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Cablegate: National Teachers Union: Handing Out Hummers While

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RR RUEHCD RUEHGA RUEHGD RUEHHA RUEHHO RUEHMC RUEHMT RUEHNG RUEHNL
RUEHQU RUEHRD RUEHRS RUEHTM RUEHVC
DE RUEHME #3289/01 3112111
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 062111Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY MEXICO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3874
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF EDUCATION WASHINGTON DC
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
INFO RUCNCAN/ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXC/ALL US CONSULATES IN MEXICO COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MEXICO 003289

SIPDIS

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

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB ECON PGOV SOCI PINR MX
SUBJECT: NATIONAL TEACHERS UNION: HANDING OUT HUMMERS WHILE
ROME BURNS

REF: (A) MEXICO 2948 (B) MEXICO 2877

1. Summary: In recent weeks Mexico has experienced growing
discontent among the state level Locals of the National
Teachers Union (SNTE) against the &Alliance for Quality
Education8 agreement signed this past May between the GOM
and the union,s national leadership (Ref A). The goal of
the agreement is to improve the quality of public school
education by upgrading teacher skills, increasing teacher
professionalism and investing more heavily in improving
school infrastructure. Dissatisfaction over how the GOM and
SNTE planned to accomplish these goals has resulted in
protests marches, strikes that have closed schools for
extended periods and increasingly large demonstrations in
nearly half of Mexico,s 31 states. In some cases these
protests became so unruly that military force was used to
contain them. The seriousness of this labor/education crisis
notwithstanding, in mid-October the president of the SNTE
handed out 59 Hummer SUV,s as gifts to the leaders of loyal
union Locals during the close of a national union conference.
The estimated value of these vehicles is USD 40,000 each.
The Hummers were apparently purchased using union funds so,
technically speaking, no laws were broken in their
acquisition. Nevertheless, this blatant flaunting of union
wealth at a time of fierce dissention within the SNTE sparked
a massive public outcry. In response to this sharp public
uproar the SNTE said that it would raffle off the vehicles
and use the proceeds to help schools in poor districts. The
SNTE leadership,s inability to anticipate the public
reaction to handing out luxury vehicles as party favors has
been pointed to by labor observers and opposition politicians
as an example of how the GOM allows allied unions to put
their special interests above those of the country. Some
even speculate that the SNTE,s ill-advised action could
endanger the first serious GOM effort at education reform in
many years. End Summary.


BACKGROUND ON PROTEST OVER EDUCATION REFORM
-------------------------------------------

2. In recent weeks Mexico has experienced numerous
large-scale protests by dissidents within the state level
Locals of the National Teachers Union (SNTE) against the
&Alliance for Quality Education8 (ACE). The ACE (Ref B) is
an agreement signed this past May between the GOM and the
SNTE,s national leadership whose goal is to improve the
quality of public school education by upgrading teacher
skills, generally increasing teacher professionalism and
investing more heavily in improving school infrastructure.
The discontent has resulted in protests marches, strikes that
have closed schools for extended periods and increasingly
large demonstrations in nearly half of Mexico,s 31 states.
In early October the protests in the state of Morelos became
so unruly that military force was used to clear blocked roads
and disburse violent demonstrators.

3. The dissidents within the Locals assert that they are
protesting against an agreement imposed on them by the
union,s national leadership and the GOM without their
consent. In addition, the dissidents claim they are seeking
to defend such legitimate labor rights as the right to freely
determine the leadership of their state level Locals. These
noble assertions notwithstanding, numerous press reports cite
the GOM, the SNTE national leadership and even statements by
the dissidents themselves which indicate that the protestors
are really seeking to undo the provisions of the ACE that
would require prospective teachers to take an entrance
examine for hiring and promotions and which would prohibit
current teachers from selling their positions or passing them
on as an inheritance. In addition to their opposition to the
ACE the dissidents have also called for the removal of SNTE
national President, Elba Ester Gordillo Morales. Gordillo is
a controversial figure in Mexican organized labor and
politics who is often accused of being more interested in
furthering the interests of a corrupt union than in dealing
with the many problems facing the country,s public school
system.


SNTE NATIONAL CONFERENCE BECOMES AN EARLY CHRISTMAS
--------------------------------------------- ------


MEXICO 00003289 002 OF 003


4. Partly as a result of these protests the SNTE union
leadership held an Extraordinary National Council two-day
meeting in the northern border state of Sonora in mid-October
to discuss the circumstances of the ongoing labor/education
crisis. The meeting was attended by the heads of SNTE state
level Locals and assorted members of their staffs. Also in
attendance were the members of the union,s National
Executive Committee and a mixed group of high-level members
of the New Alliance Party (PANAL). PANAL is the political
party founded by SNTE President Elba Ester Gordillo in 2006
when, to some extent, she broke with the PRI (Institutional
Revolutionary Party), Mexico,s former party.

