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

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Teachers may not seem like a logical target for extortion, but for a small-scale criminal group operating in a poor area without many profitable commercial enterprises, they serve as an enticing source of cash. Experienced teachers often make 15,000 or 20,000 pesos a month (currently a range of roughly $1,100 to $1,450), so if everyone in a school with a teaching staff of 30 handed over 5,000 pesos, it would represent a significant haul.

The Acapulco upset reflects a couple of broader trends in Mexican security. The first is the growing role of extortion. Reliable figures regarding extortion are hard to come by, but a recent report using data from Mexico’s Justice Department said that there had been 24,000 extortion complaints during the administration of President Felipe Calderon, with more than 200 of them involving physical attacks stemming from a refusal to pay. Guerrero was among the states with the largest number of extortion complaints; Chihuahua, the border state that houses Juarez, came in first. Other reports indicate an even more widespread problem. In 2009, the Secretariat of Public Security reported 50,000 extortion complaints on an annual basis.

With either figure, however, the true extent of the problem is likely understated, as neither victims nor perpetrators have much of an incentive to report crimes.

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