By MARK LORENZANA
After heaping praise on Delfina Gómez Álvarez for her tenure as head of Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education (SEP), Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) in his daily morning press conference on Monday, Aug. 15, officially announced the appointment of Leticia Ramírez to take over the leadership of the SEP.
López Obrador assured the audience at the National Palace that Ramírez is “an absolutely trustworthy person who is honest and prepared” and that “she is a woman with convictions.”
Ramírez, according to AMLO, served as leader of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) and the National Coordination of Education Workers (CNTE). In his introduction of Ramírez, López Obrador emphasized the fact that she had worked as a teacher, just like Gómez Álvarez.
“I would like to introduce to you Leticia Ramírez, a teacher, just like Delfina,” López Obrador said. “Lety taught classes for 12 years, and on top of that, we have known each other for 28 years.”
However, education experts who talked to Mexican daily newspaper El Universal said that Ramírez’s “inexperience” will “affect children and adolescents, as well as teachers” and will “exacerbate some problems, such as school dropouts, educational lag and learning loss.”
“This is bad news for education in Mexico for the remainder of this six-year term,” said Alma Maldonado, member of the Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN). “Unfortunately, this administration will end without a project for education, without results and, even worse, without attention to the educational sector.”
For Fernando Ruiz, director of research at educational NGO Mexicanos Primero, Ramírez’s qualifications, other than being “a person who faithfully obeys the instructions of the president” is not enough. He said that an independent-minded person would have been better suited to head the SEP.
López Obrador likewise praised Gómez Álvarez — who is leaving her post to seek the governorship of the State of Mexico (Edoméx) under the banner of AMLO’s leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) — and described her work as exceptional, while highlighting the supposedly “good treatment” of teachers by Gómez Álvarez under her watch.
Gómez Álvarez assumed the position of SEP head on Feb. 16 of last year, replacing Esteban Moctezuma Barragán, who is currently the ambassador of Mexico to the United States. Despite López Obrador’s praises of Gómez Álvarez, however, the outgoing SEP head has had a checkered political career thus far, with the biggest controversy involving her tenure as mayor of the city of Texcoco in the state of Mexico from 2013 to 2015.
Gómez Álvarez was found guilty of withholding 10 percent of the salaries of 472 municipal workers in Texcoco and funneling the money into Morena coffers. In September of last year, Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE) obtained evidence that Gómez Álvarez had taken a percentage of workers’ salaries through checks from the City Council of Texcoco, checks that she herself signed. In addition, evidence showed that one of her assistants, María Victoria Anaya Campos, received from 2013 to 2015 more than 10.8 million pesos from the workers’ withheld salaries.
However, apart from a fine of 4.5 million pesos that the INE imposed on Morena in what the electoral body described as “an irregular financing network carried out between February 2013 and July 2015 in Texcoco that served to pay for Morena’s training,” Gómez Álvarez has largely escaped the misappropriation case unscathed.
Likewise, as education secretary, Gómez Álvarez was responsible for the scrapping of Mexico’s Full-Time School Program (PETC), which was a big blow for working families. The cancellation of the PETC — which López Obrador blasted for corruption, without offering evidence — left more than 3.6 million students in the country’s poorest communities without extra academic hours and healthy lunches, and deprived their parents of the opportunity to seek full-time employment.