Dave Graham, Reuters, June 17, 2011
Dwarfed by surrounding reporters and with her head bowed to avoid the television cameras, the slender 16-year-old hesitated slightly before she answered the question. “I’m a hitwoman,” she said.
Maria Celeste Mendoza was among six teenage suspected gang members arrested this week by police after a shoot-out with authorities in central Mexico, one of the growing ranks of young people working for the country’s drug cartels.
Dressed in combat fatigues and with her face hidden, the girl from the northern border state of Tamaulipas described how she had been trained to use Kalashnikov assault rifles and other weapons by the Zetas, one of Mexico’s most brutal gangs.
In a listless drawl, Mendoza said she was paid 12,000 pesos ($1,000) for two weeks’ work, more than three times the national average. Although she said she was trained as a hitwoman, it was unclear if she had killed anyone yet.
The Network for the Rights of Children in Mexico (REDIM), an advocacy group, says some 30,000 children are believed to work for criminal gangs in Latin America’s No.2 economy, where delinquency is often blamed on high drop-out rates at school.