New target for Mexico's drug cartels: schools
A note left on a school wall in the town of Ciudad Juárez last month threatened to harm kindergartners. The note was suspected to be left by drug traffickers.
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Mayor Reyes Ferriz sent some 400 cadets and police officers rotating among hundreds of buildings in the city.Skip to next paragraph
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He also had "panic buttons" installed in schools that ring authorities directly. He says he will review the security plan in 2009 but says he expects threats to dissipate: he says they are directed at teachers who earn extra money in December because of their yearly Christmas bonus, which is typically a month's pay.
Schools, however, are not the only targets these days. Journalists, doctors, and any type of small-business owner is vulnerable. In recent months, restaurants, dance halls, and some gymnasiums have been burned to the ground. Many store owners have fled to the US, say residents across town.
"Merchants feel fed up, frustrated, and extorted, they feel helpless because they don't feel there's any recourse," says Ricardo Ainslie, an educational psychology professor at the University of Texas in Austin, who is writing a book about Mexico's war against the drug cartels. "And [cartels] mean business. They carry out what they threaten to carry out."
The incidents in Ciudad Juárez have created fear well beyond those schools threatened. "It has created a psychosis," says Nivardo Jabalera, director of the Junior High School 3042 in Ciudad Juárez, which he says has not received any threats. He says the school has used the opportunity to discuss delinquency – including holding conferences with local authorities.
But it's also generating a cultural shift in Mexico that might be harder to turn back. Juan Daniel Acosta, a director of a secondary school in Chihuahua City, says one of his students posted on the Internet her pride that her father is a narcotrafficker. Mr. Acosta's wife, Irma Leticia Navarro, teaches at the local elementary school. She says that kids are taking turns playing executioner and victim; a first-grader recently stated his wish to become an assassin when he grows up.
Ricardo Ravelo, an investigative journalist with Proceso magazine, says that children in states torn apart by the drug war now idolize and imitate narcoculture. "The narcos are powerful, untouchable, undefeatable," he says. "For these children, it's not very important to them to study or imagine themselves on a career path. For them, the attractive path is drug trafficking and its personalities."