Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Mexican drug cartels find youths to be easy prey

Faced with a poor education system and dismal job prospects, boys and girls as young as 11 are lured into acting as mules, peddlers, lookouts — even executioners — for drug cartels offering easy money.

David Jimenez of Jiutepec, Mexico, holds a photo of his 14-year-old son Edgar, taken the night the boy was arrested. Edgar told reporters he started working for the Beltran Leyva drug cartel at age 11 and had killed four people. (Don Bartletti, Los Angeles Times / December 19, 2010)

by:By Ken Ellingwood and Tracy Wilkinson

The curly-haired suspect in the sweatshirt faced the flash of news cameras, looking impossibly small.

"When did you start to kill?" he was asked. "How much did you earn?" "How many did you execute?"

He said he began killing at age 11. A drug cartel paid him $200 a week. He'd killed four people.
"How?" came the final question.

"I cut their throats," he replied. Then masked Mexican soldiers hustled him off, the way they do other drug suspects.

The detainee's name was Edgar Jimenez Lugo, but everyone knew him as Ponchi.

He's 14 years old.

In shin-length shorts and flip-flops, the San Diego-born boy was a cheerful fixture on the pothole-marked streets of his neighborhood on the gritty side of Jiutepec, a town near Cuernavaca that's a weekend retreat for residents of Mexico City.

But whispers swirled that he'd fallen in with a dangerous crowd, that he was riding around in spiffy cars.

Edgar's father, David Jimenez, said he had caught the boy smelling of alcohol at a local basketball court, but nothing worse. He had to admit, though, that he had no idea how his son spent his time.

"He was kind of forgotten," Jimenez said.

Edgar had long ago abandoned school and lately seemed a fleeting, ghostlike presence in the ramshackle compound he shared with aunts and uncles. One close relative said she hadn't seen him since April.

Authorities began hunting the teen in November, after someone named "Ponchis" was mentioned prominently in a video posted on YouTube that purportedly showed masked members of a hit team for the fraying Beltran Leyva cartel posing with rifles.

The boy's father acknowledges that his son appeared in the video but said the teen posed as part of a "game."

"Everything they're saying about him is a lie," said Jimenez, a 44-year-old security guard. "He hasn't done the barbarous things they say."

Facing reporters on the night of his arrest this month, Edgar said he had no parents.

"They're dead," he said.

Youths 'divert from their destiny'

Edgar's arrest was one more shocking twist in Mexico's 4-year-old drug war: Could a boy who stands barely chin high to a grown man be a bloodthirsty cartel assassin?

The case has shaken Mexico, possibly because the answer is so clear. Faced with an abysmal education system and even worse job prospects — and lured by easy drug money and the clout that comes with it — thousands of ever-younger youths are joining the ranks of violent cartels.

The virtually endless supply of young foot soldiers keeps the cartels well-stocked with thugs, gunmen, mules, peddlers and lookouts. As vulnerable kids fall through the cracks, Mexico risks losing part of a generation.

"These kids are victimizers, but they are also victims," said Miguel Barrera, a former gangster who now works to rescue violent teens from the streets.

About a million youths are considered at risk and easy prey for cartels, according to studies by the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City. It is a precarious and probably short life. The young foot soldiers are little more than cannon fodder.

As much as 5% of the more than 30,000 people killed in the drug wars in the last four years were minors, according to civic groups; some were innocents caught up in the violence, but many were active participants.

Police and military officials say they are capturing a larger number of youths in operations against cartels.

Two suspects in the August massacre of 72 Central and South American immigrants in northern Mexico were 17 and 14. In February, officials in the state of Tabasco announced the capture of a 13-year-old girl who they said had been recruited by drug traffickers and trained to kill.

The phenomenon has crashed into a legal system unprepared for youths charged with grave offenses, spurring a movement to lower the age at which suspects can be tried and punished as adults.

In terms of prevention, however, there are only a few programs aimed at stopping cartel recruitment and little political will to tackle the problem.

"The great danger I see in Mexico," said author and social commentator Carlos Fuentes, "is that young Mexicans, those less than 30 years of age, which is nearly half of the population, divert from their destiny and turn to crime."

Drugs a gateway to violence

When he was 14, Jose Andres Mendoza stalked the chaotic streets of Mexico City's slums armed with a 9-millimeter pistol that he used to rob passengers on buses. He had long ago dropped out of school and would spend "weeks at a time" high on pot.

