They call themselves kings and queens. They rule over streets they have named the Inca, Aztec or Hispanic kingdom. They believe in God, honour and brotherhood. And whoever breaks the code of silence, does so at his own risk.
The Latin Kings are the best-known among the Hispanic youth gangs that have formed in Spain among the immigrants from its former colonies.
Gradually, Spanish police experts are beginning to understand the mentality of the street gangs born or based on models in poor and crime-infested neighbourhoods in the Americas.
The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation was initially formed to help and defend Latin American immigrants in the Chicago area of the United States in the 1940s. Its members later became involved in violent crimes.
The Spanish branch of the Latin Kings was launched in 2000 by the young Ecuadorian Eric Velastegui, known as King Wolverine, who is now serving a prison sentence for rape.
Other gangs include Dominican Don’t Play (DDP), many of whose members come from the Dominican Republic. The Madrid DDP has begun to sell drugs and acquired firearms, the daily El Pais reported.
Recently, evidence has even emerged of the presence in Catalonia of the Mara Salvatrucha and the Mara 18, Central American groups known for their extreme violence.
In the Madrid region alone, the number of gang members tripled in three years to about 1,300 by 2007, police estimated. Nearly 300 of them were regarded as violent.
The overall number of immigrants has soared from 1.8 per cent of the Spanish population in 1990 to more than 10 per cent. The largest groups include 420,000 Ecuadorians and 260,000 Colombians.
‘Immigrants never see their children, because they work 23 hours a day. The kids are on the street, in search of a (new) family,’ King Mission, a US representative of the Latin Kings, explained during a visit to Spain.