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Acapulco teachers, sick of violence, march in protest

By Rafael Romo, CNN Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
updated 3:01 PM EDT, Fri September 23, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Protesting teachers pin on black ribbons as they mourn the victims of violence
  • "We are asking for conditions that allow us ... to live a normal life," one says
  • Acapulco has seen a dramatic increase in drug-related violence this year

(CNN) -- The message is clear: No security, no classes! And thousands of teachers in the Mexican beach resort of Acapulco are taking that message to the streets. Their goal is to make clear to the government that they're fed up with the violence that is terrorizing Mexico.

Many protestors pinned a black ribbon on their left shoulder, a sign of mourning for the more than 40,000 people who have died in Mexico in the past five years as a result of drug-related violence.

A group of teachers carried a giant banner that extended across a four-lane avenue and read, "We demand security and peace." It was addressed "to the three levels of government." The teachers say they refuse to go back to the classroom until they get assurances about their security.

Some parents and students also took part in the 5-mile march along Costera Miguel Aleman, the popular coastal Acapulco avenue lined with hotels frequented by tourists and international visitors.

A teacher wearing a tan leather hat, who refused to be identified by name, said it's impossible to teach given the current levels of violence. "We are asking for conditions that allow us to return to our schools and homes to live a normal life. That's all we're asking for. We don't think that's too much to ask for. We're asking for something that anybody anywhere in the world would want: peace," said the teacher.

Late last month, right at the beginning of the school year, teachers fled from about 75 schools after receiving threats. Administrators and other personnel also refused to go to work and many schools were left empty and padlocked from outside for two weeks.

Panic spread among teachers and students after criminal groups left notes at some school demanding a significant portion of the teachers' salaries. Schools where teachers refused to pay kickbacks, the threats said, would be attacked.

At the protest, one teacher said they want to send an even louder message to the Mexican government. "We're calling on all seven regions in the state of Guerrero to unite. The next action may be a statewide strike. We will go to other schools and other regions to ask (fellow teachers) to unite," said the teacher, who also declined to give her name.

Government officials say they're doing everything they can to improve security. Miguel Angel Hernandez, Acapulco transit police director, says the local government created a program called "Safe School" to increase security personnel in and around the schools.

"We have increased the number of operations and officers patrolling schools. In the first 15 days of the Safe School Program, we had zero incidents at the schools," Hernandez said, adding that so far no one has been attacked or hurt at any school.

The federal government has sent thousands of troops and federal police to Acapulco. The security forces routinely set up checkpoints around hotspots and deploy personnel to areas where violence has increased. Local education officials have installed alarm buttons in school buildings.

Guerrero Gov. Angel Eladio Aguirre met with the teachers Thursday in an effort to find a solution to the problem.

Acapulco, long a favorite tourist destination for both Mexican and international travelers, has seen a dramatic increase in drug-related violence this year. Morgue officials say as many as 14 people are killed daily. Last year there were 1,010 murders in Acapulco, a record that was broken on August 4 this year. As of Thursday the year's homicide count in the beach resort was 1,288.

Journalists Krupskaia Alis in Mexico City and Salomon Kaufman in Acapulco contributed to this report.

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