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Cablegate: Leader of Nuevo Leon Teachers Union Vigorously

VZCZCXRO8113
RR RUEHCD RUEHGA RUEHGD RUEHHA RUEHHO RUEHMC RUEHNG RUEHNL RUEHQU
RUEHRD RUEHRS RUEHTM RUEHVC
DE RUEHME #1133/01 1061649
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 151649Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY MEXICO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1454
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
INFO RUCNCAN/ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXC/ALL US CONSULATES IN MEXICO COLLECTIVE
RHMFIUU/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF EDUCATION WASHINGTON DC
RUEAHLA/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MEXICO 001133

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR DRL/AWH AND ILCSR, WHA/MEX, USDOL FOR ILAB

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB ECON PGOV SOCI PINR MX
SUBJECT: LEADER OF NUEVO LEON TEACHERS UNION VIGOROUSLY
DEFENDS HIS ORGANIZATION

REF: MEXICO 1049

1. Summary: Mission Mexico personnel recently met with Juan
Antonio Rodriguez Gonzalez, the head of Section 21 of the
teachers, union in the northern state of Nuevo Leon.
Section 21 is a part of the National Teachers Union (SNTE)
whose members are federal civil service employees. Over the
course of the meeting Rodriguez strongly affirmed his
allegiance to both the SNTE and to the president of the
national union, Elba Ester Gordillo Morales, a controversial
figure often blamed for many of the ills of Mexico,s public
schools system. At no time did Rodriguez attempt to deny the
questionable state of Mexico,s public school system nor did
he seek to gainsay the political clout of this powerful
union. He did, however, attempt to put the ills of the union
in historical and political context. Having just returned
from an SNTE national conference, Rodriguez discussed some
elements of a plan of action agreed to at that event to begin
to address the problems of Mexican public schools. In
discussing ways to improve the effectiveness of Mexico,s
schools, he acknowledged an urgent need for better teacher
training, particularly with regard to teaching English.
Rodriguez then made a pitch for USG assistance in this area.
Better English language teaching skills he stated would help
teachers prepare students for success in Mexico,s always
tight job market. End Summary.


A UNION LEADER STANDS HIS GROUND
--------------------------------

2. On April 8, AmConsul Monterrey,s Pol/Econ Officer and
Mission Mexico,s Labor Counselor met with Juan Antonio
Rodriguez Gonzalez, the head of Section (Local) 21 of the
National Teachers Union (SNTE) in the northern state of Nuevo
Leon. Rodriguez is currently about half way through a
four-year term as the head of the Nuevo Leon teachers,
union. At the time of the meeting Rodriguez had only just
returned from a conference of the SNTE,s 24th National
Council where, according to press reports, the labor
organization discussed such issues as way to improve the
quality of education in Mexican public schools, a
restructuring of the SNTE,s central executive committee, the
union,s relationship with the GOM,s Secretariat of Public
Education (SEP) and negotiations for a five percent increase
in teacher salaries. All SNTE teachers are federal civil
service employees.

3. Within a very few moments of the start of the meeting
Rodriguez declared that in addition to being a labor union
the SNTE was also an organization with a firmly held left
wing political philosophy. Speaking quietly but firmly
Rodriguez left no doubt that he was very comfortable with
that philosophy. As the meeting went on the Nuevo Leon SNTE
leader asserted that the teachers of SNTE are often
criticized and attacked politically because of their leftist
principles. Because of their ideals, Rodriguez declared, the
teachers and their union are not afraid to stand up for what
they believe and challenge right wing politicians and other
vested interests in Mexico.

4. Later in the meeting, when again touching on the theme of
standing up for firmly held principles Rodriguez
aggressively, but respectfully, raised the subject of US
immigration policy. Like many Mexicans across the political
spectrum Rodriguez felt that the US should acknowledge the
contributions to the American economy being made by Mexican
migrants. He sharply criticized the building of a wall along
the US/Mexico border and asserted that no matter how high or
technologically advanced the wall was Mexicans would always
find a way to enter the US. Consequently, he opined, the US
should adapt a more open immigration policy and take
immediate steps to provide legal residence to the Mexicans
already living in the United States.

5. His openly displayed leftist principles notwithstanding,
Rodriguez showed he was prepared to listen to new information
and factor this into his thinking. After explaining the
USG,s position on enhanced entry/exit border controls
Mission Labor Counselor cautioned Rodriguez to consider the
most likely outcome of any reform of US immigration law.
Labor Counselor pointed out to Rodriguez that any future

MEXICO 00001133 002 OF 003


reform would most likely provide benefits to all foreign
nationals and not just Mexicans. Leaving aside the issue of
foreign nationals already in the US, Rodriguez was asked to
consider what would happen when the geographic advantage
enjoyed by Mexicans migrants was neutralized by reforms that
placed all migrants on an equal footing. Rodriguez
acknowledged that he had never considered what would happen
to Mexicans hoping to migrate to the US when they had to
compete for immigration benefits with people from China,
India, the Philippines and other labor exporting countries.
He then indicated that he would have to give the entire
matter careful additional thought.


