Entering the state of Oaxaca has become a trying process, ever since the Mexican Federal Police massacred, according to human rights reports, at least eight supporters of Mexico's protesting teachers in Nochixtlan on June 19, 2016. More than 170 people were injured during the incident in the community of Nochixtlan, Oaxaca.
At first, police responding to the protests fired tear gas and rubber bullets. Then they began using live ammunition. Authorities claim police opened fire after being shot at by radical groups that had infiltrated the protest, but others dispute this. Following this incident and the investigation of a different confrontation that resulted in the death of forty-two civilians, the chief of the federal police force, Enrique Galindo, was removed from his position. But no one has been charged in these killings and the investigation is ongoing.
After the killings, teachers and their supporters erected statewide roadblocks. Overnight, Oaxaca became the epicenter of the latest conflict between President Enrique Pena Nieto's education "reforms" and the people who are determined to resist them. Cars and trucks burned across the state, protesters destroyed toll booths, and military helicopters hovered overhead in a scene reminiscent of a war zone.
Mexico is undergoing a historic revolt against the privatization of public services, including education. At stake are two competing ideas of what education should be. On one side are the unionized teachers, who have maintained protests and blockades against the education changes passed in February 2013; on the other side are corporate leaders and their political allies, who seek to dismantle the teachers' unions, and open up education to private investment.
This conflict now involves the founders of the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, a U.S.-based charter school network. The teachers of Mexico, who have been involved in a long, often violent struggle to defend public education, are up against the same school-privatization forces as teachers' unions and public school advocates in the United States.
A week after the massacre in Oaxaca, I traveled to Oaxaca City from San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. In the past, this journey was a thirteen-hour direct bus ride, but now the conflict made things more difficult. After taking five buses, enduring twenty hours of travel, and navigating numerous roadblocks, I arrived at the latest battleground against privatization in Mexico. Along the way, we passed the burnt skeletons of trucks and cars, a reminder of the outrage that followed the massacre.
At one roadblock, I met Jesus Santiago Montes, a fifty-eight-year-old primary school...