They go from one hell to another, from the nightmare of sexual abuse, to living with hate, ending up part of organized crime as eager, angry children ready to do anything.
Elena met Rafita a few years ago on the malecón, the breakwater along the port of Acapulco. His shyness and his eyes like the eyes of an injured puppy stole her heart, she remembers. Tourists were throwing coins off their boats and yachts and they were amazed to see him prance along the dock, then nail a dive that seemed almost impossible in order to retrieve their money.
At night, his body went through a different kind of test, used by rickety gringos or Canadians who paid a pimp to do with it what they wanted.
At the time, Rafita was eight.
He was like many others Elena has seen. He had come from the neighboring state of Morelos to this one, Guerrero, which, by 2015, had the highest homicide rate in Mexico, with 54.5 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. (By contrast deadly Chicago—“Chi-raq”—has a murder rate of 15.09.) And he had wound up in Acapulco.
Here, the violence has grown steadily worse. Last April 24, the main avenue of the port, the Costera Miguel Alemán, became a battlefield contested for more than two hours by Mexican federal forces and the organized crime cells that control the non-tourist zones of the municipality.
“I told Rafita he could get away from all this, go to our house,” says Elena, a woman who speaks with reticence and suspicion—who asked that her real name not be published because she fears for her life and for those she protects—but who claims to have helped more than 150 child victims of sexual exploitation at the hostel she runs.
“Rafa lived with his biological mother and stepfather,” Elena told us. “It was the stepfather who sexually exploited him and offered him to friends. He was with us two years … and then he returned to his family. His case is the one that has most affected me. I never thought I’d see a child in such vulnerable conditions.”
Since 2000, Elena has been working to rescue as many children as she could. “We decided to help these little ones—help them have a home, an identity, and respect,” she told me. “They wouldn’t be street kids anymore, they’d have a roof over their heads.”
But something happened in 2007. After the declaration of war on drugs launched by former President Felipe Calderón at the start of his administration, the social climate in Acapulco changed totally. Violence began to increase dramatically, according to figures from INEGI, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (PDF).
Before, there was no war between drug traffickers in the poorer neighborhoods of this warm-water port that was sometimes a world-class tourist destination. Elena and other volunteers could take food to the kids and move about without problems. But now, suddenly, there were shootouts, executions, and decapitations to contend with. In the deadly July of 2015, in less than 30 hours, 14 people were killed.
SOURCE: EMMANUEL GALLARDO-CABIEDES
The Daily Beast