COMENTARIO: Se muestra claramente en este artículo la relación existente entre actores no estatales -aparentemente no conectados- como grupos sindicales y el narcotráfico que actúan sinérgicamente contra un Estado bobo que no atina a solucionar sus dilemas de seguridad.
Jerónimo Mohar, Benoît Gomis Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016
Two years ago, the state of Michoacan on the southwestern coast of Mexico saw the rise of so-called self-defense groups. These were heterogeneous groups comprised of a mix of locals genuinely exasperated with the authorities’ inability to protect them from organized crime and cells of criminal organizations rivaling the state’s predominant drug cartel, the Knights Templar.
Much has changed with regard to self-defense groups since then. In early 2014, federal forces took over security of large parts of Michoacan as the state government had become overwhelmed and largely infiltrated by organized crime. After tense negotiations with the federal government, self-defense groups were partially dissolved and integrated into local police forces. Others that were less cooperative with the government were imprisoned, often for violating Mexican guns laws. Yet another faction simply disbanded amid accusations they had been working for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, a rival to the Knights Templar that has become one of the country’s most powerful drug-trafficking organizations.
The federal government is no longer in charge of state security in Michoacan, which now has a new governor, Silvano Aureoles, from the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD. But the overall environment remains as problematic as when the self-defense groups first stepped into the limelight. Organized crime continues to be a significant problem in Michoacan, where homicide levels are up 70 percent from last year and at a 22-year high, according to the Executive Secretariat of the National System for Public Security. But the more recent governance challenge is political.
Michoacan is the bastion of a radical offshoot of Mexico’s dissident teachers’ union, the National Committee for Education Workers, or CNTE by its Spanish acronym. Traditionally, the main teachers’ union, the National Trade Union of Education Workers, or SNTE, had more political heft given its size as the largest labor union in Latin America; its membership of 1.5 million is almost 10 times that of the CNTE. But after notorious SNTE leader Elba Esther Gordillo was arrested on embezzlement charges in 2013, the more raucous CNTE took center stage.
The CNTE’s main point of contention with the government is the implementation of education reforms that President Enrique Pena Nieto successfully passed through Congress at the beginning of his administration with the support of Mexico’s three main parties. Mexico performs poorly in international standardized tests; for example, it ranked 54th out of 76 countries in a 2015 OECD global schools ranking. One of the main tenets of the reforms is to impose greater accountability on the country’s education system through teacher evaluations, sanctions for absentee teachers and other measures. The CNTE vehemently opposes these changes, arguing in particular that the evaluations are poorly designed and would penalize staff in rural areas.
Since the reforms passed in early 2013 as part of Pena Nieto’s “Pact for Mexico,” the CNTE has waged an ongoing, highly disruptive and at times violent protest campaign in the states where it has a stronghold. Favored tactics include blocking railways, paralyzing cities with protests and taking over government buildings.
The same conditions that allowed organized crime and vigilante groups to flourish in Michoacan are providing fertile ground for the dissident teachers’ union to wreak havoc.
Michoacan has paid a heavy toll. Last month, 50 business associations and nongovernment organizations sent a letter to Pena Nieto, Aureoles and Secretary of the Interior Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, in which they warned that the state’s governability was at risk. Local business chambers estimate that the CNTE has caused $80 million worth of losses for local businesses and have led children to lose out on 297 days of teaching since 2010.
The CNTE’s current tactics are not new. The history of the relationship between Mexico’s teachers’ unions and the country’s government is marked by instances in which the unions used social mobilization and protests as a way to extract ever more concessions from the government. The long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and later the PAN also leveraged this dynamic to gain political muscle.
Ultimately, the same conditions that allowed organized crime to flourish and enabled vigilante groups to take justice into their own hands in Michoacan are providing fertile ground for the CNTE to wreak havoc. Weak and ineffective institutions have created a vacuum in which contending power groups can impose their agenda on the local population.
The case of Michoacan illustrates a nationwide challenge. While the Mexican economy needed the sweeping reforms that Pena Nieto passed in his administration’s early days, the country is still hamstrung by persistent problems of corruption and weak judicial and security institutions, especially at the local level.
This negligence has various roots. The government’s interactions with highly disruptive protest movements have a dark history, most of all the violent repression of a student movement in 1968 in which hundreds of people were killed. As Mexican political analyst Luis Rubio noted in his book, “The Problem of Power,” “the lesson that was derived from that experience was wrong. After those events, the government chose to never apply any law; the implicit rationale was that it is better to have troublemakers around than to pay the consequences that come from the brutality of a poorly trained police force.”
The future of Michoacan, and Mexico as a whole, will largely depend on federal and local institutions’ ability to find an alternative to either inaction or repression. Perhaps as importantly, the federal government will have to convince Mexicans, and the powerful teachers’ unions, of the necessity of the education reforms, using the little political capital it has left. The reform’s symbolic weight was that it was a message from an emboldened new administration to the various powers that be in Mexico that the federal government was once again asserting more centralized control over the country. As negotiations with the CNTE have reached an impasse, whether the government sticks to its guns or reverts to old habits in dealing with the teachers’ unions will send a powerful message of how committed it is to the daunting task of reforming Mexico.
Jerónimo Mohar is an associate consultant at Grupo Atalaya, a Mexican strategic risk consultancy.
Benoît Gomis is an international security analyst focusing on terrorism and organized crime, and an associate fellow at Chatham House.