Teachers flee ganglands in fear for lives

5th November 2010 at 00:00
Mexico: The country's violent drugs war leads record numbers of staff to request transfers out of the worst-afflicted states

Earlier this week, Mexico marked the Day of the Dead, an annual holiday to remember friends and family who have passed away.

It is usually an opportunity for a party, but with the list of fatalities from the country's ongoing drugs war still growing, this year was expected to be a more muted affair. Just last week 14 people, mostly teenagers and children, were gunned down at a birthday party in the northern city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's crime capital.

Reports of attacks on teachers, and even murders, have prompted record numbers of school staff to request transfers out of areas suffering the worst drug cartel and gang violence.

"Many teachers would prefer a drop in income if it means they can change to schools in more tranquil zones," said Eva Trujillo of the Chihuahua state education ministry.

Around 800 teachers in Chihuahua have asked to be moved and 113 of those added notes to their petitions emphasising that they want to get away from the violent environment of the state, which borders the US.

During the first nine months of 2010, at least 1,500 school teachers in the neighbouring state of Sinaloa asked to be reassigned from remote mountainous areas out of fear that they may become victims of violence.

Jaime Quinonez, a local union leader, told a newspaper that all teachers feared becoming targets.

"The problem of insecurity isn't limited to the mountainous zone in Sinaloa, but unfortunately teachers in the sierras (mountains) have experienced many violent incidents and so have asked to be moved for their own safety," he said.

"We have requests from around 1,500 teachers out of the 5,000 who work in the sierras."

Mr Quinonez said that his union has asked all of the municipalities and the Secretary of Public Security, Genaro Garcia Luna, for their help in protecting teachers in areas farthest from cities.

"The violence in Sinaloa is incredible," said 29-year-old Arturo, a teacher in the Sinaloan city of Badiraguato. "I've been attacked six times by armed groups on my way to and from schools in the sierras, but this has not stopped me from continuing in my job as a teacher.

"In the sierras people do not experience the same rule of law as those in cities. In these communities the rule of law is that of the drug dealers or those with money, but it's never with the security forces."

In the state of Durango, 16 teachers have asked for transfers away from violent zones. "There are kidnappings, there are murders," said Aguilar Ravelo, a local union leader. "I don't want to say more on this because, excuse me, you know?"

In the state of Tamaulipas, another union official proposed that the 17 vacant teaching posts in lawless border towns be occupied only by male teachers. But the state's education minister, Jose Manuel Assad Montelongo, has said female teachers who apply for and win jobs will not be turned away.

With so many seeking to leave the schools, he may feel he cannot afford to be picky.

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