Mexico: Neoliberal Adjustment of the Educational Sector

Report for the Third Trinational Conference in Defense of Public Education, February 28 - March 2, 1997: Vancouver, Canada
Publisher Name: 
Trlateral Coalition in Defense of Public Education, Mexico

1. Mexico in crisis

The adjustment programs implemented in Mexico since 1982 have spelled social devastation: falling wages, growing unemployment and underemployment, and the generalized deterioration of living and working conditions to levels unimaginable only a few years ago.

For most Mexicans, structural adjustments accompanying neoliberal programs could become even worse if plans to privatize social security are carried out and if tendencies to privatize the educational sector intensify. These steps are part of attempts to strengthen the stabilization programs imposed on our country after the financial crisis of December 1994.

It is generally recognized that in order to adapt to changes dictated by an increasingly globalized economy, governments of countries like Mexico have abandoned their models for economic growth which prioritized the domestic market, policies for full employment and national development. Such models were replaced by a neoliberal model in which the focal points for economic growth are production for exportation, promotion of the transnationalization of the economy, and financial speculation -- which are used as ways for obtaining resources to carry out economic strategies. For our country, the NAFTA agreement signed by Mexico, the United States and Canada is accelerating a process of economic, political, social and cultural integration that is subordinated to the United States.

Radical transformations to the role assigned to education are provoked by the transition toward a growth model in which the focus of accumulation is the production of manufactured goods for exporting (based on the maquiladora industry) in a globalized economic environment which is highly competitive.

Before reviewing the Mexican educational system and the prevailing tendencies, we will summarize the current overall situation in Mexico. This provides us with a framework for foreseeing future tendencies and defining the proposals that education unions can make in order to confront them.

2. The current situation

According to the government, the current economic situation in Mexico is defined by three elements: first, that we are passing from an initial stage of recuperation to the consolidation of economic recuperation in the productive sector; second, that financial markets are relatively stable; and third, that inflation and unemployment are decreasing.

It is well known that since the serious financial crisis that exploded in December of 1994, Mexico has experienced an intensive program of internal economic adjustment. It required an extraordinary contribution of international public and private resources as part of a huge financial rescue package which was unprecedented in the world economy. Mexico recently made ahead-of-schedule payments on the package to the Bill Clinton administration and the IMF.

In public declarations made by the Mexican government and international financial agencies, Mexico's economic recuperation and the early payback of emergency loans have been presented as proof of the success of Ernesto Zedillo's economic policies. Elements of this success are described as a rise in manufacturing exports, a drop in inflation, and the bringing down of the unemployment rate.

On January 15, 1997 the Ernesto Zedillo government declared that it had made an ahead-of-schedule payment of 5 billion dollars (3.5 billion to the United States and 1.5 billion to the IMF) which was the last payment for repaying the rescue
package granted by the Treasury Department. In addition, it included an early payment on a commitment with the IMF, paving the way for another Agreement for Extended Facilities.

Clinton congratulated Mexico for the early payment, since it put a stop to criticism from members of his country's Congress who had opposed the use of presidential authority to use billions of dollars in a financial rescue package. Clinton declared that the United States had gained a profit of more than 500 million dollars from making the loan, that his country's exports were at an all-time high, and the Mexican economy was back on track.

The truth is that as Mexicans, we paid 1.4 billion dollars in interest alone. Clinton preferred to mention the net gain, or the additional amount gained over what the same money would have generated if used to purchase U.S. treasury bonds. As we can see, in the midst of such a grave crisis, even the financial rescue turned out to be a profitable business.

With regard to the statement that the Mexican economy is currently in a state of recuperation, there are three key factors to consider if we are thinking in terms of sustained economic growth: first, Mexico continues to have a very weak record on internal savings; second, the purchasing power of wages has dropped sharply; and lastly, the financial sitation continues to be extremely vulnerable.

