By Olivia Olivia for El Hispanic News
As tensions escalate and the death toll rises in Oaxaca, waves of protests and solidarity marches have sprung up in Latino communities across the United States, including in Portland. There are over 50,000 Oaxacans in the state of Oregon, and general Mexicans make up over eighty percent of the state’s Latino population. Voz Hispana, based in Woodburn, Oregon, brought together dozens of activists to condemn the Mexican government’s deadly retaliation against teachers and educators that has been boiling for several weeks now in Oaxaca.
Protestors gathered at the Mexican Consulate in downtown Portland, calling for international solidarity with the teachers and community members who have been killed in injured in Oaxaca so far. The group brought community members of all ages, young and old, to demand that the Mexican government be accountable for the escalating violence against its own people.
“The thing is, in Oaxaca and in all of Mexico, teachers are appreciated and loved in general – people see them as leaders and hold them in high esteem. People will not stand to see them killed so senselessly,” said Francisco Lopez, Lead Organizer at Voz Hispana. “The repression in Mexico right now is escalating to levels we have not seen the likes of in recent years.”
As of July 1, parts of southern Mexico are reportedly running out of critical supplies, including food, gas, medicine, and water. The violent confrontation between the Mexican government and the Teachers Union escalated on June 19, injuring over 100 activists and killing at least 8. The eight dead that the movement confirmed the first day include Oscar Aguilar Ramírez, 25, Andrés Sanabria García, 23, Anselmo Cruz Aquino, 33, Yalit Jiménez Santiago, 28, Oscar Nicolás Santiago, Omar González Santiago, 22, Antonio Perez García, and Jesús Cadena Sánchez, 19. They were shot and killed when police opened fire with live ammunition on the teachers blockade across a highway. On that day, at least 45 were hospitalized with injuries, the majority gunshot wounds, and 22 disappeared. Since the standoff began, the death toll has risen to at least 13, one of who was a journalist Elidio Ramos Zárate of El Sur.
Teachers from the dissident CNTE union, also known as Section 22, set up a blockade on the Oaxaca-Puebla highway in the municipality of Nochixtlan in mid June, and the altercation escalated when the police attempted to remove them. The striking teachers were staging the blockade in response to President Enrique Peña Nieto’s education reform plans, which hundreds of academics, religious, and human rights organizations around the world condemned publicly in June in a signed document.
“We think that the authorities must commit to dialogue, recognizing the just demands of the teachers’ movement, and not to force to solve this and any other conflict, especially in a country marked by violence and impunity,” the letter states. The letter was read aloud during a mass protest outside of Mexico City on Friday, June 17, when over 14,000 people marched to demand the president and the education minister negotiate their reform, and the release of leaders who had since been arrested and faced what many social justice organizations called “wrongful convictions.”
By Monday, June 20 the world had caught on to the violence against the protesting teachers in Oaxaca.
“We are going to stay here until the government is willing to talk,” stated one teacher who had survived the attacks on a public interview for Democracy Now. “The governor wants what he calls education reform. And what we want is a dialogue for the kind of change that the people require, the kind that meets their needs.”
The teachers union claims the president’s educational reforms rely too heavily on standardized testing, and punish teachers for the low scores of pupils. For many Oaxacans, the migration of young people away from their communities is a devastating problem, one that has been aggravated greatly by the 1994 implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Since then, many teachers feel compelled to provide education as a reason for young people to stay.
“We show solidarity with the teachers, because they are people we respect,” said a Portland protester who simply asked to be named Dolores. “I risked my legal status in this country when I protested here in Portland, because I wanted to show solidarity with those who have been killed. Our teachers are all the children have back home.”