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The CNTE: 22 years of absolute control

A 1993 accord gave the teachers far-reaching powers and almost total impunity

The political and economic power of Section 22 of the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) originated with a settlement signed in 1993 by then Oaxaca governor Heladio Ramírez. Since then, the dissident teachers’ union might well have become the most confrontational pressure group in Mexico.

The level of power and control held by Section 22 has allowed its members to indulge in crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, theft and vandalism, crimes normally associated with organized crime, according to in-depth reports in the newspaper Milenio. And most of the time, CNTE’s actions go unpunished.

The 1993 agreement was broad in its scope, and explains the current chokehold CNTE has on Oaxaca. The accord granted the union total control over 80,000 teaching positions in the state, while today it is also being used as the basis for the argument against the widely debated teacher performance evaluations.

The CNTE has a definitive say in the designation of Oaxaca State Institute of Public Education (IEEPO) officials and also lets the union decide who the teachers’ affairs prosecutor is at the local Attorney General’s office. In short, the CNTE gained absolute control over education in Oaxaca.

All the agreements and cessions signed 22 years ago are in direct contradiction to the recent modifications to the third article of the constitution, which established that the sole criterion for assigning teaching positions shall be through an evaluation under conditions of equality for all candidates.

For his part, Section 22 general secretary Rubén Núñez refutes any federal regulation that forces evaluations on teachers and requires them to compete for a position. “For over 20 years our assignation of teaching positions has been guaranteed, and we are the only [institution] capable of evaluating teachers in the state.”

The CNTE’s prerogatives don’t end there. Over the years, its leadership has systematically tapped into millions of pesos of public funds, paying its elite membership duplicate salaries under the guise of “union fees,” all managed through a fictitious school.

The school’s address, on downtown Oaxaca’s Armenta y López street, is officially registered before the Public Education Secretariat, the SEP, but in reality it houses the headquarters of Section 22, where 146 teachers, all part of the higher echelon of Section 22, are paid monthly salaries of up to 70,000 pesos.

According to federal regulations the current state of affairs is highly irregular and illegal: while they may be teachers they never teach; their tasks are solely union-related.

The Federal Auditor’s Office has denounced the situation since 2007 but to no effect, despite having detailed information regarding triangulation in which federal funds allocated to IEEPO are misappropriated. Instead of going to Oaxaca students, they end up in the bank accounts of top and mid-level unionized teachers.

The funds assigned to the so-called school are so high that, if it were a real one, it would have the ninth largest budget in Oaxaca. Its teachers receive more than 90% of the teachers in the state.

The strength of Section 22 is far from being only economic or political. Radical in origin, the union has become even more so in recent years. For example, the Coalition of Education Workers (UTE) is CNTE’s shock force. Made up of 3,000 to 8,000 members, it includes, in addition to teachers, merchants, farmers, cab drivers and others.

The UTE is said to be influenced and infiltrated by the People’s Revolutionary Front (FPR), the civilian branch of the People’s Revolutionary Army (EPR), a leftist guerrilla movement with a presence in central and southeastern Mexico.

It was UTE members who, in the week before the June 7 elections and on election day, attacked electoral offices and burned election-related documents in Oaxaca. Twenty-five of them were arrested and are currently in prison.

The history of the UTE’s aggression is long. It has been accused of disabling surveillance cameras in the Oaxaca capital, and it confronted federal forces during the 2006 Oaxaca riots. Last September, the UTE occupied the Congress of Oaxaca.

Fifty teachers form the core of the UTE, and according to Central Valleys teachers’ leader Ramiro Cuevas, they “have travelled abroad to places like Venezuela, where they learn different offensive tactics to better fight the state.”

There have been few dissident voices raised within Section 22. One of them is professor Jesús López, who believes that the union’s leadership has been perverted. “There’s a credibility crisis and there’s no consensus as to what route [Section 22] must take.”

López goes on to assert that union leader Núñez has lost control of Section 22, and there’s distrust among the membership.

“The current situation within Section 22 is disastrous. They are going to lose their [social] movement, their fight against the education reforms, including the performance evaluations,” he concluded.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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