By RICARDO CASTILLO
The outraged protests against a memorandum issued on April 16 by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) that eliminated the country’s ill-fated Education Reform has been massive, to put it mildly.
Critics have called the memorandum “unconstitutional” and claim that AMLO stepped out of bounds and has entered the country into the first stages of a progression toward a dictatorship. But is this really the case, or is the uproar over the memo just a continuation of the ongoing political road rage that the losing political parties underwent last July when AMLO gave them all a thrashing at the polls?
In order to fully understand the current political landscape in Mexico, let’s first review the content of the controversial three-page memo. Basically, it refers to the issue of the Education Reform implemented by former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and at loggerheads in Congress due to monumental differences of opinion. Rather than continue to waste time trying to resolve this seemingly unresolvable debate, AMLO simply opted for an unusual means of giving orders in Mexico, a means which is commonly used and is perfectly legal in the United States, the issuing of an executive order.
The memo was addressed to Interior Secretary (SeGob) Olga Sánchez Cordero, Education Secretary Esteban Moctezuma Barragán and Finance Secretary (Hacienda) Carlos Manuel Urzúa Macías. In the memo, he informed these three members of his cabinet:
That for as long as the dialogue procedures continue in Congress, the corresponding secretariats will consider void and without effect all measures previously implemented under the education reform.
It also stated that public education in Mexico must be obligatory, lay, multicultural, of quality and free for all levels of learning.
And it specified that the payroll of the education sector will now come under the control of Hacienda, which must impede “patrimonial practices, aviators (the practice of having people on the payroll who only show up twice a month to collect their checks) and any form of corruption.” It further stated that the Public Education Secretariat will administer all teacher hirings, will avoid trafficking with these jobs and will guarantee the contracting of teachers graduated from public normal education schools.
It likewise stated that SeGob must carry out the legal processing and actions to free all teachers and social workers who are currently being held in prison for having opposed the reform or for having had participation in other just social causes.
Immediately, the memo was lambasted by AMLO’s political adversaries, with many claiming that within a constitutional system, an executive order of this sort could only be issued by “a madman.” Others said that it was part of AMLO’s crusading plot to carry out what he has called the #Fourth Transformation” (4T for short), which follows after Mexico’s three previous constitutional changes of government, which occured in 1825, 1857 and 1917.
What this memo real does, however, is go back in time to leave the Mexican education system as it was before Peña Nieto was president. It must be taken into consideration that, since 1992, there’s been a constant struggle in Mexico to decentralize education from the federal government and give full management to the states. Under Peña Nieto’s reform, this move proved counterproductive since it became a source of increased corruption, giving education unions the power to control teachers’ permanent jobs, either through sale or inheritance.
At the same time, some state governments allegedly began embezzling teacher salaries. The final straw came in January, when the Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) union in Michoacán paralyzed the railroad traffic from the Pacific port of Lázaro Cárdenas to the rest of Mexico. They tachers clamed that they had not been paid their wages by the current Michoacán state administration (under Governor Silvano Aureoles) and unionists claimed they were owed back pay for years for a total amount of 8 billion pesos. This railroad blockade was what broke, in AMLO’s words, the burro’s back.
The fact of the matter is that the CNTE has been a nagging headache, not only for AMLO, but for all Mexican presidents, as well as the people they affect with their road and railroad blockading tactics, for the past 30 years. Some of the memo critics claimed that AMLO issued the memo because he was so desperate with trying to appease the CNTE, which is, apparently, the main obstacle to congressional approval of a new law ruling over education practices and teachings. In fact, the CNTE has set up a “permanent” blockade of the Chamber of Deputies, trying to impose the will of its members and, some claim, to regain lost privileges under the Peña Nieto education reform. The CNTE wants to control the hiring and firing of teachers.
The furious political response against the memo has also incited AMLO to engage in a war of insults, responding to critics who have attacked him in social media and the conservative press (fifis, he calls them). These conservative journalists have called the president any number of niceties, and on Saturday, April 20 – while on Easter vacation – AMLO just couldn’t hold back and, mimicking the likes of U.S. President Donal Trump, retorted:
“They were as mum as mummies when human rights were being sacked and trampled on,” AMLO said, referring to his critics. “Now, they scream like town criers that it is unconstitutional to vie for justice and banish corruption. There’s no doubt that the only doctrine of the conservatives is hypocrisy. They are like whitewashed tombstones.”
This discussion, some claim, could be easily resolved if someone were to file suit in any court of law against the allegedly unconstitutional memo. But even the nation’s best lawyers – many of them opinionated critics of the memo – have not done this. But they claim the memo could be “easily” annulled in a first round of a legal battle. That has not happened.
In the meantime, the above mentioned members of AMLO’s cabinet are going ahead and putting into practice the “instructions” in the memo.