The CNTE teachers union demanded the immediate return of their leaders, Francisco Manuel Villalobos Ricardez and Ruben Nuñez, whom they said were forcibly disappeared by the governments of President Enrique Peña Nieto and Oaxaca Govenor Gabino Cue.
The federal government said Villalobos, who serves as head of the CNTE in Oaxaca, was detained Saturday on charges of aggravated robbery. The charges stem from the seizure of textbooks by the teachers union in 2015.
His arrest came after nearly 500 protesters were violently evicted from a public square by at least a thousand police officers in the city of Oaxaca.
Teachers belonging to the dissident CNTE union were occupying the headquarters of the Oaxaca State Institute of Public Education, located in the historic center of the capital, as part of the general strike to protest the education reform.
The secretary-general of the CNTE in Oaxaca, Ruben Nuñez, was subsequently detained by police on Sunday morning.
A statement from the CNTE’s Section 22 union local in Oaxaca referred to the arrests as “fascist raids” and “kidnappings,” akin to the enforced disappearances which have plagued Mexican society for years and skyrocketed under the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto.
According to witnesses who spoke to La Jornada, the arrest of Nuñez was carried out with violence, with the union leader, who suffers from diabetes and hypertension, being taken to the Mexico City airport and later flown to Hermosillo, Sonora, in northern Mexico.
Nuñez was detained on allegations of money laundering.
Leaders from the CNTE said they would not be deterred by the repression at the hands of the government and instead called for a new round of protests.
The CNTE further stated, “This disastrous government forgets that our spirited Local 22 has been able to maintain its strength because it is a grassroots movement. There will never be enough jails to imprison all the teachers of the country. The government may be able to take away the freedoms of many, but never the ideals of their struggle, their convictions and their determination to resist the assault of a terrorist government.”
Teachers with the CNTE and their supporters set up roadblocks throughout Oaxaca in response the state’s crackdown in scenes reminiscent of the 2006 uprising that saw the state government virtually collapse.
Reports indicated the government was building up its security forces near the city of Oaxaca, leading to fears that it was preparing for another raid.
Teachers affiliated with the CNTE in the states of Oaxaca, Michoacan, Guerrero and Chiapas have been protesting for months. The union represents some 200,000 teachers, mostly in poor rural areas, and was established as an alternative to the corporatist SNTE union, which is aligned with the Peña Nieto government and is considered the largest union in Latin America.
The few talks between the government and striking teachers have produced little results, with the government demanding teachers return to classes before talks continue. Meanwhile, the teachers are demanding the government freeze the implementation of its unpopular education reform.
The controversial law imposes teacher evaluations that critics say only justifies mass layoffs and does not effectively measure teaching skills.
The arrests of the Nuñez and Villalobos will likely only serve to ratchet up tensions between the two sides.