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140 Mexican Schools Shut Down Amid Extortion Fears

The casino arson last week in Monterrey in which 52 people were killed really put a face on just how serious the drug violence in Mexico has become. Police believe that arson was likely the result of extortion.

Today, we get news that 140 schools in the city of Acapulco will not open for the new school year because teachers, who have been threatened with violence, are too afraid to show up. That's about 600 teachers and 140 schools out of the city's 1,400, according to Julio Bernal, schools delegate for the state of Guerrero. The AP tells the story of the teachers:

Two teachers said at least four of their peers had been kidnapped on the outskirts of Acapulco in the past eight days. The teachers agreed to discuss the situation only if their names were not used, saying they feared for their safety.

One of the teachers, who works at an elementary school, said she had seen men drive by the school with rifles sticking out vehicle windows. She said fellow teachers had received extortion threats demanding they give half of their salaries or face attack.

El Universal, one of Mexico's largest dailies, reports that one teacher, who was apparently in charge of handing out pay, received a typewritten letter from one of the drug gangs. In it, the paper reports, the gang demands that within 15 days, the teacher send it a list with "the name, address, cellular phone numbers and copies of every teacher's voter registration." The gang also demanded that the teacher send a copy of the district's payroll.

"Tell the teachers that beginning Oct. 1, they will pay a 50 percent rent on their salary and holiday bonuses," the letter read. Those who don't like the terms can leave, it said, otherwise they know we don't mess around.

The AP reports that the Guerro state police chief in charge of school safety did not return calls but Ramon Almonte has "previously told reporters that no teacher had reported abductions to police in recent days."

One of the teachers the AP spoke to said, "Authorities are turning a deaf ear."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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