Organized Crime Targets Higher Education

Thousands of students with dreams of higher education have had their educational careers seriously disrupted in the northeastern border region of Mexico. In the state of Tamaulipas, for instance, extortion and threats of violence attributed to the Zetas and Gulf Cartel have forced the closure of the University of the Valley of Mexico (UVM) in Nuevo Laredo and the suspension of the school’s Reynosa branch.

In February, UVM officials closed the Nuevo Laredo campus after so-called halcones, or spotters for organized crime, as well as truckloads of armed men, were seen near the university.

“Given the seriousness of threats that included direct attacks against the lives of those who form part of our community, we first took the decision to evacuate the installations and then close the campus,” the UVM said in a statement.

Earlier threats to the Reynosa campus of the UVM prompted a military deployment for some days, but the school suffered a robbery as soon as the security forces left the scene, university officials said. The Tamaulipas state attorney general’s office identified a former policeman, “El Polimenso,” as the author of threats received by the rector of the UVM’s Reynosa campus.

Local business and educational leaders have also denounced the closure of two other private colleges and threats against 18 others. Reportedly mounting in recent months, extortion demands made of the educational institutions include monthly payments ranging from approximately $8,000 to more than $25,000 in return for “protection.”

The lawlessness has spread to the public Autonomous University of Tamaulipas, where teachers are reportedly charged protection fees known as “cuotas” and students forced to purchase raffle tickets for contests in which there are never any winners.

In response to the criminal aggression, thousands of students have reportedly left the region to study at academic institutions in other parts of Mexico or the United States.

Source: Proceso, April 4, 2015. Article by Juan Alberto Cedillo.

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