Mexico's drug war is becoming increasingly dangerous, as police engage in more and more violent clashes with heavily armed drug-runners. But that isn't the only sign that Mexico is losing the war. Here, four chilling new revelations:
1. The cartels have 12-year-old hitmen
One of the more disturbing trends, says Carlton Purvis at Security Management, is the Mexican drug cartels' use of younger and younger foot soldiers. Police arrested 10 gang members after a bloody shootout at a Los Zetas cartel training camp, and five of the suspects were teenagers. Kids are recruited as young as 12, and the younger the hitmen are, the more dangerous, says Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on international conflict. "They spray an area with bullets hoping they hit a target," she says. "It's not that they're trying to do more damage, it's that they don't know how to be more precise."
2. They've also hired teenage hit women
It's not just young guys who are taking advantage of the job opportunities organized crime provides. Six women under 21 were arrested this month after a shootout near Guadalajara. Among the suspects was a 16-year-old girl who said she had been trained as a cartel "hitwoman," earning $1,000 for three weeks' work.
3. Kidnap victims are forced to fight to the death
"One of the most chilling revelations" about the drug war, says the Houston Chronicle's Dane Schiller, came in an interview with a cocaine trafficker who recently visited Texas. The trafficker — who admits to pushing a $10 million stash of cocaine into the U.S. every month — says drug gangs have kidnapped bus passengers "and forced them into gladiator-like fights to groom fresh assassins." The able-bodied men picked for the contests are given hammers, machetes, and sticks, then made to fight to the death.
4. Drug gangs are extending their reach into the U.S.
The U.S. Justice Department says Mexican underworld organizations now control most of the illegal drug trade within the U.S., with their own distribution networks in 230 cities, including Boston, Providence, R.I., and Hartford, Conn. These cities, says law enforcement expert Michael Cutler, are now "infested" with people working for cartels that have killed 35,000 people in Mexico since the drug war began.