In response to the official statement that the foreign debt is no longer a problem, it is worth remembering that the foreign debt currently reaches a total of 100 billion dollars. And, some very large payments due will be dangerously accumulating during the next three years. This explains why the Zedillo government has also sent early payments to the IMF. It is negotiating extensions on payments due with both the IMF and the World Bank. In addition, it is soliciting new loans for 7.5 billion dollars from IMF and 5.5 billion dollars from the World Bank over the next three years. Finally, the IMF will serve as guarantor for Mexico's access to an additional 19 billion dollars to be provided by international financial agencies.

Thus, in contrast to the exaggerated official optimism, we can say that Mexico continues to be trapped in the vicious circle of a neoliberal economic model designed deliberately to maintain the Mexican economy totally drained and vulnerable to conditions imposed by the IMF, as is always the case in this type of agreements.

To make our viewpoint more understandable, it is perhaps enough to point out that during the first nine months of 1996 Mexico had to make payments on the foreign debt for slightly more than 13 billion dollars,. This amount was covered thanks to the receipt of 14.398 billion dollars in portfolio investments. This means that we continue to use the same financial scheme that provoked the financial crisis at the end of 1994.

This scheme represents a latent danger which could become activated in the medium- and long-term. If at any time, the flow of dollars (from direct and portfolio investments) is interrupted, interest rates will rise, pressure for devaluating the peso will increase, and the favorable environment for productive sectors will disappear rapidly. This is what we must not forget.

To speak briefly about the unresolved problems: the Zedillo government is planning to overcome its weak status in national savings by reforming the pension system, creating new private institutions to administer these resources, known as AFORES in
Mexico. Nonetheless, this scheme will only provide results in the medium term and it continues to be questioned by a number of forces in the society, especially unionists.

With the AFORES, there is danger that these resources will be exhausted to cover payments on the service of the foreign debt, or that they will evaporate when another financial crisis comes along. In addition, workers' savings will be siphoned off by exaggerated commissions charged for administrating these resources.

With regard to the deterioration of purchasing power of wages, it is important to point out that nearly half of Mexico's employed population receives no more than the equivalent of two minimum wages. The minimum wage in January 1997 was only enough to purchase 68% of the products and services it could purchase in 1994. The minimum wage in Mexico is the equivalent of US $3.36 per day for eight hours of work. This means that half the working population survives with an annual income of US $2,425.

The prospects for wages are very tenuous and foretell of an accumulation of social tensions, some concentrated in the education sector. In any case, economic recuperation is not yet able to bring any returns on Zedillo's campaign promise of
"well-being for your family."

Mexico's fragile financial sector is wide open to a number of possibilities, the most concerning of which include the risk that political or social crises could provoke panic on the financial markets. We cannot forget that 1997 is an election
year. But, a lot of social tensions have already accumulated in Mexico. There is a great deal of discontent with the current government, and there is a lack of confidence in the democratic opposition parties in terms of their capability for
an ordered transition toward a democratic political system.

In addition, there is the increasing problem of the banks' bad loan portfolios. This continues to be a problem since economic recuperation has not yet reached the domestic market. While it is important that the export sector is functioning
dynamically, that is not enough in itself to pull the entire economy out of crisis.

The banks' bad loan portfolios in the areas of agriculture, industry and mortgage loans are key factors in the tension currently experienced in the commercial banking sector, and thus in the entire private financial system in Mexico. Finally, there is also the issue of the vulnerability of the Mexican stock exchange.

With the outside loans the Mexican government is contracting with the IMF, we can predict that conditions placed on economic policy-making over the next three years will revolve around three key points: reforming the social security system, especially the pension system; reforming the education system in order to continue to shrink the number of students in university preparatory education and to promote the privatization of education; and finally, deregulating labor markets (in terms of contractual relations, forms of paying wages, length of workday, etc.). All this is clearly moving toward weakening unions and union actions.

In summary, economic recuperation has not yet reached Mexican families, and financial stability in Mexico is highly vulnerable. That is why we are also seeing a serious tendency toward the militarization of Mexico.