THEY MADE US WHAT WE ARE
------------------------

6. When asked why he thought the SNTE was viewed negatively
by so many Mexicans Rodriguez stated that it was unfair to
judge the union without understanding the historical context
that created it. Because of its size (SNTE is the largest
single union in Latin America) and the fact that its members
are civil servants, teachers have always been viewed as
easily mobilized foot soldiers by previous Mexican
governments at both the federal and state levels. In fact,
Rodriguez asserted, the teachers union has received financial
incentives to keep growing so that Mexican politicians could
always have a large and disciplined rent-a-crowd on call.
Over the years the SNTE and its members have been drafted as
demonstrators and foot soldiers into countless political
battles.

7. Given this context, Rodriguez said, it is no wonder that
the SNTE became a highly political organization that soon
realized that its size enabled it to pursue its own agenda.
This realization, he continued, has occasionally prompted
some within the union to focus more on political agendas and
principles rather than on improving the quality of education
in Mexico,s public school system. The SNTE is now both a
labor union and an influential political organization. In
recent years, Rodriguez continued, the SNTE has turned into a
major actor on the Mexican political scene largely because of
the influence of the organization,s national leader, Elba
Ester Gordillo Morales. Often referred to simply as &the
Teacher8, Gordillo is commonly cited as an excellent example
of everything that is wrong with Mexican labor leaders. For
example, she recently arranged to have herself declared the
de facto SNTE president for life; the union is widely
believed to be corrupt and she is regularly criticized for
her ostentatiously lavish lifestyle. Nevertheless she is a
power in Mexican politics and can legitimately claim that she
played a significant role in the election Mexico,s current
President, Felipe Calderon, when she had SNTE quietly through
him its support. For his part, Rodriguez stated that he was
in complete agreement with Gordillo,s handling of SNTE
affairs and that he was firmly in her camp with regard to
both her union and political activities.


IDEAS FOR IMPROVING MEXICAN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
-------------------------------------------

8. As mentioned above, at the time of the meeting Rodriguez
had only just returned from an assembly of the SNTE,s 24th
National Council. During that meeting he said Elba Ester
Gordillo had called on the SNTE members present at the event
to come together and agree on ideas to address some of the
more urgent problems in Mexico,s public school system.
According to Rodriguez the attendees collectively came up
with numerous suggestions for improving the quality of
education in Mexico,s public schools. One of the first
things the National Council meeting agreed Mexico needed to
do was adopt a new underlying teaching philosophy and more
modern teaching methods. Mexico,s teaching methods, he
stated, were 50 years out of date. The teaching methods now
in use were cutting edge at the time they were adopted but
they were no longer adequate to the needs of the country;
particularly with respect to preparing students to compete
for jobs in Mexico,s increasingly globalized economy.
Rodriguez himself also supported additional training for
teachers, which could help improve their teaching methods.


MEXICO 00001133 003 OF 003


9. Moving on from the number one priority of adopting new
teaching methods Rodriguez then shared some of the other
elements agreed to at the National Council meeting. Some of
the elements agreed to were clearly intended to address
education issues. These elements included things like:
increasing the operating hours of public schools to include
evening and Saturdays; firmly resisting demands to teach a
religious curriculum in public schools; and reorganizing the
SNTE itself so that it can respond with flexibility to the
challenges of providing Mexican public school students with a
modern education. Other elements agreed to were more
concerned with issues related to labor rights (as perceived
by the SNTE). Some of these elements were: a promise of SNTE
unity to resist the efforts of &some conservatives and
politicians8 who wish to weaken the union as an
organization; within the SNTE itself, the organization should
avoid seeking to assign blame for past mistakes and focus on
making the union focus more on education (and by implication
less on politics); and finally remain vigilant in defending
the rights of the SNTE as an autonomous union.


A REQUEST FOR USG ASSISTANCE
----------------------------

10. In addition to the elements listed above Rodriguez also
mentioned another point that he personally believed needed to
be addressed in order to improve the quality of education in
Mexico,s public schools. In his view, in order to help
Mexican students better prepare to enter an increasing
competitive job market public schools had to help them learn
English. Rodriguez openly admitted that the English language
teaching abilities of the teachers who form the SNTE
membership was extremely limited. He asked if there were any
way that the USG could help him and the SNTE to improve the
skills of teachers in this area. Mission Mexico personnel
offered to attempt to look into this possibility.


COMMENT
-------

11. Up until now Mission Mexico,s Labor Counselor has been
rebuffed in his attempts to meet with SNTE members, and
AmConsul Monterrey has had relatively little direct contact
with the teachers union. This meeting with SNTE Section 21
leader Juan Antonio Rodriguez Gonzalez appears to have been a
productive initial contact. Following the meeting with
Rodriguez Mission personnel learned that he writes a regular
opinion column on the SNTE and on education issues for one of
Nuevo Leon,s daily newspapers (El Porvenir). Rodriguez
openly discussed what he saw as the strengths and weakness of
the SNTE both as a labor union and as an organization with a
vital role with Mexico,s system of public education. The
leader of the Nuevo Leon teachers union was very upfront in
presenting the political orientation of the labor
organization with which he so clearly identified. However,
as indicated when he engaged in a discussion of US
immigration policy, he did not let that orientation prevent
him from listening to and processing new information.

12. This message was cleared by AmConsul Monterrey.

Visit Mexico City's Classified Web Site at
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/wha/mexicocity and the North American
Partnership Blog at http://www.intelink.gov/communities/state/nap /
GARZA

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