the plaza and was surprised to see that it was completely clear with little evidence that it had very recently been an urban campground to hundreds of disgruntled rural teachers. Today´s edition of La Jornada leads with the story of what happened in the dark hours of Saturday morning. My translation below. The original in Spanish by Laura Poy and Gustavo Castillo can be read here.
In the early hours of Saturday morning more than one thousand teachers of the National Committee of Education Workers (CNTE) were evicted from the protest camp they had set up in Plaza Santo Domingo and returned on buses -escorted by Federal Police – to their home states.
Leaders of the affected teachers described the action taken by the federal government as ¨repressive and intimidating¨ and ¨in clear violation of our human and constitutional rights of freedom of movement and expression¨. Consequently, they announced, on Monday they will lodge a complaint with the National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH).
Enrique Enriquez Ibarra, General Secretary of section 9 of the CNTE in Mexico City stated that ¨in complicity with the government of Mexico City, the Peña administration returned to a practice of intolerance that we haven´t experienced in more than three decades. With verbal, psychological and physical intimidation our colleagues were forced to board buses that they had prepared to remove them from the country´s capital, with no assurance that they would actually be transported to their home state¨.
A police officer stated that they were deployed to ¨seal the streets adjacent to Plaza Santo Domingo. The colleagues that were staying overnight in the camp were cordoned off from two in the morning and noone was permitted to leave the plaza¨.
For the second time in less than 48 hours, the federal government ¨perpetrated two evictions¨, the first being in the early hours of Friday when the teachers were also forced, under the threat of a violent eviction, to pack up their camp which they had maintained in Bucareli Street since May 15.
The Federal Police operation to clear Plaza Santo Domingo was put together on Friday night and at one o´clock Saturday morning federal agents began their deployment.
Barricades and threats
At 1:30 in the morning, 700 federal agents headed by the commander Uriel Mendoza and more than 600 from the Mexico City Secretariat of Public Security were deployed in the main streets of the Historic Centre.
Shortly after 2, the protesting teachers reported that they were surrounded by hundreds of riot police and federal agents at Plaza Santo Domingo. Uniformed barricades of riot police were also formed in the streets of Cuba, Brasil, Peru, 5 de Mayo and Belisario Dominguez, where a a barrier was put up which prevented access of the media and even tourists and neighbours had to be accompanied by police to arrive to their homes.
Protesting teachers from section 9 of the CNTE recounted that shortly after 2am one of the officers, who identified himself as Commander Mendoza ¨made the threat that they had an order to clear the camp and that we had 20 minutes to pack up our things¨.
In a video circulated by the non-conformist teachers, the commander warns that ¨some of you have arrest warrants, we invite you to withdraw peacefully and board the vehicles that are here and have the names of each of the states. We´re going to give you 20 minutes to vacate, get organised and board the buses (…) on the contrary, we will be obliged to use force¨.
Faced with the refusal of teachers to be vacated and those who complained that it was a violation of their right to freedom of expression, it was demanded that Tereso Beltrán Pineda, a commander of the Federal Police, sign a letter – of which La Jornada has a copy – in which ¨they commit to respect the physical and psychological inegrity of all representatives of the states, without violating at any time human rights and the constitutional rights of the United Mexican States¨.
At 3:29am , the first convoy of five buses carrying teachers from Guerrero and Chiapas, travelled down Belisario Dominguez Street, escorted by Federal Police. An hour later, the transfer of teachers from Michoacán, Chiapas, Oaxaca and Mexico State continued. In total, the CNTE confirmed ¨the departure of 29 buses, although we don´t know if there were more¨.
In the morning, CNTE leaders called the protesting teaching body to maintain them mobilised to focus again on Mexico City. They stated that ¨we will continue with our action plan¨, and from next Wednesday will begin, as planned, a series of marches and rallies.
Enríquez Ibarra indicated that he will attend the National Human Rights Commission on Monday, a march at 11am is organised for Wednesday, on Thursday May 26 they will accompany the parents of the 43 disappeared teaching students from Ayotzinapa and on Friday May 27 they will mobilise for a march to the official presidential residence of Los Pinos.
The national leadership of the CNTE stated that ¨there was no negotiation during the process of eviction. All channels of communication were closed and it is false to claim that any representative of the teachers had consulted with the government¨.
Meanwhile, until the closure of this edition, the Secretariat of Public Education had not issued any statement.