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. There also appear to be more female members.
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.
In a report on the increased participation of women in the drug cartels
, The Guardian
says women are taking on more active roles than in the past. Six of the people arrested in the Jalisco raid were female. The Guardian
tells the story of Karla Robles, who started as a drug mule at 16 but was caught by police and now resides in a prison wing for other traffickers and female assassins or sicarias
. In a video from Mexican police (attached to the Guardian
story), a gunman tells about how his cartel, La Linea, would recruit young women to work as sicarias
. Women who get involved are often girlfriends, wives or family members, Felbab-Brown says.
Modernization has enabled women to take on more roles in drug trafficking operations, Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a professor who studies U.S. Mexico Border issues at University of Texas Brownsville, told The Brownsville Herald for a story published last week. “Globalization, technology and modernization have facilitated the incorporation of women into most productive activities and in nations’ development in general. It is not weird, then, to see an increasing participation of women in drug trafficking activities – even as sicarias,” she told The Herald.
“It’s very hard to get any sort of baseline, and it’s still infrequent enough to estimate any specific trend, but in Mexico you do have participation of women in the management of the organization such as money laundering," says Felbab-Brown. Whether that's a big change or just something that's only now being discovered because of better intelligence is hard to know, she adds.
Organizations have begun focusing on community involvement to counter the recruitment efforts of the cartels. Youth programs run by churches and schools are springing up in areas where unemployment is high and prospects are low. These programs should focus on recreational programs in addition to gang intervention programs, drug treatment and prevention, workforce preparation, and economy boosting activities, says a 57-page report on the drug war in Mexico
published by the Council of Foreign relations in March.
Bordering on Danger , from Matthew Harwood of Security Management
Female Assassins a Growing Part of Drug Cartels from The Brownsville Herald
Stemming the Violence in Mexico, but Breaking the Cartels from Vanda Felbab-Brown of The Brookings Institute
Caption: Ten members of the Zeta cartel who were arrested after a raid on a training camp on Wednesday are displayed for media by Jalisco State Police. Photo courtesy of the Secretariat of Public Security of Mexico .