During a 14-hour coach journey from Mérida (Yucatán) to San Cristóbal de Las Casas (Chiapas), our driver failed to warn us that we would not be entering the city but would instead be left at Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas. It was only when I inquired as to why it was taking so long that he told us we would have to follow further instructions in Tuxtla to get to our final destination. The reason for all the faff and confusion was the number of blockades on major motorways used as a sign of protest by teachers in the southern states of Mexico.
On 19th June six people were killed during violent clashes between the police and protesters rallying against education reform and colleagues’ arrests. Two of these people had ties to the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE). Since then, unionised teachers have blockaded streets, a shopping centre and even train tracks in the western state of Michoacán. They have also forced some bus lines to cancel trips to Oaxaca and blocked a highway. In Oaxaca City, protesting teachers have set up an encampment in the city’s main square. (More info here.)
This whole uprising began in Oaxaca to bring light to the injustice and violence brought about by a corrupt government and the police service. But solidarity has spread all over Mexico, including Chiapas, its neighbouring state. So as we were making our way into the state of Chiapas, we had to walk through some of these new blockades, organised by other teachers and unions.
With our backpacks we walked through people camping with their families, men and women selling food to the protesters making sure they knew they were being supported, and taxi and combi drivers helping people like us get to our destinations. I only had a chance to speak to one teacher to see if she could help us, thanked her for her instructions and wished her good luck. I should have stopped to talk to some of the other teachers in more depth to get a real opinion about what’s going on. It’s hard to find proper facts and opinions about political occurrences in Mexico due to the country’s corruption.
After 20 hours of travelling we eventually made it into San Cristóbal with very little problem. As we were walking around the city centre, one I had fallen in love with during my Christmas travels, it was obvious that the population were yet again displeased, angered and losing faith in its country’s institutions. Political graffiti is sprawled across parts of the centre, declaring “todo el mundo odia la policía”. I also came across a market vendor selling products like bags and t-shirts spreading revolutionary political messages, and projected onto the exterior wall of the city’s main cathedral were videos showing footage of the protests and blockades with information about the educational reforms.
With all that has happened in Oaxaca, it’s definitely not the best time to be going into the state. One fellow traveller we met was trying to get into Oaxaca on his motorbike but has been spending the last couple of days trying to find an open gas station as the majority are out of use due to lack of fuel deliveries as a result of the blockades.
Everything seems okay in Chiapas; just a lot of political energy. We may have a little trouble getting into Guatemala on Saturday if we come across any blockades, but we should arrive safe and sound.