Mexican Cartel Recruiting Children To Be Used As Drug Mules on Grand Theft Auto Online

Andrei Tapalaga

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Cover of Video Game Grand Theft Auto VRockstar Games

The world of online gaming had been a danger for young children who have no barrier from interacting with shady characters. Within the video game Grand Theft Auto Online, the players are able to live the life of a cartel member, which would raise the likelihood of accepting to work for the real Mexican cartel. 

Officials from the U.S. have gathered evidence that GTA Online really is a recruitment tool for Mexico’s narcotics cartels. It seems that cartel recruiters are looking for vulnerable teenagers on the game that is looking to make some easy money. Mexico’s assistant public safety secretary Ricardo Mejía had reported that during an investigation it had been discovered that a cartel recruiter had already bought bus tickets for three boys between the ages of 11 and 14 to go to Mexico. 

The recruiter promised the boys $200 per week to work in northern Mexico as drug cartel lookouts. The boys were found before they could board the bus. Mejía also admits that cartel recruiters have been using online video games such as “Call of Duty,” “Gears of War” and “Grand Theft Auto V” to find children to work for them. Although the cartel has been also using social media, their targeted demographic is more prominent to be found playing violence-soaked video games

The Network for Children’s Rights in Mexico says that between 2000 and 2019 in Mexico, 21,000 youths under 18 were murdered in Mexico, and 7,000 disappeared. They also assume that by 2019 over 30,000 children had been successfully recruited by the Mexican cartel. 

 A case presented in November 2021 by Customs and Border Protection officials in Arizona, found a young girl by the name of Alyssa Navarro who was carrying 60kg of methamphetamine over the border

Alyssa told the authorities that she had met a man named George over GTA Online about a year prior. They both took the conversation over to Snapchat where George had proposed Alyssa if she wants to be a runner for the Mexican cartel. George told her that she could be paid as much as $2,000 per trip, however, this depended on how much she had to carry over the border. 

Federal agents retrieved Snapchat conversations from Alyssa’s phone in which George promises “a lot of money” and offers the use of a truck, which is thought to be the same Jeep she was caught in. Alyssa was told to meet a contact in Mexico named Alfredo that gave her the keys to the jeep and told her which specific gas stations she should stop at and where she has to leave the jeep once she crossed the border. Despite her story, she has been charged with conspiracy to import and sell methamphetamine, as well as possession.

A non-governmental organization named Reinserta works to prevent youths from getting recruited by drug cartels have published a report where 89 minors held at youthful offender facilities had been interviewed. Out of the 89 children, 67 had admitted to being actively involved with the cartel. Reinsert also mentioned that recruiters are pressuring children to persuade their friends to join. 

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