Inside the world's most dangerous university
Following a spate of disappearances, kidnappings, beatings and epidemics of dengue fever and chikungunya, a Mexican university is now considered the most dangerous place on the planet to be a student. Based in state capital Xalapa, the University of Veracruz has only seen 78 per cent of its students return for the start of the academic year as the institution goes through a period which staff are comparing to 'the plagues of Egypt'.
'We've had death, plagues of insects, deadly disease, terrible violence', a spokesman for the university told MailOnline.
'It's not going to take many more atrocities to complete the set.'
The problems started two months ago when 10 masked men, armed with machetes and baseball bats, crashed a student birthday party and beat eight guests to within inches of their lives.
The victims, four men and four women, all ended up in the city's hospital. Although none of them died, the event has sent shockwaves through the student community.
Five of the individuals have since gone missing, the other three have fled Veracruz state after receiving death threats.
'It was intimidation', Veracruz University student Carlos Landa told MailOnline on the university's main campus.
'The birthday boy had been speaking out against the university's administration, and around here they know exactly how to make you shut up.'
Xalapa municipal police took over 12 hours to send an officer to the crime scene following the brutal event that was heard by neighbours up to three blocks away. According to local police the incident is not being officially investigated.
Due to poor waste management a recent infestation of the Aeges Aegypti mosquito, a virulent tropical species known for spreading disease, has resulted in over 250 cases of chikungunya in the student halls of residence.
Fumigators were called in on Tuesday, but not fast enough to contain the epidemic. Since the outbreak in the student accommodation, two cases of chikungunya have been reported in the city of Xalapa.
Kidnappings are rife at the university. The last two months have seen over twenty separate abductions, only 16 of the victims made it back alive having been ransomed for up to £40,000.
The most recent kidnapping was last week's abduction of two university staff, one of which has been identified as Rene Hernandez Luis - a lecturer in the international school that attracts students from both Europe and the United States.
Kidnapped alongside three other family members, he has been ransomed for over £15,000.
Every student MailOnline spoke to at the university knew of someone who had been kidnapped.
Jose Antonio Castañero, a second-year student and Xalapa resident, was forced to handle the return of a kidnap victim himself when local police refused to get involved.
'The police took down the details of the case and finally recommended that we deal directly with the kidnappers and pay the ransom', he told MailOnline.
'The kidnappers had demanded the ransom money be deposited in a bank account. They actually gave us the account number and sort code'.
'The police just laughed when we suggested that they could track down the criminals that way', he told, shaking his head in disgust.
'Who would possibly choose to be a student here when the only thing this town is known for is crime?' he said.
While José's relative was returned to his family alive, many are not so lucky. Forced disappearance statistics in Xalapa have risen year on year, and the past decade has seen over 4,000 local residents disappear, usually abducted from their beds in the early morning by criminals.
State wide crime, of which Xalapa counts for about 40 per cent across the board, has risen steadily year on year since new governor Javier Duarte took office in 2010.
395 adult males were murdered in Veracruz state in 2010 according to official figures, estimates for 2014 already put the figure at over 700.
The business of organised crime has become the state's biggest industry (a slang term for the Zetas drug cartel which has the state in a stranglehold is 'La Industria'), and extortion and kidnap, alongside drug trafficking, have become staples of the cartel's endeavours.
2014 saw 5,407 cases of carjacking in Veracruz, 3,138 incidences of burglarly and 1,935 private businesses robbed.
Yet there is good reason to believe that such official statistics are vastly lower than the reality.
'We estimate that 60 per cent of the city's population will not officially complain to the police when they become victims of a crime', a reporter from a Xalapa local newspaper who wished to remain anonymous told MailOnline.
As many as 14 Veracruz journalists have been murdered for their reporting since 2010.
'We've seen cases where people have taken complaints of robbery to the police with damning photographic evidence of the crime', said the reporter, who has spent over a decade covering crime in the Veracruz state capital.
'Later that same week they'll get a visit from the same criminal who will punish them for having taken their problem to the authorities'.
'If someone destroys my car, but I'm not being threatened and neither I nor any of my family have been hurt, then I'm not going to involve the police', Xalapa resident Alberto Gonzalez told MailOnline, 'The authorities only cause more problems here'.
To make matters worse the university's financial situation is far from solvent. Funded by the state government, which official figures pronounce is in debt to the tune of over £1.5 billion (more realistic figures suggest it's more than double that), the university can't guarantee to pay its 12,000 staff each month.
Such late payments have caused staff strikes, cancelled classes and a mass exodus of the university's top academics to other institutions.
'There's no money in the university', said a university administration insider. 'As a state funded educational institution we're the last ones to get paid by the administration'.
'With the crime the way it is, and no money to keep us going, it's hard to see the university continuing as it has done for much longer'.