The boy, called "Tulo," sold drugs at his old school and in his neighborhood, a rough barrio that climbs steep hills on the northeastern edge of Mexico City.

It's the kind of place where you can buy drugs "like a stick of gum," as locals put it, where stray dogs roam, junkies and dealers with shaved heads fight for corners, gunfire punctuates the night, and streets are littered with discarded condoms.

"We'd pistol-whip the guys on buses to get their money," Tulo said. "I like money. I like the clothes. I like having good tennis shoes. The name brands."

For many youths, the passage to organized crime begins with drug use. Historically, Mexico had been a transit point for drugs, not a consumer nation. But that changed in the last decade, and the number of addicts has doubled, according to the government. The drug of choice tends to be marijuana or crack cocaine, but many of the poorer kids inhale highly toxic solvents such as paint thinner.

Tulo says it's a harsh drug. "It makes you see things and hear voices," he said.

Now 15, Tulo is tall and gangly, with gel-spiked hair and a large silver necklace bearing a miniature of St. Jude Thaddeus, the saint of desperate cases.

He says he's shot only one person, another gangster who angered him. He's been knifed. His 15-year-old girlfriend was shot to death at a wild dance party a month ago. Earlier in the year his teenage cousin, a drug dealer, was stabbed about 30 times.

He said he's trying to get out of the criminal life.

Tulo's father beat his mother before abandoning the family. They are poor, living in the same concrete and tin-roof home that Tulo's grandparents shared when they were first married.

His mother, Guadalupe Castaneda, 37, is dignified and friendly and has struggled to keep her son safe.

"I talked to him and told him not to do those things," she said. "But inside my humble house is one thing, and out there when he hangs with his friends, it's another."

A symptom of larger problems

Edgar, the boy known as Ponchi, was arrested at the Cuernavaca airport as he and his 19-year-old sister, Elizabeth, tried to board a plane for Tijuana. Authorities said they found two handguns and packets of cocaine in their luggage.

Relatives said the pair planned to cross the border to join their mother, Yolanda Jimenez Lugo, who has lived in San Diego for years.

Military officials have yet to lay out their evidence for the charges of homicide, arms and drug possession, and involvement in organized crime. But they say Edgar appears in another video in which a man is shown hanged by the arms and tortured. Other young detainees have said Edgar directed them to bury the bodies of slain drug rivals.

Family members say he was coerced by armed soldiers into making incriminating statements to reporters soon after his Dec. 2 capture.

The accusations against Edgar have laid bare darker aspects of life in small-town Mexico. Residents say the quaint plaza of the Tejalpa neighborhood bristles after sunset with drug dealers, who can make $500 a night peddling marijuana and cocaine.

"The same ones who supply the drugs — they work for them. It's easy money," said 17-year-old Jibran Barrera, a high school student who wore a marijuana emblem on his belt buckle. He said he has never sold drugs, but has friends who do.

Jibran said he didn't view the accusations against Edgar as so hard to fathom. "That's how he was making a living," Jibran said. "In these times, hardly anyone has money."

The episode has also forced the Jimenez family to face its past failings. In the 1990s, child-welfare officials removed all six Jimenez children from their parents' custody in San Diego, where the family lived at the time. David Jimenez said the reason was the couple's violent fighting.

The paternal grandmother, Carmen Solis, was appointed legal guardian and brought the children to Mexico while Edgar, the youngest, was still a baby. But her death in 2004 left the family rudderless, one relative said, and hit Edgar especially hard.

The boy stopped going to school after third grade because he didn't like it.

"I neglected him a little," David Jimenez said during an interview in the nearly empty house that belonged to his late mother.

He said the boy's sister, Elizabeth, was rubbing elbows with reputed underworld figures, including a suspected enforcer named Jesus Radilla Hernandez who has been tied to a flurry of beheadings and other killings in the Cuernavaca area.

Edgar told reporters after his arrest that he killed at Radilla's behest, but only under threat of death and the influence of marijuana.

David Jimenez insisted his son was "not a monster."

"Right now all the poverty in the country pulls kids into doing things they shouldn't. They say, 'I'll give you some money and you take this package over there, deliver it there.' And without knowing what they're carrying, the children do it," Jimenez said.

Could the same have happened to Ponchi?

