Pena Nieto Delays Annual Address After Mexico Education Protests

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto delayed his annual address to the nation after protests against proposed changes to the education system yesterday closed the capital’s main streets.

Pena Nieto’s speech, originally planned for Sept. 1 at the Campo Marte equestrian venue in Mexico City, was moved to 10 a.m. on Sept. 2 at the presidential residence of Los Pinos, according to an e-mail today from the president’s press office. The 47-year-old leader, who took office in December, yesterday canceled a trip to Turkey that was scheduled for the first part of next week.

Speaking to reporters yesterday about the postponement of his trip, Pena Nieto cited a desire to focus on the next congressional session, also set to begin Sept. 1. The president said he is sticking to his plan to travel to St. Petersburg, Russia, for the Group of 20 meetings later next week.

Delaying the Turkey trip “will lead to a reconsideration in the format, date and hour in which I’ll be delivering my message,” Pena Nieto said yesterday at the Mexico City airport about his annual address after returning from a trip to the state of Nuevo Leon.

The Pena Nieto administration still plans to send Congress a document summarizing the events of the past year on Sept. 1, as required by law, according to the president’s office.

Pena Nieto has promised before the end of the year to win congressional approval for an energy overhaul to open the state-controlled oil industry to private investment and a tax change to wean the federal government off revenue from crude sales.

Face Opposition

The proposals could face opposition in the streets after protesters halted traffic yesterday on Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City’s historic boulevard. About 15,000 people participated in the march to Los Pinos, according to Mexico City’s police. Protesters are demonstrating against an education bill being debated in Congress that would require teachers to undergo standardized evaluations.

The protesters set up a tent city to occupy the Zocalo, the capital’s main square, as their numbers swelled over the past two weeks. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who finished second to Pena Nieto in last year’s election, has called for opponents of the president’s energy proposal to rally in the Zocalo next month.

Today a group of about 200 people, many identifying themselves as teachers, massed outside the Mexican stock exchange building entrance. They chanted anti-government taunts, including “Pena Nieto, you said everything would change. It’s a lie, it’s the same nonsense.”

Riot Shields

The demonstrators were met by a cordon of about 150 police with riot shields, who formed a two-deep perimeter to separate protesters from the entrance to the headquarters of the Bolsa Mexicana de Valores SAB stock exchange.

Pena Nieto yesterday reiterated his determination to pass secondary laws he says would improve education standards and make teachers more accountable for their performance. He signed into law in February a change to the constitution in a bid to foster competition for teaching jobs and promotions based on merit.

Mexico is seeking to overhaul an education system that ranked last out of 34 countries for enrollment rates of high school-age students, behind Chile, Argentina and Brazil, according to a 2011 study by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Mexico also spent more of its public budget on education than 33 countries in a separate OECD survey.

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