Mexican Pre-School Wins Lottery, Gets Menaced by Paramilitaries
Parents of a tiny preschool in southern Mexico that scooped a $950,000 windfall on the Mexican national lottery have found themselves hounded and threatened by a local paramilitary group. The group, “Los Petules,” wants the money to buy weapons.
The pre-school is located on an ejido, a communal farm in the Ocosingo municipality, Chiapas state. Local newspaper El Heroldo de Chiaps reports it has just over two dozen pupils. But 28 families living in the indigenous community connected to the school have been displaced by the group and are petitioning the Mexican government for help.
The families have been forced to flee the ejido and are now living in a shanty town on the outskirts of Osocingo City. That’s because of constant death threats, harassment, and attacks on their relatives and property by Los Petules.
The school initially celebrated when it won the money last year on Mexico’s so-called “airplane lottery.” This was a pet project of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. He wanted to cover the costs of his predecessor’s luxury plane, a specially outfitted Boeing 787 Dreamliner, by offering it as a lottery prize.
Obrador considered the plane a symbol of government excess. He hoped to use it to raise money for hospitals and schools. But the plan was ultimately impractical.
Instead, a special one-off lottery was organized in which anonymous benefactors were invited to buy tickets which could be donated to poor schools across the country.
When the pre-school won, the parents were put in charge of administering the prize. A list of the 100 winners was announced in September 2020 and published in Mexican newspapers.
The parents refused to hand over the money to Los Petules. Instead, they spent part of it on a new roof for the pre-school, and they decide to use what was left to improve community infrastructure. That’s when the trouble started.
Last month, according to local reports, the gang attacked women and children in the community, forcing the families to flee. One local official was shot in the abdomen by a man local news outlet Dario de Chiapas named as Samuel Santiz López. The act has gone unpunished, the newspaper said.
Armed right-wing groups, often allied with local narcos, are common in the region, as are their attacks on indigenous communities. The Equal Times reports at least 499 attacks against indigenous land defenders and environmental activists took place in Mexico between 2012 and 2018.
Indigenous groups claim the paramilitaries operate with the covert support of Mexico’s federal government.
“Up to this point, there has been no answer. The children are suffering, we are in Ocosingo, there are no shelters where we can take refuge,” one of the displaced, Melecio López Gómez, told El Heroldo. “They continue to threaten us, they are looking for us, and that is why we are in the shanty town. We have contacts in the community, and they tell us who are looking for us. We can’t do anything.”
“We fear for our lives,” he continued. “We have death threats, and they took all our property. The cattle we had are already being sold to the butchers, so it is urgent that the authorities disarm them, and no police are taking care of us.”
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