08 April 2010

Cash, status lure youths to drug trade in troubled parts of Mexico


By David Agren, Catholic News Service

APATZINGÁN, Mexico (CNS) -- Father Javier Cortés vividly recalls being approached recently with an unusual request by a group of teenagers in this agricultural town 300 miles west of Mexico City. There, La Familia Michoacana, a quasi-religious drug cartel, dumped four human heads at a prominent public monument during Holy Week as a warning to its rivals.

"Some young people said, 'Father, I've come so that you will bless me because I'm going to kill Zetas,'" he said, referring to the gang of rogue former soldiers and police officers that La Familia members consider their mortal enemies.

Father Cortés, who is rector of the local seminary, rebuked the plan and refused to bless the killing spree.

Such violence has become common, however, and has contributed to more than 19,000 deaths since President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006 and promised to crack down on violent drug cartels. The violence increasingly is claiming young lives as well. Authorities blame the cartels and gangs affiliated with them for massacres such as the January murder of 15 youths at a birthday party in Ciudad Juárez and the Palm Sunday murders in Durango state of 10 young people who were returning to their communal farm.

But the request made of Father Cortés highlighted an even more disturbing trend in drug-related violence, as young people are increasingly recruited by the cartels and lured into the seemingly easy money of the drug trade.

"We're talking about a lost generation of young people that is falling into the networks of narcotics trafficking," said security expert Pedro Isnardo de la Cruz, who teaches at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

He attributed the recruitment of young people to a combination of factors that include Mexico's long-underperforming economy, family breakdowns and the seduction of the cartels.

Church leaders and young people concurred and said such factors are at play in Apatzingán, the hub of an economically neglected region of downtrodden communal farms and lemon groves known as Tierra Caliente, or Hot Earth.

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