“La Unión Tepito” recruits young people in CDMX

Javier has been kidnapped twice to force him to be part of The Tepito Union. They haven’t made it. The first time the 19-year-old was deprived of his liberty, he was about to reach his house when a black truck stopped, four men grabbed him and forced him to get on.

On the way aimlessly he received blows and insults, and all the time he had a weapon that was pressing on his skull.

“They wanted me to force myself to sell drugs, that if I distributed my family I would be protected (…) They have their divisions and their points. They told me that if I didn’t want to distribute, I could assemble the little bags of drugs and they gave me 300 pesos for half an hour and I could work whatever I wanted. They asked me what I needed; if I wanted a television, clothes, a cell phone (…) They said that whatever I wanted they would buy it for me”, he narrates.

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After the proposal, the threats and the blows, they expelled him from the vehicle. “They put the guns on me. Imagine, with the fear that a shot will go easy for them and there you stay.

He relates that they chose him because he was young and because he lived in the Cuauhtemoc. For him and his family, moving away from him is not an option, because they do not have enough money to do so.

Actually, Javier is not his real name; he changed to protect his identity. This was done with all the testimonies contained in this work.

The second time they intercepted him, they asked him if he had already thought about the proposal and if not, would they give him more time. “What do you do if you know your neighbors are selling drugs? Well, nothing. I try not to look at where they live when I leave the neighborhood. Those who put me up are the same ones who come to quit drugs. They want to bring in kids, but then they kill them. I am 19, but they have been searching since I was 12 years old”, he says with resignation. He now fears that there will be a third encounter.

The young man knows people who, like him, refused to belong to a criminal group, but he also knows of friends and acquaintances who agreed to join because they managed to convince them “by hook or by crook.”

Criminal groups in Mexico City use WhatsApp to send menus where varieties of marijuana and cocaine are offered. Rivotril, clonazepam, studs, LSD, crystal, heroin, alprazolam, methylphenidate, and MDMA and METH pills are also on demand.

For the sale of drugs, the groups mainly recruit young people and these join their ranks voluntarily or by coercion. Refusal can cost them their lives.

The Government of Mexico City does not have a formal record of forced recruitment of young people to join the ranks of organized crime, or at least it was not provided. An interview was requested from the Secretary of Citizen Security of Mexico City (SSC-CDMX), but it was not accepted.

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“The Union is still here”

The deep scar on the side of his right nipple is evidence, Lorenzo says, of the cut he received from one of the members of La Unión Tepito to remind him of his dominance.

He confesses that he was very young when he became acquainted with the retail drug business. He was in his 20s and saw how the drug circulated in the merchandise of the place where he worked, between shoe boxes and clothing bags. Business was everywhere. Some merchants are also forced to sell. If they refuse, aggression comes soon.

In 2015 the warning fell and he began to sell marijuana, solvent, crack and cocaine. He consumed to give himself value. Sometimes he delivered bills of 3 thousand pesos a day. A few weeks ago, in the Garibaldi area, he witnessed two people being burned for refusing to sell drugs. He has been a spectator of the beatings inflicted on those who refuse. He freed himself from criminal networks, but one thing is clear: “The Union is still here.”

Seven criminal groups mainly operate in Mexico City: The Tepito Union, Anti-Unión, Los Rodolfos, Los Molina, Los Canchola 3AD, Ronda 88 and Tláhuac Cartel. The groups, such as La Unión Tepito, look for distributors by delegation, who go to stock up at the points and redraw their delivery routes.

Most of them are young people between 16 and 30 years old. According to the Drug Dealing Crime Investigation Prosecutor’s Office, in 2016, 2017 and 2018, 6% of arrests for drug dealing were minors; in 2019, 3%. In 2020 and 2021 they were 4% of the arrests, according to information provided via transparency. Most drug possession referrals are for marijuana, cocaine, psychotropic pills, and other drugs.

Until March of the current year, the prosecution for the attention of this crime had insured 422 properties in the capital.

recruitment grows

The Citizen Council for Security and Justice of Mexico City is aware of nine cases of forced recruitment of minors from 2019 to date.

“These cases are very few, in contrast to other entities,” mentions the president of the Citizen Council, Salvador Guerrero Chiprés.

The council has a citizen hotline, and two victims used it to report forced recruitment. The civil organization has been a bridge between citizens and authorities. The young people were given emotional support and legal advice to open a couple of research folders.

The study Girls, boys and adolescents recruited by organized crime, carried out by the civil association Reinserta Un Mexicano AC, analyzed the factors that influence and are a breeding ground for co-optation to be carried out systematically and without real consequences for criminal groups, such as constantly witnessing community violence which encourages its normalization, economic and affective absences, addictions, drug culture, easy access to weapons, school dropout, among others.

According to the organization, the forced recruitment of children and adolescents into criminal groups has been increasing. Entry is by invitation, “by initiative” and violently, but the latter is the least frequent modality.

In other cases, criminal families play a fundamental role in the initiation of criminal activities, since there is a link with parents, brothers, uncles or cousins.

Reinserta works with the population in conflict with the law and in reinsertion programs.
For the qualitative study, they conducted interviews with 89 adolescents deprived of liberty, of whom 67 were active members of organized crime.

In their research, they found that vulnerability factors put the population at risk, especially minors, with the average age of involvement being 12 to 15 years, with primary school as the highest level of studies or secondary school truncated.

“He had us threatened”

Cristina was recruited at the age of 28. She sold marijuana and solvent. She was warned that if she refused she would earn, at the very least, a beating.

They torture you, he says, with blows and insults. They order you to inflate your cheeks and they slap you. They show you the gun or the knife.

They decided the schedules. Morning, afternoon or all night. There was no payment. She was enslaved. Cristina got hooked on inhalants to get by.

The leader delivered the merchandise, he also directed other points in the area and in each one he kept a person forced to sell. The minimum amount to deliver to his captor was about 1,500 pesos, and the clients were the street population.

“They had all of us threatened. What can you do?”. She was like this for a year, between 2016 and 2017. A police operation saved her. She ran away. She left the street. Before, she couldn’t put together an escape plan because she didn’t comment on the attacks. That’s how big the fear was.

According to a request for public information, the SSC-CDMX has registered, from 2016 to February 2022, 2,325 minors detained for crimes against health, in its drug dealing modality; 6 thousand 699, from 18 to 22 years old; 6 thousand 179, from 23 to 27 years old; 4 thousand 682, from 28 to 32; 3 thousand 680, from 33 to 37 and 2 thousand 514, from 38 to 42. These are the ages with the highest incidence.

The doctor in Social Science with a specialty in Sociology, Arturo Alvarado Mendoza, details that “there is an obvious phenomenon of juvenile delinquency and occasional delinquency that occurs and there is also a recruitment by coercion of young people to transport merchandise, pack, monitor and collect.”

The author of books on youth violence and drug dealing adds: “Young people are involved in a dynamic of violence, of lack of opportunities that makes them participate directly or indirectly in these activities, in which there are no alternatives.”

The 2021 National Census of the Administration of State Justice reports that crimes against health in adolescents, in their form of drug dealing, were the most frequent, with 32%, which represents an increase of 62% compared to 2019. } subscribe here to receive directly in your email our newsletters on the news of the day, opinion, options for the weekend, Qatar 2022 and many more options.

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