The Struggle of Chiapas Normalistas to Survive: Expulsions, Less Money and Fewer Places

Photo: Arturo Mijangos/ Cuartoscuro

State police evicted and detained students from the rural normal school of Mactumactzá in Chiapas who were demanding the in-person application of their new entrance exam. All 95 students detained now face the crimes of rioting, gang membership, robbery with violence, damages and attacks on communication routes. Relatives, students and teachers marched to demand the release of the students.

Text: Ángeles Mariscal and Isaín Mandujano / Chiapas Paralelo 
Alejandro Ruiz / Pie de Página
Photo: Arturo Mijangos / Cuartoscuro
Text y photos: Isaín Mandujano

Updated on May 19th.

CHIAPAS —Some 500 normalistas1, teachers and parents demanded in front of the State Attorney General’s Office (FGE) the release of the 95 youths detained by state police and now accused of the crimes of rioting, gangsterism, violent robbery, damage and attacks on the means of communication.

After a march of several kilometers and over two hours on the North Highway of the state capital, from the Rural Normal School of Mactumatzá, the human column arrived at the FGE. There they stationed themselves at the main gate to hold a rally.

The FGE said that it opened an investigation through the Central District and Adolescent Prosecutor’s Offices on charges of rioting, gang membership, violent robbery, damage and attacks on  the means of communication for the events that took place at the Chiapa de Corzo-San Cristóbal de Las Casas toll booth, where the students were seized.

On Tuesday morning, half a thousand riot police came in full force in an operation to evict the students. They were demonstrating for the seventh consecutive day to demand that the government of Chiapas implement in-person admission exams for the 2021-2022 school year. 

The students claim that in their communities, lack of access to the internet and the possibility of competing in the process to enter the school puts them at a disadvantage.

The pandemic managed to broaden the digital divide and inequality between those who have access to the resources and tools to deal with the new educational modalities brought about by the covid-19 pandemic, and those who do not.

Normalista students are among those who do not. They are young people of limited resources who come from rural and indigenous areas, with little or no access to computers and internet in their communities of origin; resources that  now require them to take an entrance exam.

In 2020, during the pandemic, the National Institute of Geography and Statistics (Inegi), published statistics for the occasion of World Internet Day, May 17. Chiapas ranked last nationally for homes with internet and also for homes with cell phone users.

That year, the Ministry of Education accepted only 6 of the 32 applicants to the Rural Normal School Mactumactzá; that is to say, less than 20 percent of those whose only opportunity to study is in this educational center where they have a roof, food and meals.

Because for them, for their fathers and mothers, almost all of whom work in the fields, paying for lodging, daily meals, fares and educational supplies is impossible. In Chiapas 7 out of 10 people live in poverty.

If we add to this the fact that Mexico is trying to align educational projects to the standards set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which measures according to the requirements of the western capitalist market, these rural youth have little place. The budget for their schools is gradually decreasing.

In this scenario, for the young teachers, their struggle each year is for the budget, enrollment, permanence and survival of the school. Every year they take to the streets, blocking highways and city entrances, in a desperate struggle to make themselves heard and to ensure the continued possibility of studying. This 2021 was no exception.

Expulsion 

This Tuesday, May 18, they were expelled as they demonstrated at the toll booth on the highway that connects the indigenous zone of the state. In the operation, in which half a thousand riot police participated, 74 women and 21 men were detained.

The group of students has been carrying out public demonstrations since May 11, which included blockades at the entrances to the capital. This was a measure to pressure the educational authorities to respond favorably to their demands.

In the morning they closed the toll booth on the highway that connects Tuxtla Gutiérrez with San Cristóbal de Las Casas, and blocked the western entrance to the city.

In order to remove them from these sites, riot police fired tear gas and detained 95. Those who escaped this operation took refuge inside the school.

