Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, or CNDH, has opened a probe into recent violence in a religious community in the western state of Michoacan, where disturbances prevented the start of the 2012-2013 school year.
Staffers are being sent to La Nueva Jerusalen to compile information for a report, the CNDH, Mexico’s equivalent of an ombud’s office, said.
The rights body called on Michoacan Gov. Fausto Vallejo to take the steps needed to ensure the safety of all the residents of La Nueva Jerusalen, especially teachers and students.
It also urged him to explore “all possible avenues of dialogue and negotiation for peacefully resolving the conflict” pitting two rival factions in that community, located in Turicato, a municipality about 126 kilometers (78 miles) from the state capital of Morelia.
Finally, the CNDH demanded the state government ensure that education is provided in La Nueva Jerusalen under adequate security conditions and guarantee that teachers and students can safely make their way to and from the classrooms until the conflict is resolved.
The rival factions vying to run the community resorted to violence on July 5, when seven classrooms were destroyed by followers of a priest who calls himself “Saint Martin of Tours” and controls the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary.
The priest inherited power from the late Nabor Cardenas, a former Catholic priest and founder of La Nueva Jerusalen.
He has ordered more than 500 of his followers to prevent the start of the 2012-2013 school year, which was supposed to start on Monday in the houses of some of the parents of the community’s more than 280 schoolchildren.
The order set off clashes between the priest’s followers and dissidents who want the schools open, prompting Michoacan Gov. Fausto Vallejo to issue an ultimatum on Monday.
“I am asking the people who guide that community spiritually to take action to pacify the situation. If they do not do that, with all respect, we will have to take action against them,” the governor said.
Mexico’s public education secretary, Jose Angel Cordova Villalobos, on Wednesday issued a call for prudence amid the “fanaticism” surrounding the dispute in La Nueva Jerusalen, saying there was a “risk of a high level of violence and accidents.”
“We’re already in contact with federal authorities at the Government Secretariat level and with the local (authorities), but it’s a local problem of fanaticism, radicalism, that will have to be channeled through dialogue,” Cordova told reporters.