Monterrey – A cultural and sports center based on a model implemented in Colombia to prevent kids from being recruited by criminal organizations opened over the weekend in Monterrey, the capital of the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon.
The community center "will offer sports, educational activities and job training, making it a complex of opportunities," Nuevo Leon Social Development Secretary Aurora Cavazos told Efe.
Activities at the center, like those at similar facilities in Colombia, will be sponsored by the Catholic Church, businesses, non-governmental organizations and educational institutions, such as the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, known as Monterrey Tech and considered Mexico's leading private university.
The community center, which was inaugurated on Sunday and cost 253.4 million pesos (about $15 million), will be used to promote social development in a poor section of Monterrey, which has become a battleground for drug traffickers, Cavazos said.
The Bicentenario de la Independencia community center is located in a neighborhood where at least 20 street gangs controlled by drug cartels operate.
The center will offer free high school classes, music workshops, cooking classes, hospitality industry training and other courses, Cavazos said.
The facility has seven soccer fields, as well as libraries, theaters, gyms and computer labs equipped with state-of-the-art gear donated by the business community, the state official said.
The 6,800 sq. meter (73,098 sq. foot) center will serve a community of some 42,000, Cavazos said.
"You do not fight crime and violence just with police, you need these kinds of projects to restore the social fabric," Monterrey Mayor Fernando Larrazabal said.
A new project is needed to offer opportunities to poor people living in marginalized areas, providing them with a chance to raise their educational levels and living standards, officials said.
The community center is located in a neighborhood near downtown Monterrey that is home to several gangs that provide gunmen, lookouts and dealers to the Los Zetas drug cartel, the Public Safety Secretariat said.
Monterrey, Mexico's most important industrial city, and its suburbs have been battered by a wave of drug-related violence since March 2010, when three rival cartels reportedly went to war with Los Zetas, considered the country's most violent criminal organization.
Los Zetas has been battling an alliance of the Gulf, Sinaloa and La Familia drug cartels, known as the Nueva Federacion, for control of the Monterrey metropolitan area and smuggling routes into the United States.
Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, known as "El Lazca," deserted from the Mexican army in 1999 and formed Los Zetas with three other soldiers, all members of an elite special operations unit, becoming the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel.
After several years on the payroll of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas, considered Mexico's most violent criminal organization, went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.