“I have forgiven myself. I have already paid my sentence”. Says Javier (not his real name), an Ecuadorian former leader of the Latin American band Latin kings, and for a long time the target of his rivals, the Ñetas. Like his compatriot Kevin, he was able to escape an organization of iron discipline, in which he came to be seen dead.
To relate their passage and exit from the organization, both put as a condition that the EFE chamber avoid recording their faces and tattoos identification on arms, neck and back.
Like many others, Javier and Kevin came to Spain very young, almost alone. Without realizing it, they joined a Latin band that allowed them to climb the steps to become “kings” in Madrid. They did “a lot of damage”, they admit, but in the Christian Help Center of the Evangelical Church they found a new opportunity.
Entry and escalation
Kevin came to Spain when he was 15 years old. I had no friends and began to go to the park with those who soon after would be his bandmates. He was struck by the “respect” they showed, as well as their power of attraction. He says that they invited him to Matinée parties (for minors), but he could not enter others because he was not a member of the band.
Two former Latin Kings leaders at the Evangelical Church’s Christian Help Center where they found a new opportunity. Photo: EFE
“You love them to make it look like they don’t force you to come in,” he explains.
When he wanted to give an account I was already on “probation”. It is the phase in which the gangs verify the validity and loyalty of their potential members, who are subjected to tests such as steal or commit assault.
The “wall minute”
If they are unable to overcome them, they are punished with the so-called “wall minute”, sixty seconds during which get hit by the “kings” in any part of the body.
The escalation of aggressiveness does not stop. To rise from “rank” in the band you have to be even more bloodthirsty. Javier became “king” after participating in a great brawl that resulted in dozens of wounded in Madrid.
In the Madrid neighborhood of Opañel, Kevin was in charge of 32 Latin Kings. He admits that he sowed horror, but he also saw his own suffer. “They gave one seven stabs in the stomach, to another they slit the neck … You live in a constant drama, “he remarks.
A life of violence
The two young men accumulated identifications, arrests and nights in the dungeon. “The police had me booked, I had a search and arrest warrant,” says Javier. He was involved in numerous brawls with other gangs, almost always against those known as the Ñetas.
It emphasizes that the “commandments” or norms of the band they were forced to “go kill”. “He was going for everything, there was no doubt,” he adds. However, he acknowledges that they almost always acted under the influence of drugs.
In addition to the “wall minute”, non-compliance with the rules was paid with psychological and physical punishments that could even end in death. For Javier, the hardest ones consisted of threats to the environment of the members, specifically to his own family.
Five years have passed since his resignation. Javier lived and slept, if he could, in a nightmare. “I blamed myself for what I had done and was afraid of the rival gang and my own,” he recalls. Once he reached the rank of “king” he became a prime target for the Ñetas. “They tried to assassinate me”, he affirms with a broken voice.
Got into drugs and Hit bottom. Changing his life was not an easy task, but he took advantage of the fact that several of his relatives in the gang were arrested or deported to seek help. “I wanted to be a young man with a future, peace and joy, but I didn’t know how,” he says with his back to the camera.
Javier and Kevin talk with Pastor Alberto Díaz. Photo: EFE
Like his compatriot Kevin, his mother, who considered him “for lost”, accompanied him to the Christian Help Center. From their headquarters, near the Madrid Atocha station, they assure that there they found the support they needed to leave their past behind and start from scratch.
The Latin Kings reproached them for their lack of loyalty to the band, but upon learning that in their new life they weren’t a threat for the organization or rivals, they decided not to retaliate.
Now, they have a job and take care of their children. With their testimony, always calm and reflective, they work on the reintegration of other young people for whom too many doors have already been closed in society.
A new opportunity
For them, Pastor Alberto Díaz is a “second father.” During the interview, he does not leave their side and reminds them not to use his real name. He is the spokesperson for the Christian Help Center in Spain and the promoter of the Fuerza Joven project, which gang members looking for a second chance embark on.
Christian Help Center, in Madrid./ EFE
Denounces that society “judge and label” these young people, for which many doors in the labor market and in other areas of society are already closed tight. This reality, he remarks, makes it even more difficult for him to leave the bands.
The recruitment is increasingly early, the new members are integrated at the age of 12. This has forced Díaz and his team to make a 180 degree turn to work on prevention. Since a year ago, they go to schools and institutes for ex-gang members like Kevin and Javier to share their harsh experiences with students.
After question time, the evangelical pastor always says goodbye with the same slogan: “Do not join a Latin band you better get out of it“.