Oct. 31, 2012— -- How many people have been enslaved by Mexico's drug cartels and forced to work at gunpoint for these gangs?
At least 55,000 according to information compiled by Animal Politico, a Mexican news site which has just published a special report on forced labor in Mexico's drug war.
The interactive report called Esclavos del Narco, or Narco Slaves, discusses how cartels force children to sell drugs in street corners and how Central American immigrants making their way to the U.S. face the stark choice of carrying drugs across the border or being murdered in cold blood.
There is also a section devoted to 36 young professionals –mostly engineers- who have gone missing in the past four years.
According to Animal Politico's investigation, these engineers have been abducted by cartels who have forced them to build private cellphone networks across Mexico. Such networks are used by cartels to communicate with each other safely, avoiding eavesdropping from police or rival groups.
The Animal Politico investigation is part of a broader series on the slaves of organized crime in Latin America, coordinated by Insight Crime.
"In Latin America, the word slavery tends to conjure images of indigenous people subjected to forced labor at the end of a whip, and auctions of African men and women just off the slave ships," writes Insight Crime reporter Sibylla Brodzinsky.
"Today the images are different: women locked in brothels, deceived, tied up and forced to serve as sex slaves; migrants kidnapped, forced under threat to take up weapons and work as hitmen, 12, 13 and 14-year-old children carrying an automatic rifle in the name of some organization or another."