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Amid gang peril, a Mexican village arms its children

ILLUSTRATION: Stanford University

By Kevin Seiff | 8 February 2020

THE HOUR (THE WASHINGTON POST) — Before he picked up a rifle and joined a squad of armed children, Alex wanted to become a schoolteacher. He’d teach anything – “whatever the principal asks” – because spending his days in a classroom sounded pretty good.

He was 13, a B student with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bicycle who got nervous around the girls in his middle school.

Then, in November, as violence surged in the mountains of Guerrero state, the men of Ayahualtempa decided it was time for their sons to take up arms.

Alex was handed a hunting rifle and told to show up for daily training on the village basketball court. He and his young comrades, some as young as 6, marched and crawled with loaded guns almost as tall as they were. Their uniforms said “Community Police” in yellow letters.

When the photographers started coming, the boys were told to cover their faces with handkerchiefs. Arming children to defend the town against a violent gang wasn’t a media stunt, Alex’s commanders insisted. Yet if the images drew the government’s attention to a place Mexico’s security forces had forgotten, it would be a triumph of its own.

But were the boys training to defend their village, or were they being paraded in front of visiting photographers to send a message to the government, a plea for more resources? Sometimes even Alex wasn’t sure. What he knew was that the gun was heavy and loaded, and the training felt real enough to him. […]

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