3. The National Development Model and Education

With the negotiation and signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA (1992-1994), a new national model - and educational model - was finalized for Mexico after ten years of preparations beginning in 1983. This development
model is actively generating higher levels of poverty in both rural and urban areas, as over 40 million of Mexico's 90 million residents currently live in poverty. This new model is characterized by a State which abandons its responsibility to society, becoming a mere facilitator of private investment.
The privatization of publicly-owned companies and the national bank marked the beginning of a tendency which is currently spreading to the health sector, subsidized housing, and public education. Over the past ten years, the government has promoted the privatization of society at a high cost for the people and for subsidies; the final results are still unclear.

During ten long years from 1983 to 1993, this model could be imposed upon Mexican society thanks to the existence of an authoritarian State. The government simply did not heed to the constant, increasing public protest. But on the first day of 1994 when NAFTA came into effect, the indigenous peoples of Chiapas led an armed resistance on behalf of all Mexico's indigenous peoples. Their resistance opposed the new project for modernization which would benefit only a handful of rural and urban Mexicans. United with previous resistance efforts, this armed movement gave society an unprecedented understanding of the depths of the crisis generated by the State's development model.

Only at the cost of serious contradictions could a State like Mexico -- which arose from a social revolution and which is founded on a corporatist pact with large organized popular sectors of society -- make a 180 degree turnaround in just ten years. These contradictions have arisen in the violent internal State power struggles, which during 1994, resulted in assassination as a mechanism to resolve internal battles. The PRI presidential candidate was murdered before television cameras during a public event; and the national leader of the PRI was murdered after a party function. The political crisis worsened and the internal battle continued, thereby intensifying the decline of the sector which had until that
moment led the country.

4. Educational Policy Under Foreign Debt and NAFTA

Within this context, the neoliberal governments' educational proposal is profoundly contradictory. On the one hand, it sustains the irreal optimism of the Salinas administration, according to which Mexico is a country about to enter the first world and which therefore requires, as President Zedillo states, education suitable for a country in which "technological progress tends to eliminate non-skilled and semi-skilled occupations in all productive sectors. The new jobs require analytical abilities and skills for using automated and computerized equipment." What he is speaking of is modern education appropriate for an abundance of sophisticated, globally competitive jobs.

Education is considered as merely one more input for production, and schools as the places where "added value" in students is generated.

But, the government is incapable of providing this education for all, at the depth and scale necessary to build an economy based on knowledge and innovation. In addition to factors which were previously present, Mexico is prevented from providing full education as a result of the nature of Mexico's insertion in the North American economic bloc.

NAFTA makes Mexico more committed than ever to paying its foreign debt and to adopting structural adjustment programs, to investing large sums in new infrastructure for attracting foreign investment, to increasing national security and military spending, and to continuing to privatize public services. This scenario has resulted in a substantial reduction in public spending for education and secondly, has led to insufficient funding and the State's abandonment of its
responsibility for national education.

This context, characterized by a focus on production as well as by insufficient State resources, alienates education from society, from the productive sector and from social and political needs. To resolve the national crisis, it is difficult to prioritize education above other needs, and to create: citizens capable of overseeing their State, their government, and society; producers able to control their own means of production and incorporate new technologies at their own pace and based on their own needs and context; and forums for collectively analyzing the needs of the majority, independent of a logic based on power and profit.

Over the past 15 years, the new economic model has not resolved the crisis. Rather, it has deepened the debt and made capital flight a structural reality.

In 1996 alone, Mexicans had to pay 13 billion dollars in interest on the foreign debt and 29 billion dollars in payments on the principal.

How can a country continue to pay such amounts year after year for over two decades? Mexico's ability to pay does not arise from economic growth -- it has yet to recuperate the rates seen in the 1970s and at times has seen negative figures (for example, in 1995). The payments are largely made as a result of cutting back on wages and the creation of jobs. In the three years under NAFTA, the average salary has dropped by 32%, 4,000 businesses have disappeared, and the use of
national raw materials for producing goods for exportation has decreased by 50%. In 1995 alone, the year in which the crisis intensified, 1.5 million jobs were lost.

