The Child Soldiers of Puerto Rico
This weekend was a bonanza of blood in Puerto Rico: another 18 murders across the island, including two double murders and the killing of four in the Piñones area, according to El Nuevo Dia newspaper. Two of those killed in Piñones were 15-year-old boys.
The last reported murder for the weekend occurred at about a quarter to midnight on Sunday evening and involved a woman who was walking along a roadside. Someone shot her from a moving vehicle, and the motive remains unclear. However, history indicates that at least half of the other murders were related to drug trafficking.
The deaths of the two 15-year-olds highlight another problem the drug wars have created: an increasing number of child foot soldiers and child victims of criminal drug organizations. Drug gangs began to recruit children in the 1980s in Puerto Rico, mostly as “watchers.” They would hang around the projects and keep an eye out for suspected cops. If they saw any, they would call “agua!” which is the word for water but also code for “police.” This would alert the drug dealers that they needed to hide or prepare.
Watcher could move up the ladder to other positions and eventually become soldiers. If they lived long enough, they could become lieutenants or even higher, so long as they were ambitious and bloodthirsty.
Something, however, has changed.
Accounts from eyewitnesses — who asked not to be named — say that youths in their mid-teens are now the full on enforcers or “soldiers” for nearly all of the drug gang activities in Puerto Rico’s housing projects. At one point, youth were recruited for the protections provided to them by law and for how easy it was to manipulate them, but now they are recruited out of manpower necessity.
The island commonwealth has averaged between 800 and 1,000 murders per year for most of the last decade. Just check these statistics. While this particular website has gone to great lengths to provide crime details, the sad truth my sources share is that the crime rates are even higher than what is reported. But I digress…
The bottom line is that no less than 7,000 people lost their lives on account of murder in Puerto Rico between 1999 and 2010. Most of those were soldiers, operators, or informants for or against one drug organization or another.
In short, recruitment of child soldiers for the drug gangs has become an imperative for the drug gangs. Child soldiers are less likely to face stiff penalties if arrested, easy to manipulate, and once given a little training, money, power, and guns, often consider themselves invincible. In the end, they have become the cannon fodder that fills the streets with blood.
It is unclear whether the two 15-year-olds killed Sunday in Piñones were actively involved in drug trafficking. Their father said they were good kids. Yet, far too many young men and women are involved in the tight network of criminal gangs that currently rule Puerto Rico.
And there is no end in sight, other than death, for the child soldiers of Puerto Rico.