Six months ago, the newly elected centre-left government of Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom Caballeros started reversing the privatization of the school system. The government also introduced collective bargaining in the public sector. As a result, a few weeks ago the unions were able to sign a new collective agreement that will improve teachers’ terms and conditions of employment.
“One of the educational objectives of the new government is to build a culture of quality and equity,” said Education Minister Ana Ordonez de Molina. “It is unthinkable that we would be able to carry out our education policy without the active involvement of the teachers’ organisations.”
The Minister spoke to the EI Regional Committee members and STEG leaders at a reception on 18 July hosted by President Colom himself. The President paid tribute to all of the teachers who fought for their schools and students during the civil war, and he stressed that his government attaches great importance to a continuing dialogue with the teachers’ organizations.
For Guatemalan trade unionists like Joviel Acevedo, this represents an enormous turnaround. However, the change is not yet sufficient for him to feel free of the risks he faced every day under the old regime. Acevedo is still forced to go about his daily business under the watchful eye of three armed bodyguards—even though the government he opposed has been voted out of power.
“Conservative forces,” as he calls them, hold Acevedo and the teachers’ union he leads partly responsible for some of these massive changes currently sweeping the country. Acevedo is the General Secretary of the national teachers’ union, STEG. It is the largest union in the country, and one that was at the forefront of the opposition that brought down the conservative government of Guatemala last year.
The country’s oligarchy, which consists of 22 families who own most of the economy and who are still represented in many public institutions, seems unhappy with these political developments. Acevedo says that to prevent them from returning to power in elections to be held four years hence, it is of utmost importance that Guatemalans build a strong civil society and strengthen their trade unions to form a solid basis for a sustainable democratic future.
At the gathering with the President and Education Minister, EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen, Vice President Juçara Dutra Vieira and Hugo Yaski, President of the Regional Committee, expressed their thanks to the new government for having started reversing the privatisation of the public school system and for introducing collective bargaining in the public sector .
The Regional Committee met in Guatemala City on 18 and 19 July to discuss regional developments, the EI work programs in Latin America, as well as relationships with non- governmental organizations. Special attention was given to challenges in Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico.