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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 5, April 2004

Guatemalan teachers win improvements

Teachers in Guatemala were on strike for 52 days at the beginning of 2003. They were seeking improvements for children, reform of the education system, and improved salaries and working conditions for teachers.

The BCTF contributed $10,000 to a support fund to assist the teachers. To hear a report on the results of the teachers’ struggle, the general co-ordinator of the Guatemalan Teachers’ Assembly, Joviel Acevedo, was invited to speak at the BCTF’s AGM.

Unfortunately, Acevedo was unable to get to Vancouver. While he had a visa from Canada, he also needed a visa from either the U.S. or Mexico, because there are no direct flights from Guatemala to Canada. Both the U.S. government and the Mexican government rejected his visa application to change planes in one of those countries.

Acevedo did send the BCTF a letter and the text of the speech that he would have given, and they were read to the AGM. He pointed out that to issue a visa, the U.S. required that the applicant have a high salary, have bank accounts, and own property, among other things. None of these is possible for a Guatemalan teacher.

He pointed out that "a teacher in Guatemala lives from day to day on his salary. The majority of us do not own real estate, much less our own home, nor do we have bank accounts—the meagre salary we earn is all spent on food for our families and other basic necessities—we have nothing left to save." The impact of this is that "we teachers and trade unionists are no longer able to leave the country to participate in events or to receive training, much less for a vacation."

His speech did outline some of the gains that had been made from the strike. The teachers were able to get the government to add $118 million a year to the education budget. That allowed for "benefits such as a desk for every student, a reduction of user fees, repairs to dangerous and collapsing schools, and hot breakfasts for children in the rural areas."

The government also agreed to listen to teachers. It "agreed to create a bi-partite commission made of teachers’ delegates and representatives from the ministry. The commission will have the task of developing proposals for redirecting the education reform."

Teachers also won a salary increase of $25 a month. "This does not sound like much," he said, "but when you earn only $250 a month, it makes a difference."

AGM delegates were very moved by the messages and voted to have the BCTF place strong objections with the U.S. and Mexican embassies.

The letter and the speech are available on the BCTF web site at www.bctf.ca/Social/isp/index.html.

– Larry Kuehn

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