Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Mexican teachers to boycott midterm elections (June 2, 2015)

Members of a Mexican teacher's union vandalized government offices and went on indefinite strike yesterday ahead of midterm federal elections this Sunday.

The actions of the National Coordinator of Educational Workers, which is strong in the country's poorest states, challenges President Enrique Peña Nieto's government, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Over one million students were affected yesterday, reports Animal Político.

Among other things, they are protesting mandatory evaluations for teachers, part of a massive education reform passed in 2013. The government already announced last week that the evaluations would be suspended. That measure is being criticized in Mexico by the Instituto Nacional de la Evaluación para la Educación (INEE), which says it violates the Constitution and Mexican laws. Without evaluations, it's not clear what parameters will be used for promotions and job assignments, questions a piece in Animal Político, which goes into the legal mandate for evaluations.

But the CNTE union members are demanding the entire reform be overturned: testing will not measure teaching skills, they argue. Teachers also say the reform threatens labor rights and privatizes education. They are demanding a higher education budget, more job stability and the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students.

Union members are threatening a boycott of the upcoming elections. In Tlapa, where the CNTE is particularly strong, members have discussed actions to shutdown voting on Sunday, including shutting down polling stations or seizing ballots and voting material, reports the WSJ. In Michoacán CNTE members also warned they would not permit voting booths to be installed, according to Animal Político.

But authorities downplayed the relevance of the measures, saying it will affect only a small amount of the total polling stations.

News Briefs

  • The 43 missing Ayotzinapa students are part of a complicated political story, rather than one centered on drug gangs, says Anabel Hernández a Mexican investigative journalist in an interview with the Huffington Post. "What happened the night of Sept. 26, 2014, in Iguala is a very complicated subject. I think that it's principally a political story, rather than a story directly involved with drugs. Based on the information we've obtained, on documents, and according to the most recent reports from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which have come to conclusions very close to ours -- many of these supposedly confessed killers were tortured. And now they're refuting their confessions. They're saying, We were forced to say this, but we didn't have anything to do with it. In other words, the idea that the students were handed over to a criminal group, to a drug gang, for me is still very uncertain. I wouldn't claim it as a fact."
  • A two-year environmental impact study for the Nicaragua Grand Canal found the proposed 278 km route to be viable, officials said yesterday. They did not, however, release more information, according to the AP. Environmental groups have voiced serious concerns regarding the canal, which would compete with the Panama Canal and cuts through environmentally sensitive areas as well as indigenous groups' lands. The $50 billion megaproject could actually benefit certain areas as it would incorporate mitigation projects, according to EFE's story on the report. Nicaraguan officials hope the project will double the country's GDP. Though ground was technically broken on the project in December, real construction has not begun and skeptics doubt whether the project will ever actually get off the ground.
  • Corruption scandals are threatening the presidencies in Guatemala and Honduras, reports theLos Angeles Times. (See yesterday's post on this weekend's protests in both countries.) In Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández is fighting accusations by opposition politicians that his political party used $90 million belonging to the national Social Security Institute to finance its last election campaign. Hernández denies the charges. The AP reports that protesters in Honduras plan to march to the local offices of the United Nations on Friday. They will demand the creation of an international commission to investigate crime and impunity similar to a U.N. commission currently operating in neighboring Guatemala that has played a key role in uncovering graft scandals involving that country's customs and Social Security agencies.
  • In Guatemala President Otto Pérez Molina's administration is under fire from two separate scandals involving high ranking government officials. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu demanded Pérez's resignation yesterday, and called for protests in Guatemala to continue, reports EFE.
  • Venezuela's electronic voting platform is exemplary, but voting can still be manipulated with outside pressure, argues journalist Eugenio Martínez in an interview with David Smilde. Small voting centers with only one or two booths can potentially be controlled by government supporters, he says, and voting hours can be artificially extended to support last minute voter mobilizations. Booths without opposition witnesses are particularly vulnerable, though the opposition now manages to cover 80 percent of polling stations, he says.
  • President Barak Obama will nominate Roberta Jackson, the U.S. State Department diplomat who has been central to talks with Cuba, to be ambassador to Mexico, reports the Los Angeles Times. Jacobson is a Mexico specialist who seems "tailor-made" for the post, reports the New York Times. She has the support of both parties, though opponents of the Cuba thaw, like Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida might seek to block her nomination.
  • Rubio is threatening to block the confirmation of any nominee to be the U.S. ambassador to Cuba, unless he sees "concrete results" on democratic and human rights issues, reports theMiami Herald. He wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, listing his concerns, which include outstanding American property claims in Cuba.
  • Cuba may or may not be the business opportunity some hope it will be, but it's definitely attracting a fair share of feature pieces in American media. Slate reports on hip hop on the island and the government run Cuban Rap Agency. The Washington Post has a piece on the culture of lines in Cuba, where doing pretty much anything requires waiting for a turn. Spirituality is also on the rise on the island, though religions still face important restrictions, reports the Washington Post.
  • Coca cultivation replacement policies -- where growers are encouraged to farm legal crops -- in Colombia must be made more effective after aerial eradication measures were suspended last month, reports the New York Times. An existing program, put into place in 2007, was initially successful, but funds and efforts have stagnated, according to the piece. Bringing government services and support to areas previously dominated by the FARC is a vital component of the efforts, reports the piece, but critical components such as land titles have been very delayed. 

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