San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Is a drug gang controlling an indigenous village in Costa Rica?

Drug traffickers are preventing teachers from entering a region in indigenous territory in Costa Rica in order to encourage children to cultivate marijuana, the Education Ministry said Monday.

In the village of Alto Telire in the Talamanca canton, on the Caribbean coast, some 300 Cabécar children are not attending school. Eight teachers chosen to teach in the village are having difficulty entering Alto Telire, and now fear their lives are in danger due to a local drug gang, according to the daily La Nación.

The teachers only have been allowed to enter the village twice this year. After one trip, one of two school buildings was burned down.

The Education Ministry believes support from other ministers is necessary to take back control of the village. It already is a difficult place to send teachers since it requires a three-day walk to arrive there.

Guillermo Rodríguez, an education planner for indigenous communities, said that the situation is severe enough that residents could become dependent on drug traffickers for food.

“[Local residents] are forced to work in drug trafficking. The problem is that the government has lost sovereignty, and it must be recovered,” Rodríguez told La Nación.

One of the teachers said the drug gang does whatever it wants in the village. Another added that few local residents speak Spanish. Most speak an indigenous language also called Cabécar. The teacher believes that the few residents who speak Spanish could be contacts for the drug traffickers.

Mario Mora, vice minister of planning for the Education Ministry, said the ministry is considering moving the children out of the territory to receive classes in a different indigenous region.

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