A Look at Mexican Drug Cartel Membership Trends

By Carlton Purvis


Experts’ concerns about the increased use of child soldiers by Mexican drug cartels were affirmed Wednesday after a bloody confrontation between members of Los Zetas and Jalisco State Police at a cartel training camp resulted in the arrest of 10 members, five of which were in their teens.
For cartel hit men, indoctrination starts young, Vanda Felbab-Brown, Brookings Fellow and expert on international conflict tells Security Management. The cartels start interacting with the kids at 12 or 13. By 14, kids are working as lookouts or couriers. By 16, they’re working as hit men and managing hit squads, she said.
Training had just started when the state police raided the camp in Jalisco, Borderland Beat reported on Thursday (June 16). Police photos show a group of teens in handcuffs wearing military fatigues. Assault rifles, grenade launchers, and military equipment recovered by police are laid out in front of them on a table.
The cartels were already known to contract hits out to youth gangs and provide them with weapons, Felbab-Brown explains. But increased recruitment of younger people for fighting and leadership roles shows that the cartels are losing older leadership, and organizations may be feeling more threatened by increased pressure from law enforcement, she says.
The younger recruits cause more harm because of their inexperience. “Drug cartels are enlisting younger hit men who are less trained and have less capacity to conduct hits in a professional manner. They spray an area with bullets hoping they hit a target. It’s not that they’re trying to do more damage, it’s that they don’t know how to be more precise,” she says. Younger members also have more to prove to their organizations and “need to intimidate other challengers and deter other groups from taking their territory,” she adds.
Youth are not the only option for new recruits.


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