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Mexican Teachers Burn Ballots in Spreading Protests Ahead of Elections

Mexico's largest dissident teachers union CNTE carried out attacks against electoral offices in five states. A strike in Oaxaca is affecting 1 million students, as federal officials bowed to a demand on education reform.

by Gabriela Gorbea and Andrea Noel
Jun 2 2015, 8:00pm

Imagen vía YouTube

Dissident teachers in Mexico set fire to more than a 100,000 ballots in spreading demonstrations on Monday and Tuesday, the latest displays of rising tension and disgust with Mexico's political system one week ahead of the mid-term elections.

Protests were ongoing Tuesday, as parents of Mexico's missing 43 students temporarily blocked a highway in Guerrero's capital city of Chilpancingo and groups led by teachers set fire to campaign and election materials in several states, including Puebla, Veracruz, Chiapas, and Oaxaca.

With covered faces, more than a dozen teachers broke into the local headquarters of Mexico's electoral institute, or INE, in the city of Tlapa, Guerrero, and stole and destroyed thousands of ballots intended for the June 7 vote on Monday night. Protesters burned the ballots in Tlapa's central square, a video shows.

In Oaxaca, teachers broke into electoral headquarters and vandalized buildings, stealing computers and supplies, and destroying archival files. More than 10,000 ballots were also destroyed.

In the state of Veracruz, the electoral institute's offices in the cities of Xalapa, Cordoba, and Orizaba were attacked throughout the weekend by the Veracruz state teachers' union.

"They set it on fire," a witness is heard saying worriedly in one video from Veracruz, amid screams.

INE's offices in the state of Puebla were attacked on Monday with molotov cocktails. The agency's offices in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas state, were also attacked Tuesday.

The mid-term vote has seen a string of attacks and violent incidents for weeks.

Protesters hurled molotov cocktails and explosives at the electoral institute's headquarters in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state, on May 22. On May 26, demonstrators torched a pile of campaign propaganda in the center of Mexico City, during a demonstration marking the monthly anniversary of the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students in Guerrero.

Since the start of the pre-campaign season in February, one newspaper's count said at least 70 violent attacks have occurred against candidates or people involved in the political campaign season. At least 18 of those have been fatal.

Related: Town Booted out Mexico's Political Parties, But Now Some Residents Want Them Back


Teachers beat a reform

The largest national dissident teachers union, CNTE, has already announced a nationwide boycott of the elections as a means to protest pending education reforms.

In spite of the growing displays of discontent, the Mexican electoral institute said the elections will continue as scheduled in Oaxaca and throughout the country. Teachers responded to the announcement on Monday by initiating a labor strike, which will likely leave more than one million Oaxacan students without classes for the duration of the dispute.

Nine governors are set to be elected in less than a week, as well as hundreds of mayors, state legislators, and 500 members of Congress.

This week, the teachers managed one victory over reforms proposed by the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto. Mexico's education secretary announced it would be suspending teacher evaluations — a key part of the proposed education reform laws — "indefinitely."

The decision to cancel the evaluations sparked anger among parents and other teachers in Mexico not affiliated with CNTE, who accuse the government of caving into the demands of the dissident union at the cost of their children's schooling.

"The country's education is again held hostage by political calculation and the ineptitude of authorities to ensure public order and law enforcement," read a statement from Mexicanos Primero, which advocates for improved education in Mexico.

Related: Mexico's Uninspired Mid-Term Election Gets Bloodier; 70 Attacks Reported So Far

Follow VICE News on Twitter @VICENews for continuing updates on Mexico's elections.