The price to be paid for an economy at the service of payments on the foreign debt has been financed by selling off public entities one by one. However, this faithful and stable payment of the increasing foreign debt has been made possible
by continued cuts to social spending. As Noriega shows (1997), from 1982 to 1990, payments on the debt did not fall below 40% of total public spending; and in a two-year period, they represented more than 63% of the government budget. The
same author shows how, with the exception of a few years, increases or decreases in payments on the debt occurred in direct relation to educational spending.

As a result, teachers' salaries and educational budgets were significantly reduced in the 1980s and then began a slow recovery. The recovery was possible due to the renegotiation of the debt which reduced payments, but also because the government was pressured to respond to the demands by democratic teachers organized under the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educacion (National Coordinating Body for Educational Workers, which belongs to the SNTE). In the spring of 1989, they massively protested, rallied and carried out a one-month strike demanding salary increases and union democracy.

The repercussions of the decrease in educational spending are clear. For the first time in over 50 years in Mexico, the number of children in primary schooling not only failed to rise, but fell by 1.4 million children. Ten years later in 1995, as incredible as this may seem, primary school registration had not recuperated the levels and rhythm of growth present before 1983. The excluding effect of the budget cuts on youth between 16 and 24 years of age is evident. In 1982, there were 9 million young people in this age group not registered in any school system whatsoever, and by 1994, there were 13 million; the figure continues to increase by 25% every four years. At the same time, journalists report that thousands of teachers are forced to work as taxi drivers, enter the informal economy or migrate to the United States.

The decrease in available resources has also weakened future goals for education. For example, the Educational Development Program 1995-2000 recognizes that 2 million children do not have access to primary education but the goals set for the year 2000 do not include the elimination of this setback, they merely seek to reduce it by half. In other words, the plan is to enter into the twenty-first century with 1 million children not attending primary school, the same number as in 1958.

5. TLC and education: reduction of the legal public arena

The signing of the Free Trade Agreement in this context has very particular connotations. Placing the paying of the debt as the first priority signifies, in practice, losing a substantial part of the country's educational patrimony. The
Free Trade Agreement signifies the withdrawal of the State from responsibility for education, and with it, the loss of education as a public arena. One of the levels in which this has been mostly clearly reflected up to now is in the second major loss that public education has suffered: the legal terrain.

As is well known, education is a constitutional right in Mexico. The Mexican Constitution, which is the result of a historical commitment to the majority -- at least written, established in 1917 the responsibility of the State to provide education. It also established that all education provided by the State, without specifying levels, must be free of charge. But in 1993, in preparation for implementing NAFTA, the Salinas de Gortari government asked Congress to modify Article 3 of the Constitution so from that day forward, the State would only be obliged to provide basic (primary and secondary) education, and so today only that level remains free of charge. According to the new writing, all other educational
levels, including post-secondary education (university preparatory and technical school as well as university), will be only object of the "attention" and "promotion" by the State. Recently, in response to more than a quarter of a
million young people who were demanding entrance into post-secondary education, the Education Minister declared that the State did not have a "legal obligation" to provide education beyond the basic level, only the "moral obligation."

In the legal terrain, the reduction of the public arena also coincides with the expansion of the private arena. Only a few months after the Constitutional modification, the new Foreign Investment Law was approved. For the first time in the country's modern history, education appears, together with river boat traffic and "aerotaxi" services, as a protected, legal area for foreign investment. We should mention here that the requirements in this new law make it more difficult
for an international corporation to invest in "aerotaxis" than in education. New laws on patents and royalties follow a similar pattern, changing a 20-year tradition of characterizing certain areas of knowledge as part of the public domain, including fertilizers, medicines, plants, etc. The same change has been made in the area of telecommunications, in which the State is no longer an active
agent, but rather a mere facilitator (new Telecommunications Law of 1995).

Another new law, the General Law on Education (1993), formalizes the passing of basic education -- previously highly centralized in the federal government -- to the state (province) governments and local municipal governments. This transition was implemented in 1992 and promised greater public participation in administering education and greater control by teachers over their work. But instead, each state
administers education in a way that copies exactly the authoritarianism and centralism that formerly existed at the national level. The focus is primarily on economic aspects, instead of the new culture of participation in education. Decentralization is aimed at pressuring state and local governments to begin to create new taxes so they can take over the responsibility for education. Meanwhile, the federal government will gradually withdraw from any financial
responsibility for education in order to concentrate its resources in strategic areas such as science and technology, postgraduate education, universities of excellence, pilot schools, new technology for new educational alternatives (computers, electronic superhighway), evaluation and certification.