"Maybe," the father said, looking defeated. "Maybe he was a kid who also got swept up in all that."


  1. Poor Dad is in denial about his kid. Ponchis was obviously involved up to his neck. My question, what was he going to to do with the pistols at the airport? I assume Mexican airlines use metal detectors.

  2. That's what I talked about some time ago, when a mob was out on this blog to lynch this young punk. There's lots of kids with no future, but the SUV, the gun and a lot of coke up the nose. And a bunch of rich druggies north of the border to fuel the mess and rich dons and donas south of the border maintaining the centuries old social status quo. MX is a failed state. With non-existing social ladder. This is very like west Africa in the 90s'. So what, the noose fans, do you want to hang the killer kids by the hundreds? And what about the older ones - I mean the ones in the late teens. They are hundreds of thousands people living of the business. Kill them all? You better start to think about a real solution here, that's happening in US' backyard, not in foocking middle east.

    And that brings me to this interesting post on BDN about Los Misteriosos Desaparecedores. Would that be a third force in the game?

  3. "He was 'kind of' forgotten"?....poor children, because the parents and relatives kind of forget them, the police and high government officials can force them to do their dirty work and then discard them like trash..

  4. "Poor dad" should not have been a violent dad and been a good dad instead....

  5. I have preaching this to the BB choir for months...until the educational system is equal for all Mexicans, and socio-economic overhaul there will be a huge field of recrutiment for Organized crime organizations. We can't really refer to them as DTOs because they have largely diverified to software and cd pirating extortion, kidnappings, human traffickking, fuel theft etc. they see they must do this as a good business sense, so in essence if magic happened and all the cartels stop traffickking drugs thery have ample crime diversification.

    So, one can see how important any strategy to combat DTOs include/in conjuction a new educational system and one that includes corrective stop gap programs for the millions of kids already pushed out the system in their early teens because of poverty circumstance.

    these kids are to become the Ni-Nis of Mx the field of choice and recrutiment for DTOs. Its the perfect storm. and for those of you that ask where is the money going to come from? the same place it comes from for the "other children" because as it is presently; no education, no job. this is imperative not a choice. it must be the article Ovemex posted there it is the future...this is the face of the future, angry, hopeless children hungry to fit in somewhere, be "somebody". and seeing so much, things that no one should witness let alone a child, they have lost the ability to feel emotion, empathy, compassion.

    This has always been my greatest fear..

  6. He was "kind of forgotten" .... "I neglected him a little" .....
    I say this right now. If I'm ever overheard muttering those words about my children, please put a bullet in my head immediately. Thanks.

  7. Six children! Violently fighting parents who severely neglected their children. Extended family that lived in the same compound, but didn't give a damn. Allowed to drop out of school as a third grader. Sounds to me like both of Ponchis' parents needed to be sterilized long ago as punishment for their dereliction of duty.

  8. Buela actually touches on a significant problem but it leaves out another one, the Catholic Church. Their views on contraception largely dictate that children will be born that are unwanted. Start using contraception and abortion, and they won't be having six kids who turn to DTOs for survival. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it is obviously part of the problem.

  9. $200 a week. That's more than many Mexican adults bring home. How could they NOT know he had money? They knew.

    And sadly these children know what they are doing, they see it all around them when they get involved in the life. So we hang them? No. Can we reform them? Maybe.

    Poverty has been the excuse for centuries. Robin Hood has been tried, over and over, in one form or another without success. Redistribution of wealth is not the answer. Learning how to create wealth is. Whether its selling dollar trinkets on a street corner or running a multi-million dollar corperation, each one of us contributes to production and wealth creation that make all of our lives easier and more secure.

    And these values are practiced and passed down to each new generation. This is how a country pulls itself out of poverty and feudal lord thinking.

    These children are not being shown these values by their families. They are being neglected and left on their own to form value judgements. Then they go into the streets and the gangs have all the answers. Ready-made family. Money. Clout. The children are mesmerized by the flash of wealth they see and are too young to understand its price.

    I am a teacher and I have seen it way too often especially in the poorer schools. Parents didn't know how to handle their child's misbehavior. Some refused to spank them and some knocked their kids around. Some were uneducated and instead of teaching their children that an education will help them better themselves, they didn't emphasize its value to their children. Often, these children did not have moral guidence except being taken to church. And often the parents weren't around in the evenings when they needed them.

