Latin Kings - crime gang or cultural association?
27 June 2007, MADRID - Governments in different parts of Spain are taking vastly different approaches to dealing with the largest of the organizations - many call them gangs - formed by the young Latin Americans who make up an ever-growing part of this country's population.
27 June 2007
MADRID - Governments in different parts of Spain are taking vastly different approaches to dealing with the largest of the organizations - many call them gangs - formed by the young Latin Americans who make up an ever-growing part of this country's population.
The "Latin Kings," legal in the northwestern region of Catalonia, were banned last week by authorities in the autonomous community of Madrid.
The contrasting treatment accorded the organization is reflected by statements from its leaders in both places.
While "King Pibe," the 27-year-old Ecuadorian who speaks for the Latin Kings and Queens in Catalonia, says that thanks to its legalization people are going to see them "in a new light," Madrid's "Queen M.B." gives assurances that the capital's Kings and Queens have no intention of disbanding.
"We will be able to tell people that we know how to value and respect others," King Pibe told Efe, acknowledging that before the group was legalized in January 2006 in Catalonia, "there was fear," but that in this new period "wonderful things are going to happen."
Very different were the words of Queen M.B., who despite a verdict by the Madrid provincial court this week ordering the dissolution of the organization in this region, says she told members not to worry.
"If they imagine they can defeat us because our two "godfathers" are in jail, they're wrong. If they couldn't defeat us in New York, they're not going to do it here," she said.
During the trial held last May, most of the 14 leaders of the Latin Kings accused of violence and illegal association said they had joined the organization because of the discrimination they say they suffered in Spain.
Nonetheless, sociology professor Barbara Scandroglio said that these are "the minority" and that while racism does exist, in their case they use it as "an excuse to justify themselves."
Since the first Latin Kings organization was founded in Chicago in the 1940s, members generally have had a bad reputation thanks to crimes committed by some of them and for the prevailing "machismo" that is admitted even by members of its female wing, the Latin Queens.
"We women are a subordinate group that takes no decisions," said former "godmother" Maria Torres during last month's trial at which she was found guilty.
In the 1980s the group arrived in New York and a decade later showed up in Ecuador, the country where most of the "Latins" in Spain come from, and where they began to operate in 2000.
The various national "chapters" of the Latin Kings are founded on common principles reflected in their rules or "literature," which encourages members to educate themselves professionally and socially in order to become "worthwhile" people.
"An illiterate King is a weak King, and a weak King has no place in a strong nation!" is an admonition that appears on the group's official Web site, www.alkqn.org.
The organization divides its members into categories, from the "kings" to the "lions" who protect the "godfather," each level distinguished by the number of chains worn around the neck. They also have an identifying greeting, so that when they clasp hands with their characteristic gesture, they form a five-pointed crown.
In a statement to Efe, Scandroglio, who teaches at the Madrid Autonomous University, recalls that some of the Spanish chapter's symbols and rituals come from the Central American and Caribbean Latin Kings and that they have adopted terms from the Italian mafia and North American gangbangers.
The provincial court in Madrid judged that the Latin Kings fulfilled all the requirements necessary for declaring it guilty of illegal association, including their stated mission of committing crimes.
"While the Latin Kings organization in the beginning might have had certain goals more in line with acceptable social behavior and the defense of Latin values and helping emigrants from Latin American countries who come to Spain, it immediately entered a second phase characterized by violent conduct," the court said.
Not all agree and according to the president of the Catalonia Federation of Latin American Associations, Javier Garcia, politicians prefer to blame members of these organizations for "the evils of society" rather than help them emerge from the shadows.
Before hearing the verdict, Garcia said that finding the Latin Kings of Madrid guilty meant "stigmatizing an entire group of young people, when only a few are delinquents."
"A society that looks for enemies, I don't know where it is headed," he said.
[Copyright EFE with Expatica]
Subject: Spanish news