Soldiers on patrol outside a school in Chilapa, Guerrero. Soldiers on patrol outside a school in Chilapa, Guerrero.

Quake, narcos blamed in closing 650 schools

More than 60,000 students have been out of school since September 19

Tens of thousands of students in one region of the southern state of Guerrero still haven’t returned to classes after the September 19 earthquake but according to teachers and parents the natural disaster is not wholly to blame.

They say that threats and orders from criminal gangs are also preventing 650 of the 680 schools in the Baja Montaña region from reopening.

Consequently, more than 60,000 students across five municipalities in central Guerrero have not attended school for over a month.

State education authorities have consistently maintained that schools will reopen once they been inspected for damage that may have been sustained in the 7.1-magnitude quake.

On September 28, the Education Secretariat announced that classes would resume on October 5.

But since then, the date has been pushed back three times and there is still no certainty that the temporary suspension of classes will be lifted on November 6, as was most recently announced.

A high-ranking education official attributes the delays and repeated date changes to a lack of qualified specialists to check the structural integrity of schools.

“. . . Parents are asking for classes to restart but they cannot. We cannot make a ruling . .  . there are specialists who are coming to inspect the infrastructure,” Jerónimo Maurilio said.

But teachers and parents alike are not convinced.

They claim that authorities are using the September 19 earthquake to cover up the threats and orders made by organized crime groups that are involved in a vicious turf war in the region.

Many believe they are the real reason why schools have not reopened.

Chilapa Mayor Jesús Parra said that suspected members of criminal gangs started sending threatening messages on social media weeks ago. The messages are directed at authorities but also designed to intimidate teachers.

“The order is that in Chilapa and the Baja Montaña there are no classes until further notice. Let us work,” read one that circulated quickly, reaching teachers and parents across the region.

In other messages, one gang announces that it is carrying out a “cleansing” of another and consequently ordered the closing of the schools to avoid “innocent people being in the wrong place” at the wrong time.

The opium poppy growing region has been plagued by violence in recent years with gangs known as Los Ardillos and Los Rojos fighting for control.

The presence of the army has failed to rein in the violence and residents of some communities have been forced to abandon their homes.

“They have sown fear and panic and it obviously affects the population,” Parra said.

In some cases, parents have enrolled their children in schools in other municipalities, he said, while many others have arrived at the municipal palace to complain, find out what is happening and demand security so that classes can resume.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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