    You cannot put off on the church or other institution the work you need to be doing yourself--guiding your childs choices daily and allowing consequences, both positive and negative to occur. Then guiding your children down a path that they have helped to shape. That is how you acquire self-esteem. And those of us with self-esteem value our lives and future. We have hope and dreams. We are willing to sacrifice now for our education, our future. We can see the future and it does not look hopeless. And we know that we will be a part of creating it.

    This is the vision each child should be given by every parent who thought enough to create this life. Their future starts with us, as parents, educators, business people, and religious organizations. And every day we should seek to make a difference in one child's life.

    --from someone who doesn't want to remain Anonymous

  10. @9:15

    I am Catholic by baptism, and practice but long ago became the reformed catholic that many have become. I do not believe in the rituals or camping out with beads in a pew. I am a Christian, conscieniously faithful to my belief in God. BUT...I agree with the position the Catholic church has failed it poor miserably by the standards and demands you speak of.

    Abortion in Mx. for example is mandated law per state. Most give the green light to rape, incest, mothers life etc but places like DF is is upon demand up to 12 weeks. The Church was irate over these changes, the church is far less potent today than even 10 years ago.

    But honestly I know FEW families that have 6 kids and live in the city...the norm is 2-3. But in the highlands, mts, rural areas the birthrate is higher because the infant/child mortality rate is high.

    I agree with you that birth control is an aspec that must be an option, and FREE, let families have choices.

    In this case this father I want to strangle with my bare hands, a piece of shit, scumb of the earth and having the audacity to pose for a camera?

    But a hard life is not a pass or excuse for the horrific behavior his son is accused of. NONE. I interact with thousands of poor children living in shanties, doing what it takes to live a life with integrity and honesty.


  11. To "--from someone who doesn't want to remain Anonymous."

    Excellent points and very well said. Please post again.

  12. Dear Teacher who does not want to remain anon.

    I know the educational system inside/out in Mx. I know the design is structured to keep the classes apart. I know that few "teachers" that teach the poor are certified or have degrees, I know that they are paid 50 USD per week, less if you are a special ed teacher, of which there is one for every 10-20 schools. Also not trained to teach special ed. I know that I after working with 75 schools in one state, 54 CAM or schools for the disabled, I am yet to meet a teacher, or director that has education or degree to teach these children.

    Culpa...yes, it is peeling the onion my friend, beginning as you so wisely stated in the home. But the children I speak with say in their homes the cartel subject is off limits, and warned by parents NOT to speak to anyone at school about it. Swept under the urg, so should a parent be surprised when their failure to teach character and what is morally correct/not correct that these kids are easily wooed by recruiters? and how about those new shoes, ipods, etc the kid begans brining home and the parents look the other way? Yes,,, lots of culpa...

    But as far as solutions the answer is glaring. DO I think it will happen? I don't want to answer that because it breaks my heart. These kids are mine, I touch them, speak with them, I see the fresh faces so full of promise knowing the promise will never prevail. It can't. Mx corruption and government has assurred that it can't. and that really kills me. I go on, and do what I can in my world, the government praises my work but gives me a patronizing smile when I say my programs can be done everywhere, with little cost.

    Calderon now says what I have said for years, no fix can be without educational reform. DUH Sr. But he has no said or move to cr4eate that change.

    What Mexico has not figured out yet, that this time ignoring the poor will have grave consequence to Mexico, this time it will lead to its distruction. They blame the cartels. I don't. I blame the very government or corruption and class that has always existed. The cartels are the manifestation of those practices. Ponchis is the manifestation of that rule. I am not giving him a pass, he is accountable but I am saying had he equal access to education, in effect employment possibilties, and hope for a bright and happy future, and raised in a loving home, I dare say he would not have made the choices he did.

  13. @Buela
    WTF are you saying so its the government responsibility and not the parents to show them values? to show them from right to wrong? Many American kids have an equal education and look where are youth is heading, ultimately its the parents and will always be the parents responsibility to show them the right path. The government can only do so much. I agree in Mexico their is an unequal access to education but here in the US where that isn't the Excuse and kids have every opportunity... what do they do, they rather get in gangs, get high, and do dumb-ass while the government has to create equal access to education for will and always be the parents responsibility to show them the morals and values of society and if they cant do that, then they should consider abortion!!!

  14. @ ANON 2:08
    Lady where did you learn to read? Mexico?
    I said no such thing.

