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News > Latin America

Colombian Teachers Fall Prey to Threats, Paramilitary Violence

  • Over the last decade, 949 teachers have been killed; 4,003 have been threatened, and 1,092 displaced.

    Over the last decade, 949 teachers have been killed; 4,003 have been threatened, and 1,092 displaced. | Photo: EFE

Published 21 May 2018
Opinion

Teachers receive text messages demanding upwards of 14 million pesos while being threatened with extortion.

Colombian activists and social leaders are not the only ones being targeted, a new report shows that teachers are struggling faced with extortion and death threats from drug cartels.

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A report from the National Protection Unit (UNP) of Colombia documented 142 cases of distress from Colombian teachers since 2015. Since January, 46 complaints have arrived from Nariño, Bogota, and Caqueta. Although, records from the Ministry of Education of Bogota state that in the city of Bogota alone, 32 cases have been registered, 24 more than the UNP reports.

Teachers working in high-conflict zones, such as Cordoba, received text messages demanding upwards of 14 million pesos (US$7,900), accompanied with threats of death, raids, and violence.

“Here at least they were warned, there are cases in which they do not warn them and the teachers are gunned down, victims of the killer," said Luis Grubert, a member of the Colombian Federation of Educators, Fecode.

Grubert continued, saying that the attacks and threats are not from cartels or rogue groups alone, but from paramilitary forces as well.

Since the teachers are all over the country, we represent the state and we become the targets of all the armed actors,” he said.

Over the last decade, 949 teachers have been killed; 4,003 have been threatened; 1,092 displaced; 60 have gone missing, and 70 have become refugees, Fecode reports.

"And in this year there are already fifteen (educators) killed and reported there are 200 who are being victims of extortion," Grubert said.

According to the Fecode directors, occasionally controversial education programs instigates the violence against teachers. As a result, certain courses, such as sex education, history, or languages are phased out to “avoid possible retaliation” from paramilitaries.

Vice President of  District Association of Education Workers (ADE), Raul Vasquez, said that additional threats come from disgruntled relatives over an inconvenience with students in the classroom.

However, the benefits, salaries, economic stability make teachers the prime targets for criminal groups.

Of the 118 cases reported in 2017 for threats to life, only nine educators were transferred. "We do not feel supported," Vasquez said.

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