“I arrived at Macumatzá at 11 o’clock in the morning to support the kids,” says teacher Javier Saavedra, a member of the Executive Committee of Section VII of the National Coordinating Committee of Education Workers (Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación). “There was a gas canister, it was very strong-smelling, I think because the police had been shooting beforehand. Then the police entered the normal school, fired and that is when the fire was set.” 

The Chiapas State Attorney General’s Office reported 95 arrests. Normalistas held a rally outside the Attorney General’s Office to demand the presentation of their comrades alive; as well as the immediate release of those who continue to be detained. 

At the normal school, in a press conference, they denounced that their detained female comrades were sexually abused. “We are a few of us who escaped, our classmates are missing, we know nothing about them, the only thing we knew about them is that they were being raped,” said one of the students, without giving further details.

Hours after the eviction operation, the students warned:

“Those detained are children of social organizations from Chenalhó, Oxchuc, Chamula, Zinacantán, Comalapa. If  as of today, the government does not release the compañeros, they should not doubt that a revolution will break out, because you are messing with the children of peasants, you are messing with the children of revolutionaries.”

Spokeswoman

Braulio is a student at the Mactumatzá rural teacher training school. He affrims that the origin of the conflict comes from the failure of the Secretary of Education of Chiapas, Rosa Aidé Domínguez Ochoa, to comply with agreements. 

“We had entered into agreements at a negotiation table on April 12 , and agreed that the call for the new entrance exam was going to be in person. This would be done in writing, with a booklet in hand, but we saw that they were not respecting those agreements and we decided to put pressure on them,” he said in an interview.

For the students of Mactumatzá, taking the new entrance exam electronically would be excluding peasant and indigenous youth from accessing the right to education. This method does not take into account the social reality experienced by hundreds of communities in the state of Chiapas .

“Last year they gave the exam online,” Braulio continues, “and this excluded many students; not all of us have the money to buy a tablet or a computer, or to pay for wifi. I ask myself how is it possible that now that we are in a green light if they allow  for elections and not entrance exams?” 

The normalistas decided to hold a press conference outside the Government Palace to make public the outrages against them.

“This press conference was on May 12. There we had summoned the media to listen to our demands; however, when we were there we realized that people from the roof of the palace began to throw tear gas at us. Some of our comrades began to defend themselves, they were repressing us”, added Braulio. 

Various sections of the Coordination have expressed their condemnation of the aggressions perpetrated by the government of Rutilio Escandón Cadenas. They hold the politics and the Secretary of Education responsible for any physical or psychological agression against the detained students; as well as for identifying the whereabouts of the 200 students who fled from the repression.

The Benito Juarez Scholarship

For its part, the government of Chiapas, through a communiqué, reported that the detainees were handed over to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. “In order to clarify the facts and determine responsibility.”

It added that the students had in their possession “two vehicles carrying explosive devices (firecrackers used in traditional festivities)”; and four buses from different companies, among them a PEMEX bus loaded with diesel.

Regarding their demands, the government maintained that the Mactumactzá school has received 4 million 539 thousand 800 pesos this year, from federal and state funds. In total, in 2021, they will receive monthly allocations for expenses, which at the end of the year will total 35.5 million pesos.

The government of Chiapas explained that 487 students are enrolled in the school and receive food, uniforms and the Benito Juarez scholarship.

They did not say anything about the in-person admission exam demanded by the normalistas.

This article written by the CHIAPAS PARALELO team, which is part of the media alliance of the Red de Periodistas de a Pie. Here you can consult the original publication.

The article above was published in Pie de Página on May 18th 2021, and updated on the 19th. This English interpretation has been published by Schools for Chiapas.

Footnotes

  1. Literally, student teachers, normalistas are rural and often indigenous students of limited resources attending rural educational centers to become professional teachers. The Normal schools are boarding schools born out of the Mexican Revolution to broaden education into the countryside. They have carried the revolutionary spirit throughout their history and are frequently threatened by cuts to resources.