Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Summer Comes Early for Youth in Mexico: School Too Dangerous

Nayarit's a small, Pacific Coast state in northwest Mexico. It's sandwiched between two larger states, Jalisco to its south and a northerly neighbor, Sinaloa. Nayarit is not a well-traveled tourist destination, and rarely attracts much news. But this past week its governor made history by canceling school early, three weeks early, in fact.

His reason? Widespread fear of the four-year drug war -- known by Mexicans as "the Uncertainty" -- that's seen students, young people and other civilians turned into "collateral damage" in an internecine war between drug cartels and government forces. Since 2006 throughout Mexico killings have soared to 23,000. Nayarit is in the domain of the Sinaloa Cartel, but other cartels, such as La Familia of Michoacan State, have made a claim on their territory, heightening the bloodshed.

The decision to close schools has attracted some criticism. Both the federal Ministry of Education (SEP) and the Interior Ministry (SEGOB) opposed the governor's decision. And high school students feared they would not be able to graduate or hold graduation ceremonies since they must attend school for a federally mandated period of 200 days. But Governor Ney Gonzalez Sanchez's statement indicated closures only for kindergarten, primary, and secondary schools. Nayarit's secretary of education has supported the decision because of widespread "psychosis and panic."

Parents in the state supported the move, too. They delivered a petition for closure to the governor. And the leader of the National Federation of PTAs, Leopoldo Garcia, told newspaper El Universal that his organization would respect the petition as "we are not going to risk our children." Garcia explained that the fear came from a showdown over the previous weekend in an area of the state capital Tepic which houses three schools and in which thirty people died.

In northern states such as Nayarit -- and certainly in other Mexican states know for cartel turf wars -- parental fears may not be misplaced. Since 2006 and the onset of President Felipe Calderon's militarized strategy, the homicide rate for youth aged fifteen to seventeen has increased dramatically. An NGO based in Mexico City called the Network for the Rights of the Child (REDIM) has calculated that the homicide rate for children in Nayarit between 15 to 17 years old in 2006 was 1.67 per 100,000 in that age range. Fast forward to 2008 and the rate was 10.24 per 100,000 in the same age range. Similar leaps in homicide rates for youth may be found in every northern state on the Pacific Coast.

Will school closures bring peace for children? It's unlikely: the Governor sent a request to the President for police and military reinforcements at the same he ordered school closures. And over the past four years, but especially in the border town of Ciudad Juarez, militarization has brought more deaths, not less. Meanwhile in Nuevo Leon, another northern state, news sources report that the state has just issued a manual for students at schools which come under gunfire.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is really disgusting. Kids can't be educated as a result of prohibition.