    I said Culpa has many layers of responsibilty, it def begins in the home...I said had Ponchis had opportunity COMBINED with a good, loving home that taught character and well...let me cut and paste again for you....

    AS I STATED ABOVE>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Culpa...yes, it is peeling the onion my friend, beginning as you so wisely stated in the home. But the children I speak with say in their homes the cartel subject is off limits, and warned by parents NOT to speak to anyone at school about it. Swept under the urg, so should a parent be surprised when their failure to teach character and what is morally correct/not correct that these kids are easily wooed by recruiters? and how about those new shoes, ipods, etc the kid begans brining home and the parents look the other way? Yes,,, lots of culpa...

    Pretty clearly defined, quit your bitching I am on your team of thinking...HOME it begins AT HOME. absolutely...But BTW so you think educational opportunity in the US is equal? is not as bad as I find in Mx by a long shot, however that is patently false.

  15. Looks like with the help of Columbian police the DEA managed to apprehend a presumed Columbian drug trafficker who’s being solicited for estradition by Ameriican authorities. His name is Jerson Enrique Camacho Cedeno, aka El Flaco considered an important boss of the south eastern Valle del Cauca cartels, and with strong ties with the Mexican drug-trafficking organization known as Los Zetas. Columbian police considers him a principal figure in the drug-trafficking organization of brothers Enrique Calle Serna and Javier Antonio Calle better known as Los Comba. Police sources indicate that El Flaco, detained in Bogotá, is being solicited by a New York court for money laundering, narcotics trafficking, and conspiracy. General Ramiro Mena, director of the Judicial Police and Investigations (Dijin), said that the detainee is just as important as the Valle del Cauca bosses who are either dead or extradited such as Wilber Alirio Varela, aka Jabón or Diego León Montoya Sánchez, Don Diego.

  16. No one is talking about this story I can understand there may be a question of reavance to cartel news, but it is connected and stranger by the may have seen the video of acitivst Marisela Escobedo getting shot down, since then kidanppings of friends and family..a body found

    she protested in view of the governor which he did not much thought is he is in collusion with the cartel, to rid him of this "problem"


  17. @December 19, 2010 4:30 PM
    What kind of source is presstv....SERIOUSLY BUELA??? haha How in the world is Marisela Escobedo story connected to the cartels hahaha....Why it has caused so much commotion in Mexico is the a women right to see her daughters killers brought to justice and she died trying. What happen is her daughter was killed by her BF and then they let him off the hook and then he prob went back and killed the mom for bringing in so much attention to him everyday...simple as that. As for the kidnapping and everything prob done by the same thug..just go after the BF who killed her daughter and crime solved...common sense ppl!!!

  18. Buela, I think you missed the mark on the educational thing here. No one would deny that the educational system in Mexico is broken, but that has little to do with this child.

    First, he is American. His parents failed him, the California CPS failed him. Times ARE tough, but there are millions upon millions of parents in Mexico who raise their children in desperate circumstances and they don't turn to crime.

    That is an excuse to point the finger somewhere other than where the blame lies - with this psychopathic child first and his parents second.


  20. first of all, mexico's education system is just part of the problem. this sounds ludicrous but if mexico stopped attending to the vatican's theology, mexico would stand on their own merit. birth control is taken way too seriously by catholics in mexico, especially in an over-populated country. mexico has way too many people and a weak treasury department to supply the people with a strong education system. mexico needs to minimize their population. their are too many mexican citizens living in poverty. the government should ecourage birth control. it just does'nt make sense for a poor woman to have eight children without the means to support them financially. many of these unattended kids end up roaming the streets and many will turn to crime. if a poor mexican family reduces it's numbers, then the parents can focus more attention on less children and their educations. it's just foolish for a poor mexican woman to pop out kids like she's an assembly line.

    another thing is, mexico has got to bring back capital punishment. i also believe that the vatican has it's influence on this issue as well. these young criminals should be punished as adults. if you commit adult crimes, then you should be prosecuted as an adult. the mexican government has to regulate it's judicial system and enforce punishment on any juvenile who decides to cause harm to innocent people. i don't give a shit for the people who feel sympathy for these juvenile serial killers. they are no more special than a good hearted adult.

    for mexico less is better.

  21. buela, almost everything you have said makes perfect sense to me. it does'nt make sense that anyone would criticize what you just said.


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