Thousands of students in central Guerrero still haven’t returned to school after the September 19 earthquake because of threats made by organized crime groups and parents’ fears for their safety.
Around 60,000 students in the municipalities of Chilapa, Zitlala, Ahuacuotzingo, Atlixtac and José Joaquín Herrera are affected.
State education authorities have maintained that classes would return to normal once schools have been checked for damage in the aftermath of the destructive quake but evidence is mounting that the real barrier to the resumption of classes is the threat of violence from criminal gangs, who have warned both teachers and students to stay at home.
Their threats are taken seriously by teachers and parents alike.
Having lived through a bloody turf war between two criminal groups known as Los Rojos and Los Ardillos in recent years, they know that more often than not the gangs carry through with the threats they make.
“Parents have told us that they don’t want their children to go to school because of the fear that something will happen to them,” one teacher who requested anonymity because of the fear of reprisal told the newspaper El Universal.
The threats directed at teachers have become increasingly more intimidating, warning them to stay away from schools or face dire consequences: rape for female teachers, murder for their male counterparts.
Social media — including the messaging application WhatsApp — has become a double-edged sword.
On one hand, criminal organizations use it to make threats against teachers and on the other, the same teachers use it to give classes and assign homework for students whose education becomes more and more compromised with each passing day.
However, with the threat of violence constantly looming, teaching via the internet is the best option as the further the children are away from their schools, the safer they seemingly are.
Authorities have provided no guarantees for the safety of students while attending classes and violence has already impinged on at least one local school.
A criminal organization has installed roadblocks in front of Preparatory School 26 located in the San Antonio neighborhood of Chilapa, which has also been the scene of confrontations between rival groups that have resulted in deaths.
The road that runs past the school leads to a rural area that is a stronghold of the Ardillos.
Students have even been forcibly removed from their classes, demonstrating that for criminals, nowhere is off limits. Some of those kidnapped have subsequently shown up dead, dumped on a local street or in a clandestine grave.
Another school in Zitlala tried to resume classes on Monday but promptly received a blunt message from an unnamed criminal group warning the school community that it had not obeyed its instructions, that the school’s principal was being watched and that if its orders continued to be defied, the consequences would be brutal.
The school quickly shut its doors and needless to say, nobody showed up for classes yesterday. Almost 50 days have passed since the September 19 earthquake but still nobody can say definitively when the region’s students will be able to return to school.
Judging by the words of Roberto Álvarez Heredia, the spokesman for the joint security task force known as the Guerrero Coordination Group, it could be some time yet.
He said recently that Chilapa is the second most violent municipality in the state, second only to Acapulco.
Source: El Universal (sp)