Tens of thousands of farmers have staged a protest rally in Mexico’s capital, calling for agrarian reforms and more economic support for rural communities.
On Monday, the farmers rallied at Mexico City’s main square of Zocalo and then marched along Juarez Avenue in the capital’s center.
The protest, organized by national Autonomous Front of the Countryside, called for more government support for infrastructure and development in rural areas.
The farmers carried banners, saying, “They’ve taken everything from us, even fear.” They also accused President Enrique Pena Nieto of neglecting their needs and failing to fulfill his reform promises.
They also accused the government of failing to keep its land reform promises.
The protest coincided with the 137th birthday of Emiliano Zapata, a prominent figure in the Mexican revolution.
Mexican farmers are suffering under the North American Free Trade Agreement signed between Canada, the US, and Mexico in 1994. The deal flooded Mexico’s markets with subsidized, cheap US food imports, drastically impacting the Latin American country’s agricultural sector.
Members of the Mexican Electrical Workers union and the National Coordinator of Education Workers, or CNTE union, who are engaged in a dispute with the government, also took part in the protest in solidarity with the farmers.
The CNTE teachers oppose planned education reforms introduced in 2013 which they say ignore the unique education needs in rural areas.
President Enrique Pena Nieto unveiled his education reform plans in 2013 as part of a set of 11 neo-liberal structural reforms implemented in his first 20 months in office. Since then, teachers have been engaged in protest rallies, mostly in Mexico’s southeast states.
According to the controversial plan, evaluation exams play a seminal role in determining which applicants are most qualified to fill open positions in the public school system nationwide.
Additionally, the Education Ministry has vowed to dismiss educators that refuse to take the examinations.
The reform plan further intends to eliminate the power that unions have held over hiring decisions and end the reported practice in which teaching positions were either inherited or sold.
Critics say the evaluation measure is merely aimed at justifying mass layoffs and does not effectively assess teaching skills, such as the special knowledge and demeanor needed to teach in rural areas and indigenous communities.