‘Zetas’ Youth Gangs on the Rise in Nuevo Leon, Mexico

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The Mexican Navy said youth gang activity has risen by between 200 and 500 percent in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, much of it consisting of small groups adopting the Zetas franchise name.

An Excelsior report says that street gangs have been multiplying in Nuevo Leon since 2009, according to an unnamed source in the Mexican Navy. The Navy then defines “street gangs” as small groups who engage in common crime, like carjackings, “express” kidnappings, and theft. The members are between 13 and 26 years old. 

The gangs, not fully intergrated into the Zetas or other cartels, claim affiliation in order to intimidate their victims. These street gangs sometimes pay the larger organizations for permission to operate under the more famous franchise name.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Navy’s recognition of the issue follows a study by Southern Pulse predicting that by the end of 2014 street gangs would supplant cartels as the top cause of violence in Mexico. The prediction follows a 2010 report by the organized crime division of the Attorney General’s Office, which found that as many as 5,000 youth criminal gangs are contracted out to the country’s major drug cartels. The report notes that in Juarez alone there may be as many 1,500 local gangs. 

The rise in street gangs is bad news for Nuevo Leon, one of Mexico’s most troubled states, with over 2,003 homicides registered in 2011. And if street gangs are expanding, the effectiveness of local law enforcement is not. As of October 2011, the state had sacked 3,200 policemen for “loss of trust.” 

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