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Teachers protesting in Mexico set up ‘tent city’ outside cathedral

Teachers from southern Mexico camp in Zocalo Square (Photo: CNS)

Teachers protesting in Mexico City have set up camp outside the Metropolitan Cathedral, prompting a sharp fall in Mass attendance.

The camp is reminiscent of the Occupy protest in London whose camp blocked the entrance to St Paul’s.

The newspaper Reforma put attendance at 80 per cent for Sunday Masses. The protest camp has also forced Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City to stay away from the cathedral.

Fr Hugo Valdemar Romero, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, said: “It’s not very easy to access for the faithful or visitors.”

The protest started last month when thousands of teachers arrived from Oaxaca state to voice their opposition to education reform. The protesters have since collapsed traffic, forced the Congress and the president to move major events and blocked access to the international airport.

The protests have put Church officials in a difficult place. Fr Valdemar said the archdiocese preferred not to give an opinion, partly out of concern that the comments could negatively affect the cathedral.

The new reforms establish an autonomous institute to evaluate teachers. Teachers who fail multiple times can be fired. The reform also eliminates teachers’ ability to sell their jobs and the union controlling the hiring and firing process.

The teachers, who belong to dissident sections of the 1.4 million-member national teachers’ union, describe the reforms as more of an attempt to remove their labour rights and find ways to fire them as opposed to improving education in Mexico, whose students score poorly on international standardised exams.