Madrid’s ‘Latin Kings’ Raise Specter of Immigrant Gang Wars

Bloomberg, Nov. 20

Nov. 21 (Bloomberg)—Constantino Mendez, Madrid’s security chief, says he plans to assign more police in the city to rein in Latino gangs that have turned to murder to settle scores.

An 18-year-old from the Dominican Republic died from stab wounds on Nov. 5. A 17-year-old Ecuadorian was killed in September. The deaths have raised the specter of an emerging gang-war culture in the city, said Mendez, the central government representative overseeing security in the capital.

“We want to eliminate the risk that these groups represent,” said Mendez, 55, in an interview in Madrid on Nov. 14. “They’re causing social alarm.” He said about 750 youths may be members of gangs inspired by groups such as Chicago’s “Latin Kings.”

A rising number of the 20,000 police in Madrid province, more than 70 percent of who are deployed in the city, will focus on curbing gang feuds, he said. Delinquency among immigrant youths is a concern because Spain relies on foreign labor to help fuel economic growth, said Octavio Una, director of sociology at Madrid’s King Juan Carlos University. Spain’s economy has outpaced the euro-region average of 1.7 percent for a decade.

Riots in neighboring France, where immigrants from North and West Africa and their descendents torched 9,000 cars in more than two weeks of civil unrest, should spur European countries to study how well youths from immigrant backgrounds integrate into their societies, Una said.

“Spain is concerned about this phenomenon of youth gangs,” he said in a phone interview on Nov. 10. “We live in an aging country that needs immigrant labor and peaceful relations.”

‘Madrilenos’

At 3.7 million, the non-Spanish population accounts for 8.5 percent of the country’s 43.5 million inhabitants, up from 2.3 percent in 2000, according to the Madrid-based National Statistics Institute.

The unemployment rate in the third quarter was 8.2 percent for Spanish citizens, compared with 10.2 percent for foreigners, according to the government statistics office in Madrid. The jobless rate for immigrants is falling at a faster pace than for Spaniards, the institute said.

One in every six of Madrid’s 3 million inhabitants is foreign born. The immigrant population has more than tripled since 2000. Ecuadorians make up the biggest part, accounting for 28 percent of “Madrilenos” born outside Spain, the Madrid city government’s statistics show.

Gang Homicides

Latino gangs may have committed three murders this year, Manuel Moix, Madrid’s chief prosecutor, said in an interview on Oct. 19.

Spain ranks eighth in Europe in terms of murder rates, below countries such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom, according to nationmaster.com, which compiles figures from sources including the United Nations Survey of Crime Trends.

Latin Americans, who make up the bulk of immigrants, have close cultural affinities with Spain, where a growing economy provides job opportunities, said Mendez.

Still, gang wars are new to Madrid and come against a backdrop of declining violent crime overall, said Moix. Murders in the city dropped to 44 in 2004 from 63 in 2003.

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