Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

A boy who said he was "12 years old -- no, 14 years old," inhales plastic pipe-cleaning solvent from a wad of toilet paper soaked in the chemical as another young street addict has his head shaved at the curbside hangout in Mexico City.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Near a small statue of ÒSanto MuerteÓ -- Saint Death -- a girl who says she's 17 breathes fumes from a solvent. Dozens of young people at the encampment begged motorists for food and money.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

A young man sleeps at the base of a neglected monument to 19th century Latin American hero Simon Bolivar in Mexico City. Dozens of young men and women have turned the monument into a squatter's camp where they buy, sell and inhale chemical solvent to stay high.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Marijuana and crack cocaine are the drug of choice among Mexico's youth, but the poor sometimes turn to highly toxic solvents like paint thinner. One user said that type of drug "makes you see things and hear voices.Ó

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

A young man lies nearly unconscious in downtown Mexico City, clutching a can of plastic pipe-cleaning solvent.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Youths openly smoke marijuana in a park on Paseo de la Reforma in the heart of Mexico City. "It's legal here and only costs $2.50," one of the teens said.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Jose Andres Mendoza, a.k.a. Tulo, 15, watches another teen smoking marijuana as he cruises through Mexico City. "WeÕd pistol-whip the guys on buses to get their money. I like money. I like the clothes. I like having good tennis shoes. The name brands," Tulo said of his criminal past.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Reformed teenage drug dealers play guitars in a Mexico City halfway house. Its director, Miguel Barrera says "These kids are victimizers, but they are also victims.Ó The virtually endless supply of young foot soldiers keeps Mexico's drug cartels well-stocked with thugs, gunmen, mules, peddlers and lookouts, undermining the governmentÕs drug war. As vulnerable youth fall through the cracks, Mexico risks losing part of a generation.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Jose Andres Mendoza, 15, clutches his most treasured possession, a statue of St. Jude Thaddeus, the saint of desperate causes. It was given to him by a girlfriend two weeks before she was shot dead at a party in November. With the help of his parents, drug counselors and mentors, he's trying to abandon his history of robbery, drug use and addiction.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Youths hang out in a northeast Mexico City neighborhood where you can buy drugs Òlike a stick of gum,Ó dealers with shaved heads fight for corners, and gunfire punctuates the night.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

More galleries on Framework

return to gallery

Mexico drug cartels' young foot soldiers

The Week in Pictures | February 11 – 17, 2013

Each week we bring you the very best in visual journalism. Russians in the Ural Mountains were startled Friday morning as a meteor streaked over the city of Chelyabinsk,...   View Post»


U.S. Army relations in Afghanistan

U.S. Army relations in Afghanistan

As American troops shift from combat to advising, the ominous specter of "insider attacks" by Afghan troops has strained the relationship between the two armies. Sixty-two...   View Post»


The Wilshire Boulevard Temple | Restoring a Los Angeles landmark

The Wilshire Boulevard Temple | Restoring a Los Angeles landmark

As members of the oldest Jewish congregation in Los Angeles gathered to observe the start of Yom Kippur, the holy day of atonement, they were invited one last time to admire the...   View Post»


Mexico drug cartels' young foot soldiers

Pictures in the News | May 25, 2011

We begin Wednesday's Pictures in the News feature in Germany, where a new sculpture entitled "In Seven Days Time" by artist Katharina Grosse has found a permanent home outside...   View Post»

Mexico drug cartels’ young foot soldiers

In Mexico’s 4-year-old drug war, easy money and clout are luring ever-younger thousands into the ranks of violent drug cartels.

Desperate to escape poverty and lacking in education, they are a virtually endless supply of foot soldiers to the cartels. Some end up as thugs, gunmen, mules, peddlers and lookouts. Mexico risks losing part of a generation.

“These kids are victimizers, but they are also victims,” says Miguel Barrera, a former gangster who now works to rescue violent teens from the streets, in an article by Times staff writers Ken Ellingwood and Tracy Wilkinson, “Mexican drug cartels find youths to be easy prey.”

Times photographer Don Bartletti spent time documenting the lives of drug-addicted children on the streets of Mexico City for this report. His photographs can be seen in the gallery above. This is part of our ongoing coverage of the drug war and violence in Mexico, “Mexico Under Siege.”


  1. December 20, 2010, 6:58 pm

    So long as they stay on there side of the border I don't care. It is not my problem, but it is the problem of the Mexican goverment. Close the borders, build the walls and post U.S. military on the U.S.side. Deport "ALL" illegal aliens back to thier countries.

    By: Dan
  2. December 21, 2010, 12:53 am

    Dear Dan,

    In our globalized world not only people, but also problems travel. I used to live close to the border in NM about ten years ago. Now I moved back to my country (Sweden) which you probably brings you great pleasure considering the tone and your lines above. Of course I wasn't illegal, but xenophobia seldomly takes ethnicity under consideration, and if it does it's called racism.

    Today I live in a small town close to the arctic circle. The problems portrayed above are extreme, but I can see the same tendencies – even here! We have a lot of immigrants coming from Colombia who have known nothing but civil war and how to hustle. To deal with these problems we need to look to humanism and prevention. The generation lost to drug-gangs isn't an issue about borders, not today. it's a typical downward spiral and it's already in the US, so are higher walls really the solution? Money and drugs always seem to find visas.

    By: Carl
  3. December 23, 2010, 9:36 am

    The one thing that will always bring these types of problems to the U.S is the demand to consume.
    That could be the consumption of materialsitic items or drugs. The commentator above is a perfect example of an ethnocentric view that its those other people who are bad, "it's not my problem". It is our problem when this countries demand affects other countries economies.

  4. January 2, 2011, 10:21 pm

    That first commentator's reaction is exactly why Hitler was able to flurish from 1936-1941. Where did those brave American's go who would rush to meet evil where it festered. What if we didn't get into the war, our entire history would have to be rewritten. Fighting Arabs half a world away, for unclear reasons I guess is more in line with American values. Drug cartels and drug consumption has declined our American life far more than terrorism ever has. WE are not in a decline because of China's dominance in the market place, we are in decline because we do not have clear moral judgement on how to use our power any longer.

  5. January 3, 2011, 5:28 am

    danny boy. its americas war. remember reagan? the war on drugs? where do you think the mexican coca and the meth ends up? america is the enthusiatic consumer of these imports. college americans, working americans, white collar blue collar, even racial segregationists like yourself are using mexican drugs. it is your problem

    By: rat
  6. March 30, 2011, 12:40 pm

    There is no description as to what the pictures refers to. I don't understand what I am seeing. Please add a short comment to each picture. TY

  7. October 12, 2011, 8:57 pm

    Mexico or illegals are not the problem, as long as there is demand from the craving of drugs in America. Drugs will find a way to get across the border regardless of how many soldiers you post to guard. I am still amazed how ignorant people can be sometimes.


Add a comment or a question.

If you are under 13 years of age you may read this message board, but you may not participate. Here are the full legal terms you agree to by using this comment form.

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they've been approved.


Required, will not be published