Mexico City paralyzed by teachers’ protests

Thousands of striking teachers strangled traffic and blocked access to Mexico City’s international airport on Friday, flexing their muscles in a bid to block educational reforms intended to introduce teacher evaluations and reduce union power over hiring decisions.

Several thousand teachers blocked the main expressway leading to the airport; they had vowed to seize the terminal, but police were called in to block the march.

Travelers were forced to walk part of the way to the airport to catch their flights. Some fliers were ferried into the airport aboard federal police trucks once they reached police lines set up to prevent protesters from seizing the terminal.

Other travelers, both Mexican and foreign, were seen walking glumly up the expressway leading to the airport dragging suitcases and dodging teachers sitting on beach chairs under plastic tarps doing crossword puzzles or reading the newspaper.

Weary of almost a week of constant protests, Mexico City residents expressed anger at city authorities who seemingly allowed the teachers to block as many streets as they wanted.

“Unfortunately, this happens because the government allows it,” said businessman Jose Marmolejo, who was stuck in snarling traffic for three hours before reaching the airport. “These teachers are not from Mexico City and they don’t understand the chaos they are creating.”

Thousands of teachers belonging to the radical teachers’ union, known as the CNTE, began gathering in Mexico City in recent weeks. The union’s members have battled police in the past in the southern states of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Michoacan. In 2006, a union-led coalition seized almost the entire city of Oaxaca for nearly five months, until federal forces retook the city amid pitched battles.

The protesters took over much of Mexico City’s downtown historic district, erecting a vast tent encampment in the main plaza and surrounding streets.

The teachers have refused to move to make room for Sunday’s Mexico City Marathon race, forcing organizers to reroute the run.

Hundreds of striking teachers battled police at the Congress building Wednesday night and later blockaded streets around the building, forcing lawmakers to meet in a convention center to vote on the education reform bill, parts of which were approved by the lower house.

The bill introduces teacher evaluations and reduces the power of corruption-ridden unions in hiring teachers, many of whom inherit their jobs from relatives under current rules.

Protesters say the reform relies too heavily on tests, and say student and parent evaluations and other factors should be taken into account.