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Schools shuttered in Acapulco show impact of Mexican drug gangs on civilians

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Bernandino Hernandez/AP

(Read caption) Parents and teachers hang up a banner on the gates of a school in the Pacific resort city of Acapulco, Mexico on Monday. The banner reads in Spanish "To the School Community: Due to the great insecurity we are living, and since authorities are not giving teachers, parents, students and the community in general the sufficient security, we have decided to continue the work stoppage until security conditions are more favorable."

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The targeting of teachers in the port city of Acapulco is a symptom of the increasing victimization of civilians by Mexico's drug gangs, and could spark a backlash.

The extortion demands against the Acapulco teachers were first made known through a "narcomanta," or banner hung by drug gangs, found in late August. The message demanded that teachers hand over half of all their salaries, and that schools give a list of staff and their current pay scale.

In response to the threat, and the government's perceived inability to protect them, thousands of teachers refused to show up for work, forcing hundreds of schools to close. According to El Universal, some 50,000 students have had their studies interrupted as a result.

After weeks of pleas for help from local officials and growing media attention, the federal government has dispatched more than 100 federal troops to patrol the rougher areas of the city. While authorities claim that 90 percent of the shuttered schools have reopened, a minority remain closed.

This is not the first time teachers have been subject to threats from organized crime. A handful of reports have surfaced over the past couple of years – such as in Monterrey in 2008, or last year in Juarez – of demands that teachers hand over their "aguinaldo," the Christmas bonus (worth one paycheck) that formal employees receive in Mexico. However, the Acapulco threats were more extensive, and have had bigger consequences.

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