Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Today's Headlines: We don't need no education

Some 5,000 members of the militant teacher organization CNTE bused up from the state of Oaxaca yesterday and occupied a long stretch of Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City’s signature boulevard. They got the media coverage they wanted —  four of the five major dailies either led with the story or placed a large photo prominently on page one. La Jornada put it on its contraportada, the back cover of the tabloid that serves as a second front page.
    The demonstration was not about the 43 disappeared normal school students in Guerrero. The Oaxaca teachers are demanding back pay and a repeal of national education reforms that, among other things, impose competency standards. CNTE actions like this one are seldom aimed at fostering support for their cause; they are power plays meant to intimidate authorities and disrupt the lives of everyday people. The headlines reflect those aims. Reforma: “The CNTE defies again.” El Universal: “CNTE takes Reforma.” Excelsior leads with a different but pertinent angle: “1.3 million left without classes in Oaxaca.” 
    The demonstration leaders said they'd occupy Reforma for three days, but Universal’s deadline was late enough to report that the protesters were striking their tents a little after midnight. The boulevard was cleared by dawn, apparently the result of negotiations with the city government. Authorities declared that the AWOL teachers won’t be allowed to occupy the Zócalo, the huge main plaza at the heart of Mexico City’s Historic Center. But they'll no doubt set up camp somewhere nearby.


The team of Argentine forensic experts working with Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (PGR) on the Iguala case issued statements over the weekend branding as premature the PGR’s conclusion that the 43 disappeared students were murdered by members of a drug-trafficking gang who burned thier bodies beyond recognition in a garbage dump. The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, as it’s called, implied that the Mexican investigators cherry-picked evidence to support the official version of events. Just as seriously, the Argentines came uncomfortably close to accusing the PGR of bungling the investigation, claiming that they were lax in protecting the alleged crime scene and committed errors in handling the supposed evidence.
    This news, of course, was red meat for the ample segment of the population that believes the PGR is conducting a cover-up of army and other federal involvement in the September 26-27 events in Iguala and nearby Cocula. On Monday, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam hit back, generating this lead head from La Jornada: “Open clash between PGR and Argentine experts.” And this one from Milenio: “PGR: The Argentines are not the authority, ‘we enabled them.’ What that literal translation means to say is: “The Argentines aren’t in charge here. We are. They’re just the hired help and they should keep their mouths shut.”
    Too late. The parents of the 43 have already declared: “The historical truth has fallen apart.” That’s a reference to Murillo Karam’s characterization of the above-mention PGR conclusion as the "historical truth," his way of saying that it was based on the available facts rather than politics or ideology. The case, he repeated in today’s news stories, is still open.

You hear sometimes that the most influential daily newspaper among the Mexican political class is not Reforma or El Universal but the New York Times. That may or may not be true, but it’s undeniable that a lot of attention gets paid to foreign press coverage of Mexico. We got an exaggerated instance of that a few weeks ago when an opinion piece in the Economist reviewed President Peña Nieto’s descent from a heroic implementer of economic reforms to a troubled leader seen as out of touch with his constituency and unable to respond to the corruption and violence wracking the country. The piece said nothing that hadn’t been repeated a thousand times in all manner of media in every corner of the nation. But because it appeared in a global magazine of high repute, it was posted and shared and tweeted and retweeted and blogged and vlogged ad nauseum, not to mentioned used to fill countless newspaper op-ed columns — in short, hailed as the final word on the subject.
    Now the Times is back in the spotlight, thanks to its ongoing series on the foreign money pumped into New York’s high-end real estate. Some of that money is coming from José Murat Cab, a controversial PRI governor of Oaxaca at the turn of the century and later a major player in forging the Pact for Mexico that led to the adoption of Peña Nieto’s reforms. According to the Times, Murat and his family have acquired a half-dozen properties in the United States.
    He also acquired something else, El Universal’s lead headline tells us: “Murat sells his plane for one million dollars.” Universal got their hands on a copies of the sales records, and the story consists almost entirely of the details, including not only the current registration and serial numbers of the plane, but all the past numbers as well. What we get out of the story is just this: Murat owned a million-dollar plane and now he’s sold it. Why we’re supposed to care is not indicated, but it's understood — a politician who’s rich out of office is suspect. The added interest is summed up in a head for a related El Universal story: “Oaxaca: a poor state but with rich politicians.”
    Stay tuned. Wednesday’s installment of the New York Times series is titled “The Mexican Power Brokers.”

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