The new General Law on Education grants the federal government a role that more closely resembles that of a foundation which awards resources only when absolutely necessary to make up for the inability by a given state. It permits the creation of foundations and private agencies to "support" public education, and in fact, businessmen have already experimented with establishing their own parameters for evaluating schools, teachers and students. This is carried out by holding
competitions. As we can see, the administration of basic education is becoming a much more accessible area.

At the higher education level, the creation of a trinational coordinating body includes a proposal for creating a "common North American culture," as proposed by the director of US Information Agency. The agenda includes trilateral initiatives for making changes in the institutions of the three countries. The leadership of this new coordinating body is to be given to large corporations (Northern Telecom,
American Council of Education, and Condumex), to governments (USIA, SEP-CONACYT) and to universities of excellence (Hudson Institute, Texas A&M, UNAM).

6. Evaluation as a mechanism for restricting

Attempts at excluding and restricting in the educational arena have found a helpful mechanism in evaluation. In an education system that is broad-based, free of charge and organized by the public power, evaluation can provide useful information for teachers, families, educational administrators and the society regarding problems and deficiencies requiring attention. But when the education system is seeking to become smaller, evaluation ends up serving as an instrument for exclusion.

Standardized evaluations have been little used in Mexico, and are basically confined to use by institutions. But, since 1996, their use has begun on a massive scale, by associations which group together various institutions of post-secondary
education. These associations, with backing from the government, define the policy of admission and distribution of the demand for the entire region. To this end, the government has promoted and financed indirectly the creation of a private
agency (CENEVAL) which is in charge of organizing these evaluations. This agency, a type of replica of the Education Testing Corporation, organized in Mexico City during 1996 the application of a multiple-choice test to more than a quarter of a million students who had finished basic education.

This agency then divided applicants into two large groups. It sent approximately 100,000 of the applicants to schools which are designed to prepare students for higher education. The remaining applicants, about 162,000, were sent to technical schools, independent of their interest or disposition. In 1997 it is predicted that CENEVAL will tend to exclude those who choose not to opt for technical school from any kind of public education opportunity at all. It is important to remember here that all those evaluated had already successfully passed their school exams and had their certificates accrediting them to continue their studies. If one takes into account that in the Mexico City metropolitan area there are 6,700 schools for basic education but only 110 schools for the next level, it becomes clear that the evaluation is nothing more than a mechanism for imposing a policy aimed at restricting educational opportunities. With this strategy, the "victims" become the ones at fault for not obtaining a score that is high enough.

Because of interest in privatization and reducing costs, the area of evaluation has become a hotbed for new initiatives. From 1990-1994 on, all public school teachers at the basic, intermediate (preparatory and technical school), and higher levels have been evaluated annually. But, only a very small portion of them benefit from this process by receiving additional increments to make their salaries comparable to their regular salaries before 1983. In the case of basic education teachers this evaluation process is called the "Carrera Magisterial" (Magisterial Profession) and at the higher education level this type of program has the generic
name of Scholarships and Incentives for Academic Productivity.

But instead of resolving problems, these schemes have intensified them. All of these programs for providing incentives for increasing productivity in the educational sector have a very limited scope. They fragment academic work; they create friction among teachers leading to a deteriorated work atmosphere; they discourage indepth research work; and for the long-term, by measuring quantitative factors more than qualitative ones, they serve to intensify bureaucratic control. Finally, cliques tend to develop around the evaluation commissions -- and those in the cliques are the ones permitted to reach the highest levels. In the end, these
programs fail to resolve the problem of deteriorating teachers' salaries.

A significant consequence of this type of evaluation is that education tends to become more and more authoritarian. All programs for evaluating teachers in the entire country are controlled directly or indirectly by education and financial authorities at the federal level. The same is true for evaluation programs in institutions.

