In 2006 there were eleven thousand youths involved in gangs; in 2008 the number rose to 26 thousand. A military report confirms that Los Zetas financed the tapados protests.
by Diego E. Osorno, Milenio
Monterrey - Organized crime groups have beaten the state for control of Monterrey's poorest neighborhoods, as indicated by military reports, official surveys of state police, and sociological studies.
Recent statistics from the state Ministry of Public Security show that in the past two years the number of youths who enter gangs has doubled in Mexico's richest city. According to official numbers--considered to be conservative by independent investigators--, in 2006 the authorities had counted 11,319 gang members, but last year the number rose to 26,023.
The majority of these young people (between 12 and 22 years old) reside in neighborhoods where organized crime recruited gangs to carry out various activities, according to a military document in which the current situation in Nuevo Leon is also analyzed.
Tomorrow [March 16] will mark one month after the most recent blockade carried out in this city's streets by tapados ["masked ones"] who were demanding that military operations in the zone cease. The military puts forward in this report--shared with some state and federal officials--that "the criminal group Los Zetas has high and dangerous influence" in the Monterrey metropolitan area's colonias populares (poor neighborhoods) and that the protests that occurred this past February 9-17 were financed by this group as part of its strategy to destabilize the city before a presidential visit.
Of the Monterrey metropolitan area's* 747 neighborhoods, 206 are considered problematic and sixy-six are in critical situation, warns a study by Patricia Cerda, coordinator of the Nuevo Leon Autonomous University's Communication Department's Investigation Center.
The investigator states that 1,917 gangs currently exist in the metropolitan municipalities. The Escobedo conurbation reports the highest increase in gang membership. In 2006 there were 149 gangs in this city; the number tripled in 2008 to 492.
"The analysis of conflict zones draws the conclusion that in areas with high rates of domestic violence, the proliferation of gangs and social violence gets worse. With that comes the possibility that the gang members turn to micro-criminal groups, which the macro-criminal or organized crime can utilize as cheap labor," explains Cerda in an interview.
In another study the investigator demonstrates that the current violence situation has generated a considerable increase in the number of young people who commit suicide. "I don't think that there is a failed state in those neighborhoods, but if we don't attend to them as a society, as a government, other groups are going to do it," she says.
Waiting on the Corner
However, due to the current economic crisis, others think that the near future isn't very encouraging for Monterrey's poor neighborhoods. Sociological studies from the Nuevo Leon Autonomous University reveal that in 1984 and 1995, after economic crises that were comparable to the current one, the number of gangs rose in these zones.
David Gonzalez, who has been a social promoter in the city's marginalized zones since the 80s, believes that the situation in these neighborhoods is alarming. "From the street generation we move on to the dead end streets--the generation of those born in saturated houses, saturated streets, and saturated cities. In these new generations, the young are immersed in skepticism: they don't believe in the country. These kids make their parents happy when they're in the streets, and the kids are also happier."
About the tapados, a member of The Shot Collective says: "What's happening is that the kids get together in the streets; if someone comes with a ball and says 'We're going to play soccer,' they go; if someone comes with a forty (beer) and says 'We're going to go get drunk,' they go to get drunk; if someone shows up with rocks and says 'We're going to throw stones,' they go."
It's no secret here that the people who went out to protest against the military a month ago are the same clientele that the political parties mobilize for big events, including elections. [Translator's note: Political parties are known to recruit people for rallies and to buy votes in exchange for tortillas, preferable utility rates, and public works like paved roads.]
The mother of a tapado from the Sierra Ventana neighborhood says: "One day we woke up and there were backpacks with a $200 peso bills on our doorsteps with a message: 'This is yours if you participate in today's protest; if you're not interested, leave everything where you found it.'"
- According to ecologist Guillermo Martinez Berlanga, organized crime's penetration in Monterrey's poor neighborhoods is explained by a lack of public spaces.
- "A major city that abandons its youth and leaves them in misery without opportunities is a society that sooner or later will fail."
- "I warned about these changes when they privatized the Santa Catarina River and the Fundidora Park. We lack seven thousand hectares of free public spaces in the Monterrey metropolitan zone. So you really think these kids aren't living in hell?"
*The Monterrey metropolitan area consists of nine municipalities.