Guatemalan Lessons

Issue section: 

Guatemalan teachers have held several strikes this year against attempts by President Oscar Berger to privatise Guatemala's 17,400 state schools.

The teachers also demanded better wages, nutritional meals for school children and increased funding. They ended their most recent three-week strike and road blockade in mid-May when the government pledged to meet their demands.

Joviel Acevedo, president of the National Teaching Association in Guatemala, is a leading figure in the struggle. He describes the Berger government as representing the traditional oligarchy that is responsible for Guatemala's poverty and wants to sell state schooling down the drain.

Acevedo explained to Socialist Review how the school children's parents helped scare the government by coming out in support of the 89,000 teachers on the most recent strike that started on 23 April:

"The parents want to make sure their money isn't siphoned off to businesses any more," he says referring to how the government has used education funds in the past to pay the ministry of defence and for the renovation of the airport. "Together we said no to the government. We said no to the neoliberal project and privatisation. We said no to the commercialisation of Guatemalan education."

Thanks to the unity and forcefulness of the campaign the government that first threatened to sack striking teachers has backtracked. But the struggle goes on, Acevedo explains. "The government is pressuring and persecuting us now. But we continue our struggle because we're used to struggling. If there's enough money to give to big business and capitalists, then there's enough money for giving kids milk and proper schoolbooks. The only thing that can stop us is if the government throws us in jail."

Now the union is pushing for education reforms to improve Guatemala's education programme and integrate the country's different communities into the education system on a multilingual basis. "We have a large consensus on these reforms and everybody agrees that the 700 million quetzals (£46.5 million) that the government has spent annually since 2004 on oligarchy-connected state institutions should be used for our kids instead. We're also fighting against privatisation of Guatemala's teachers' institutions. That's the kind of struggle we have at the moment," Acevedo says.

"But the movement has to learn to struggle without internal ideological divisions," he adds. He sounds convinced, however, that the unity of the union and teacher movements will be able to make a reality of Acevedo's wish: "Our education system should be multicultural and democratic."