In the case of students, the "centralizing" role is filled by CENEVAL, the private agency mentioned earlier. As its field of operation is expanded, it is beginning to determine the contents of standardized evaluations for passing from basic to post-secondary education as well as for entrance into higher education institutions and graduation from them, and soon, for periodic re-certification of professionals. This agency is also indirectly responsible for coordinating the establishment of quality and homogeneity criteria for professional activity in the three countries.

The apparent tendency toward centralization as seen in evaluation programs and financing strategies helps us correctly interpret the initiatives for decentralization. Despite all the talk about broadening participation, the
transference of the administration of basic education to the state level (1992) increasingly has the appearance of nothing more than a mechanism for seeking more local and private funding. State governments are simply "cloning" the federal centralism which has characterized education in Mexico since 1921.

Instead of converting education into a learning opportunity with political participation by diverse social actors -- primarily teachers and students -- the same old mechanisms of authoritarian power are being repeated, even in the states where the right-wing opposition party now has the governor's seat.

Therefore, participation in administering education has not broadened -- rather, it has actually been constricted. The participation teachers previously enjoyed -- while it was corporatist in nature and highly bureaucratic, with only one national union to represent them -- has become more fragmented with the coming of decentralization. Government educational bureaucracies have, on the other hand, been strengthened. Business interests are increasingly seeing basic education as
a new market territory, as the place where the labor force is trained and values are transmitted. Such businesses are clearly expressing their interest and proposing initiatives for their participation. The arrival of new corporations in
every state of the country, in response to NAFTA, is directly placing pressure on schools. These corporations often bring concrete demands and pressure for them to be filled.

But, the impact of NAFTA on the use of evaluations is particularly clear in the process of homologizing professions that is currently underway. The process is a direct result of the appendix to Chapter XII of NAFTA. In areas such as engineering, psychology, veterinary science and others, there are already trinational meetings taking place to discuss criteria for deciding which professionals can practice on the other side of the borders. The significance of this process becomes clear if we consider the case of medicine.

In Mexico, as in Canada, medicine is a profession strongly tied to a global system for public health financed by the State and with a number of systems for free services for all income levels. Private practice has been generally oriented to the medium- and high-level income sectors that have relatively small sized populations.

The process of homologizing criteria carries the risk of defining private practice and the intensive use of advanced technology as indispensable ingredients for speaking of "quality." In other words, U.S. experience in highly privatized medicine will be used as the ultimate measuring stick. For the simple reason of not losing a chance to become "globalized universities," many medicine schools will abandon the tradition of public medicine and medicine focusing on illnesses common to Mexico's different regions. These schools will insist on the model of medicine that may be successful in other countries but completely inadequate for the states of Guerrero, Chiapas and Oaxaca, and for the living conditions for the poor and marginalized sectors in urban areas.

The loss of education -- both because of decreasing resources and the State's withdrawal -- is in the deepest sense the loss of the society's capacity to think of itself in terms of the needs of its majority. The loss of the possibility for
autonomous education is in the deepest sense the loss of the opportunity to create a political tradition independent of governments and businesses, that seeks to create sufficient power by the people to guide the entire society. The loss of
education signifies in the deepest sense the loss of opportunities for millions of young people to see the world from the vantage point of an education that goes beyond basic education (which is increasingly becoming "minimum" education) and beyond an exclusively competitive vision of knowledge. In the end, we are left with the loss of the capacity to generate new societies and new joint alternatives for development based on solidarity among the working classes of the three countries -- and, especially among teachers.

7. The Mexican section of the Trilateral Coalition in Defense of Public Education

In two years, we have managed to bring stability to a working group in Mexico with participation by union leaders, activists named by participating unions, and academics, from all educational levels (from primary to university).

As the unions participating in the Coalition know, the first Trinational Conference was held in the United States in January 1993. It brought together 200 delegates from the three countries and was held at the initiative of Professor Dan Leahy and backed by the Labor Center at Evergreen College. It was there that coordinating efforts were promoted, and in late 1994 in Zacatecas, Mexico, the idea of creating a Trinational Coalition was placed into practice in response to the implementation of NAFTA.

