La prensa

The Youth Bomb Blows Up

Created: 19 February, 2010
Updated: 13 September, 2023
6 min read

Frontera NorteSur

Flashed around the world, the image of Luisa Maria Davila, mother of two of the Ciudad Juarez youths murdered in the now-infamous Villas de Salvarcar massacre last month, scolding Mexican President Felipe Calderon for long-running official indifference photographically captured the reality of a city now nearly destroyed by criminal violence.

While Villas de Salvarcar undoubtedly ranks high among the more notorious episodes of Mexico’s so-called narco war, the bloodshed registered that unforgettable night is far from exceptional in terms of the ages of the victims and their victimizers. Less covered by the international press, for example, was the killing of eight young people at a Torreon nightclub the same weekend as the Villas de Salvarcar slaughter.

Leaving aside questions of guilt or innocence for a moment, it stands out that a great number of the estimated 15,000-17,000 people slain in drug-related violence in Mexico since late 2006 are young people. Of 1,623 murders in Ciudad Juarez in 2008, 1,073 were committed against persons less than 26 years of age, according to the Reforma news service. In a recent piece, veteran Mexican journalist Raymundo Riva Palacio reported that 54 percent of the victims of the narco war during 2008 and 2009 were aged 21 to 35.

According to Riva Palacio, the overwhelming majority were males, “and practically all of them died by guns.”

In Mexico, narco and other forms of criminal violence disproportionately involve the young, and the victims and victimizers are getting younger and younger. The violence affects certain regions of the country more than others, with two of the hardest-hit areas being Ciudad Juarez and the state of Chihuahua in the north and the state of Guerrero in the south, which encompasses the internationally-known resorts of Acapulco and Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo. The link is not accidental.

From Guerrero, marijuana, cocaine and opium for heroin flows north to Ciudad Juarez, where a local drug market of perhaps more than 100,000 users assures a thriving black market economy.

A sampling of events in Guerrero during the past few weeks is illustrative of the nature of the violence claiming many Mexican youths. As the Guerrero State Congress prepared to celebrate a historic anniversary in Iguala late last month, the bodies of seven men estimated to range from 20 to 25 years of age, were found tossed around the city. The victims had been bound, tortured and probably suffocated. All bore cryptic messages labeling them as kidnappers, money lenders and thieves with degrees. The daily newspaper later reported that one of the victims, Fernando Delgado Torres, was a minor.

Young faces, especially those of men, etch the portraits plastered on the posters of the disappeared. In Zihuatanejo, tourists who snap out of their margarita dazes might notice the huge banner draped on the fence of City Hall pleading for information on the whereabouts of Alberto Acosta Apreza, missing since September 2009. Attentive pedestrians might also see one of the small posters placed around town for Eduardo Hernandez Santa-cruz, reported disappeared since January 26 of this year.

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On February 1, “collateral damage,” in the vocabulary of war planners, claimed the life of five-year-old Yoselin Guadalupe Padilla Corona, who was riding a truck that was ambushed by gunmen in Quecheltanango.

In Acapulco, meanwhile Julieta Fernandez, president of the local DIF family shelter, told the press street children as young as five years of age were addicted to drugs and being used to sell illicit substances.

On Mexico’s Gulf Coast, developments are as alarming as those on Guerrero’s Pacific Coast  In February, young offenders rioted at a Tabasco “correctional center,” perhaps in a dress rehearsal for the frequent adult prison riots which have turned Mexican penitentiaries, in the judgment of prominent journalist and commentator Miguel Angel Granados Chapa, into de-facto execution chambers. In another news item, Tabasco authorities announced the detention of a 13-year-old girl allegedly trained as a hired assassin.

Smug and racist North Americans are prone to dismiss the violence described above as additional examples of Mexico’s failed state or as inevitable outcomes of an inherently violent culture. Can’t happen in the Good Old USA? Think again. Immediately, the inner-city crack wars of the 1980s come to mind.

Lately, it’s been fashionable in some quarters to explain away Villas de Salvarcar and similar atrocities as the inevitable consequences of the loss of family values and moral turpitude. But there is much more to an explanation.

Writing in Mexico’s Proceso newsweekly last month, columnist Axel Didriksson commented on a recent study by Jack Goldstone on the world’s new “population bomb.”

In Mexico’s case, Didriksson noted, 40 percent of young people aged 16-18 do not study. According to Didrikkson, 10 million young people are not enrolled in school. “Almost one million-and-half youths do not have stable work, and more than two million who obtained higher education do not have adequate work,” he added.

In Ciudad Juarez, academic researchers have coined a term for the idle youth population-Ninis, which translates into no work or no study. Quoted in Proceso, Professor Maria Teresa Marrufo of the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez said another 7,000 local children have lost one or both parents to the drug violence during the past two years.

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Viewed through Didrik-kson’s demographic lens, it is safe to predict that an almost endless stream exists of future drug consumers, dope dealers, hired killers and other illegal professionals. Unless, of course, economic, social and political conditions undergo radical changes.

“Really, we are facing a time bomb,” Didrikkson concluded.

For Marrufo, the situation in her city is  a “social catastrophe.”

The youth crisis is not exclusive to Mexico. Citing the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for American Progress (CAP) reported this month that the number of young people aged 20-24 who attend school in the US dropped by 10 percent during the last two years. For those in school, skyrocketing tuition in many states promises many a post-graduate, job-thin future of debt servitude.

Young people are being denied gainful employment in massive numbers. And as always, communities of color are disproportionately affected by the unemployment crisis. According to the CAP, at least 14 percent of African-American adolescents and 23 percent of low-income Latinos in the same age range are unable to find a job. Shirley Sagawa, CAP visiting fellow, noted that many youths “could wind up permanently marginalized economically.”

What shreds will the youth bomb leave if it blows up north of the border?

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