MEXICO CITY – Soldiers are hunting a 12-year-old suspected drug gang hitman accused of helping wage a gruesome turf war in central Mexico, a state prosecutor and Mexican media said on Friday.
The boy, known only as "El Ponchis," is believed to be working for the South Pacific cartel in Morelos state, outside Mexico City, and is one of a group of young teenagers who have already committed "terrible acts," Morelos State Prosecutor Pedro Luis Benitez told local radio.
"These minors are still not fully developed and so it is easy to influence them, to give them a gun, pretending it is plastic, that it is a game."
Benitez did not name the boy or give more details, but when asked directly about the teenage hitmen he said: "They're persuaded to carry out terrible acts; they don't realize what they are doing," he added.
Mexican daily La Razon said the boy is being paid $3,000 for each murder and is under the command of a little-known drug lord who heads the South Pacific cartel fighting the Beltran Leyva and La Familia gangs for control in southwestern Mexico.
Benitez said soldiers this week arrested a teenage boy and a pregnant teenage girl also believed to be working for the South Pacific cartel.
Crimes committed by minors, ranging from shoplifting to murders for the cartels, have risen across Mexico this year, state officials say. Parents in the violent cities of Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana on the U.S. border say children as young as 8 years old want to grow up to be drug lords, as the thrills and wealth of the trafficking world touches their lives.
Housewives take over police
In a sign of the frustration many Mexicans feel at rising violence, two housewives this week took over the running of the police near Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua state, the epicenter of Mexico's drug war, after no one else applied for the dangerous job.
Olga Herrera, a 43-year-old mother of five, was appointed police chief in the town of Villa Luz, while Veronica Rios will be in charge of the police department in the town of El Vergel, both just south of Ciudad Juarez.
"There is a solution," Herrera said. "Although we are women, we want Mexico to pull through, starting with our town, our people, our children," she said from her police station.
Their decision comes just weeks after a 20-year-old female college student took command of the police in another violence-prone town near Ciudad Juarez and where policemen have quit and officials have been killed.
President Felipe Calderon has made crushing the drug gangs the central focus of his presidency, deploying some 70,000 troops and police across Mexico with strong U.S. support.
In an interview on Friday, Calderon admitted that Mexico is suffering, but vowed to beat back the cartels.
"We have a serious problem. Yes. However, we are facing the problem, and we are fixing that," Calderon told the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, according to a transcript excerpt.
"It is going to take us money, it is going to take us time, and unfortunately, it is going to take human lives."
More than 31,000 people have been killed since Calderon launched his cartel crackdown four years ago, alarming many Mexicans and some foreign investors who are freezing investment in the country just as it is recovering from recession.