Progressing in the building of a Coalition in the educational sectors of the three countries has been highly significant because it has provided us with an organizational framework for establishing relationships among colleagues. And even
more importantly, it has permitted many teachers to participate and understand more fully the unquestionable connection between their concrete situation and transnational forces imposing economic and social policies that are contrary to the history and well-being of our peoples.

Because we work in the same sector, we have common foundations for understanding the problems confronting us, even though we carry out our activities under very different circumstances. This makes it more feasible to build long-lasting
relationships and organizational structures. We have introduced discussion regarding the current crisis and educational problems, the impacts of NAFTA and potential options for confronting them among the affiliates and leaders of participating unions. This is still in the early stages, but previously it was practically nonexistent.

As a result of the success of the Second Trinational Conference in October 1995 in Michoacan, Mexico, more union representations have joined the project. Currently Sections IX, X, XI, and XVIII of the SNTE are participating in the project. All are members of the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educaci"n (National Coordinating Body of Educational Workers) which represents nearly 200,000 educational workers. University unions -- SITUAM, STUNAM, STAUACH and SINTCB -- with nearly 50,000 affiliated workers are also participating.

We are also beginning to make the existence of the Coalition known more broadly in union circles and at the grassroots levels of participating organizations.

Finally, as the Mexican section of the Trilateral Coalition, we agreed to participate in a campaign against the use of a single exam for entrance into university preparatory school (a standardized exam applied for the first time in Mexico in June of 1996 to 263,000 students in the Mexico City metropolitan area). This allowed us to join efforts with a broader movement in the defense of public education.

While we have made progress, we believe there are a series of problems to resolve, such as bringing stability to our work, naming committees and making a qualitative leap in the trinational relationship with education unions in Canada and the United States.

We have made progress in exchanging information with unions in the other countries, but especially in Canada, regarding the realities we face, our union organizations, and our problems. This has made it possible to develop closer solidarity ties and above all, to commit ourselves to consolidating the Coalition as an forum for analyzing the changes imposed on our peoples by the devastating neoliberal free trade project; an arena for developing alternative proposals to this model; an arena for teacher exchanges; and as a forum for establishing commitments in the tasks of solidarity that continue to unite us.

If we want the Coalition to have an important place among the concerns of education unions, we need to made progress in its construction, to help it become a forum for coordinating, reflecting, developing proposals and taking joint actions to confront neoliberal policies. To achieve this, it is important to define commitments regarding assistance (political and financial, from the unions of the three countries, for a period of at least three years) which will make it possible to ensure improved conditions for consolidating the Coalition.

The transnationals and their governments have established their strategic alliances for fighting against our peoples. As workers, we have the challenge of creating our own strategies for putting a stop to their offensive and for creating alternatives. We are convinced that the Coalition is a positive path for education unions.

We hope we will come out strengthened by this Third Trinational Conference in Defense of Public Education and with renewed determination to work in solidarity.

Translations for words in tables:

Deuda, pago de intereses y servicio = Debt, interest payment and service

Miles de millones de d"lares estadounidenses = Billions of US dollars

A$o = Year

Deuda = Debt

Intereses = Interest

Servicio = Service

(total de pagos) = (Total payments)

Fuente: La Jornada, 7 y 8 de febrero, 1997, pg. 43. Conbase en BM-FMI.

Source: La Jornada newspaper, February 7 and 8, 1997, p.43. Based on World Bank/IMF.

Gasto Educativo en Mxico = Educational Spending in Mexico

(Millones de nuevos pesos de 1980) = (Millons of 1980 new pesos)

A$o = Year

Inicial = Preschool

B sica = Basic (primary and secondary)

Media = Intermediate (university preparatory and technical school)
Superior = Higher (university)

Invest. = Research

Total = Total

Fuente: Noriega, M., op. cit., Cuadro 5 "Gasto Educativo Federal por Niveles).

Source: Noriega, M., op. cit., Table 5, "Federal Education Spending by Levels).

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