At least 600 Colombian school teachers have been impeded from doing their job over the past year due to threats, according to the country’s largest public school teachers union Fecode. Five of these teachers were assassinated in the course of 2011.
According to the union, it is mostly teachers in the remote parts of the country that are being threatened or killed, particularly in areas where illegal armed groups are strong and state presence is minimal.
“These numbers are estimated based on reported cases by the various local authorities. This number may be much higher considering that many teachers do not report the threats out of fear of reprisals,” Ernesto Enrique Ballesteros of Fecode told Colombia Reports.
According to the union spokesman, because teachers in many areas are seen as informal authorities, they “are called to become community leaders, which makes them end up in the middle of the conflict. To be precise, this leadership position in vulnerable communities forces them to take a stand in the war that is going on in Colombia. This tends to create animosity from the illegal groups,” said Ballesteros.
“The education they offer young people to avoid them choosing the criminal path or … entering the ranks of drug trafficking, makes them a target of the different types of armed groups that exist in the country,” Ballesteros added.
According to the union spokesman, violence against teachers in Colombia has been a constant factor in the past twenty years and results in an average of 30 killed teachers per year. Despite the fact that the death threats and the killings have been going on for so long, the state has not yet found an effective way to protect the country’s teachers or to effectively prosecute the perpetrators.
The Colombian government adopted measures in 2010 that grant school teachers some form of state protection, although according to Fecode the new measures barely show effect. “The protection measures stipulated by the government are almost non-existent. That’s why the killings and the threats do not stop,” said Ballesteros.