5. The main focus of the meeting was a reaffirmation of the
SNTE leadership,s commitment to fully implement the terms of
the ACE agreement reached with the GOM,s Secretary of Public
Education (SEP). This commitment included a reaffirmation of
the decision to hire prospective teachers via a process of
competitive entrance examinations and to prohibit current
teachers from selling their positions or bequeathing them as
an inheritance (Ref A). The meeting was also used to discuss
STNE budget proposals for education in 2009 (five billion
pesos) and to report on the current state of the unions
finances.

6. The report on the state of the union,s finances provided
the perfect note on which to close the council meeting. The
council report firmly underscored that the finances of the
SNTE were excellent and further highlight that point union
president Gordillo presented the leaders of the state level
locals with an early Christmas gift; all 59 of the state
union leader received a brand new Hummer H-3 sport utility
vehicle. The purchase price of each vehicle was
approximately USD 40,000 apiece. When handing out the
Hummers Gordillo noted that although the vehicles were for
model year 2009 they were the most basic showroom editions
available. Elba Ester Gordillo was specifically quoted in
several national newspapers as lamenting the fact that she
was not able to have the vehicles armored at the time of
purchase. Needless to say the recipients of the Hummers were
duly impressed with their leader,s generosity and were
quoted, according to the press, as referring to her as
&Santa Elba Claus.8


BLISTERING PUBLIC AND OPPOSITION PARTY REACTION
--------------------------------------------- --

7. The reaction of the public, press and members of the
Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Mexico,s main
opposition party was one of shock and outrage. No matter the
source the reactions were the same: sheer disbelief! The
near unanimous comments from every quarter of Mexican society
expressed anger and condemnation that the SNTE would be
handing out Hummers like party favors at a time when the
country,s public school system was in crisis and rank and
file teacher holding protests and occasionally violent
demonstration throughout much of the country.

8. Mexican labor unions are used to being publicly
criticized and as a rule they are rarely influenced by such
denigration. SNTE president Gordillo is famous for her lack
of concern over public opinion on issues related to the union
or public education. This time, however, things were
different. For whatever reason, within 48 hours of the close
of the SNTE council meeting in Sonora, Gordillo and her top
lieutenants were all back tracking in the press on the topic
of the Hummers. SNTE Secretary General, Rafael Ochoa Guzman
went to great lengths to repeatedly state that the Hummers
were completely purchased with unions funds.

9. Gordillo herself quickly announced that the Hummers were
not the personal property of the SNTE Local leaders
themselves but rather the property of the union. She
indicated that the vehicles had been purchased so that union
leaders would have safe and reliable transportation to visit
schools in Mexico,s more remote districts. She then
announced that as a gesture of solidarity with the country,s
poorest school districts the Hummers would be raffled off
with the receipts going to help ten of these districts.
Gordillo attempted to imply that the Hummers were never gifts
but rather that they had always been intended as raffle
prizes. There is no evidence to indicate that anyone in any

MEXICO 00003289 003 OF 003


part of Mexico accepted this claim at face value.


LABOR AUTONOMY TAKEN TO EXTREMES
--------------------------------

10. Mexico,s constitution guarantees the right of autonomy
to labor unions to manage their internal affairs in any way
they see fit. The purpose of this constitutional guarantee
was to provide workers with protections for the right to
freedom of assembly. Unfortunately, over time, union autonomy
has been used to draw a veil over a variety of activities
that might not always be considered ethical. In this
particular case, the fact that the union paid for the Hummers
with its own funds is something that it had every legal right
to do. The union,s right to use its own funds for the
purchase of SUVs was publicly affirmed by a GOM spokesman at
the Secretary of Public Education (SEP).

11. Labor observers in the Mexican media pounced on the
example of the Hummers as a perfect example of the corruption
and moral bankruptcy that exists in the country,s organized
labor movement. Labor leaders in Mexico frequently proclaim
that union autonomy protects the rights of workers to manage
their own internal affairs. Moreover, they regularly assert
that labor autonomy does not mean an absence of
accountability. What it does mean, they claim, is that they
are answerable only to their fellow union members. If these
assertions were ever really true, there is currently (again)
no evidence to indicate that anyone in any part of Mexico
accepts them at face value.

COMMENT
--------

12. Many labor observers and opinion makers in Mexico have
expressed concern that the SNTE leadership,s excess in
handing out SUV,s could have broader implications beyond
internal union affairs. The idea of education reform has
wide support across a broad spectrum of Mexican society and
there is genuine. Given that dissident teachers across
Mexico are protesting the reform effort embodied in the ACE,
labor observers are concerned that public discontent towards
them and now the SNTE leadership could undermine that reform
initiative. Legally speaking, the SNTE leadership had every
right to purchase the 59 Hummers and hand them out as gifts.
However, being legal is a totally separate issue from public
perceptions of what is proper or what is right. Mexico,s
public education system is badly in need of reform and
handing out luxury SUVs, even if they are the cheaper off the
floor models, distracts from the efforts needed to make these
reforms a reality. The leadership of the SNTE has not been
held in high regard in Mexico for some time and its decision
to sign off on the ACE could have been an opportunity to
change its image and gain public support for education
reform. It is very unfortunate that first the striking
teachers and now the SNTE leadership itself have both put
narrow special interests ahead of a much needed public good.

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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