Nochixtlán—Before the federal police opened fire, the church bells in this town high in the mountains of southern Mexico rang out a warning. Mariana Sosa, a 51-year-old primary school teacher, was already out that morning with other demonstrators, blocking the nearby national highway, part of a wave of protests against a government effort to impose a new education policy partly designed to weaken the teachers union.
It was Sunday, June 19, market day in this town of 18,000, with added festivities planned for Father’s Day. Sosa (her name has been changed) remembered: “Hundreds of federales started arriving in busloads. First, they fired tear gas and rubber bullets and pushed us back. The church bells alerted our people to the danger, and they came down from the market to reinforce us.”
At about 10:30, the federal police started firing live ammunition. A young man was killed right next to Sosa, shot in the head. Within hours, a total of 10 unarmed protesters were dead here, and the police had killed another man elsewhere in Oaxaca State. Overnight, the government attack on a militant union exploded into a much broader uprising that reverberated across Mexico.
Astonishingly, the US mainstream media have barely covered what everyone here calls “the massacre.” Make no mistake: If police in Venezuela had shot down 11 unarmed demonstrators, a pack of American reporters would have raced there.
Three days after the killings, tens of thousands of white-clad health workers marched in 19 of Mexico’s 31 states, both to support the teachers and to resist government plans to reorganize their sector. Thousands of others blocked major highways in southern Mexico to reinforce the protest. In Oaxaca, the state capital just over an hour to the southeast of Nochixtlán, hundreds more maintained a tent city that covered the central plaza, in a tactic reminiscent of Occupy Wall Street.
The nationwide outcry forced President Enrique Peña Nieto to pull the federal police back. So here in Nochixtlán, the striking teachers re-established their blockade of national highway 190. Over a long day of conversations, what stood out was the respectable, middle-class nature of the protesters.
At first, the teachers and their supporters were wary of outsiders. They are indignant at the government’s campaign to lie about the massacre, with the complicity of most of the regional and national media. The government insinuated that some of the blockaders that Sunday were armed “guerrillas” who had “ambushed” the “unarmed” police.
Mariana Sosa and her colleagues refuted every point of the government’s account, giving precise times and descriptions as though they were testifying in court.
The teachers stress that they suffered all the casualties; in addition to the dead, more than 100 people were wounded. Jorge Gutierrez, a soft-spoken history teacher in his 40s, explained: “It was planned in advance. The police put snipers in a couple of hotels. They used heavy weapons we have never seen before. We are teachers; we don’t use arms. Our weapons are our ideas.”