Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico, Aug 27 (EFE).- Around 300 people in this capital of the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, mostly teachers opposed to a resumption of in-person schooling, on Friday prevented President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from arriving at the site of his regularly scheduled press briefing.
Chiapas Gov. Rutilio Escandon said at the start of the press conference that the militant CNTE teachers union, a powerful labor organization in that region, impeded passage of the president’s vehicle.
The head of state, popularly known as AMLO, connected to the briefing about an hour later via video conference from the automobile.
“Teachers with the Chiapas CNTE prevented us from entering under the condition that we had to attend to them immediately and resolve their demands. I can’t allow that because the president of Mexico can’t be anyone’s hostage,” AMLO said from the vehicle.
The only other time the president – who meets with reporters, typically in Mexico City, from Monday through Friday – missed a briefing was in January after he had tested positive for Covid-19.
His media availability contrasts sharply with that of his predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto, who almost never took questions from journalists during his six-year term.
The teachers’ protest occurred in the context of a controversial plan to resume in-person schooling on Monday after nearly a year and a half of coronavirus-triggered distance learning.
That policy change has sparked criticism because Mexico, which has had 3.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 250,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19 (fourth-most worldwide), is currently immersed in a third pandemic wave.
“This is more of a matter of political interests. I’d like for the Chiapas teachers, the rank and file, to analyze this situation, whether what they’re doing is right and if I deserve to be treated this way,” AMLO said.
Joining the protesting CNTE teachers were students of teacher-training academies, mothers of victims of violence, feminists and public-health personnel who demanded increased access to medical supplies, Efe observed.
After the demonstrators blocked the road, Lopez Obrador refused to get out of the vehicle.
“It was like a protest on my part, so these groups don’t go too far, (so they) show respect. Because what they’re doing is completely illegal, improper. Of course they have the right to demonstrate, and we’ll always respect (that right),” he said on the video call.
AMLO added that unlike his predecessors his administration does not allow the repression of dissent.
He recalled, however, that he has already met with the CNTE “eight or 10 times” and has met their demands, including undoing a 2013 education overhaul carried out by the previous administration that included mandatory teacher-performance evaluations.
“There are also vested interests within the leadership. This isn’t about the rank-and-file teachers. Unfortunately these things happen … I can’t submit to a any vested interest group, so I decided to stay here,” AMLO said.
At the end of the hour-long press briefing the teachers finally allowed the president to enter the headquarters of the 7th Military Region in Tuxtla Gutierrez, where a meeting of his security Cabinet also had been scheduled. EFE