Education International
Education International

Latin America - Teacher unions confront political and economic crises

published 22 December 2009 updated 22 December 2009

Fears of a return to dictatorship and political violence in Honduras are compounding the grave economic crisis facing countries across Latin America.

“EI has taken a position that is absolutely clear on the recent military coup in Honduras,” General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen told delegates at EI’s Latin American regional conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “We cannot allow a return to the past, or to dictatorship of any kind. History shows that extremism and demagogy of all forms, whether of the right or of the left, will thrive in conditions of crisis.” In his keynote address, van Leeuwen noted that a year ago some observers believed that the countries of the South had succeeded in “decoupling” themselves from the financial crisis gripping North America and Europe. Today, however, many Latin American countries are facing the spectre of rising unemployment as tax revenues plummet, remittances from North America shrink, and investment flows stop. Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean were harder hit than South America due to their dependence on the US economy. In Honduras, remittances amount to 26 percent of GDP. Mexico’s remittances fell by 12 percent in January 2009. But teachers are acutely aware that one cannot look at the financial and economic crisis in isolation. The food crisis, climate change and the HIV/AIDS pandemic confront all societies, van Leeuwen noted. “And what lies beyond the present crisis? During these coming eighteen months there will be 10 electoral processes in the region, and they could change the political landscape. After the emergence from the years of the military dictators, there are still grave risks,” he said. At the same time, Latin American countries have come to the forefront of the world scene. Brazilian President Lula is seen as “one of the key figures in the process of building a sustainable and equitable global recovery. Argentina is also playing a key role, having stood up to the IMF successfully three years ago, and showing an alternative to neo-liberal models.” “But we all know there is a big gap between words and action,” van Leeuwen continued. “There is an enormous contradiction between the calls of the IMF leadership for stimulus through the public sector, and the budget ceilings – including public sector wage ceilings – imposed on countries through IMF conditions.”

This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 32, December 2009.