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She was 15, from a poor family in the state of Mexico , and had been cleaning houses since the age of eight. He was a cocky, charming year-old from Tenancingo, a small town in the neighbouring state of Tlaxcala. He courted her, promising marriage and a home. She desperately wanted it to be true, and within a fortnight moved with him to Tenancingo. He made me live a very sad, ugly, desperate life. I was so ashamed. This is a deeply religious place, where the indigenous Nahua people united with the Spanish to conquer the mighty Aztecs, but which over the past five decades has transformed into an unlikely hub of human trafficking.
Trafficking networks rooted in Tlaxcala are the biggest source of sex slaves in the US, the state department has said. This improbable crime story began in the s after industrialisation, when working-age men returned home from neighbouring states to find few opportunities beyond badly paid factory jobs. Pimping and trafficking, which they had seen while working away, was a way to get ahead, and many set up small, family-run sexual exploitation rings.
A government official told the Observer there were no red zones in Tlaxcala. In Tenancingo, population 11,, the presence of organised crime is breathtaking. Huge, tawdry houses are scattered among rows of ordinary, modest homes. Everyone knows who own the big houses, though, despite pressure from NGOs to improve transparency and target trafficking proceeds, there is no public land registry.
The mansions look like fancy multilayered wedding cakes adorned with sculptured eagles, lions and swans. The grandiosity continues into the cemetery, where tombs are ornate and extravagant — not unlike those seen in villages of the northern state of Sinaloa, from where many of the drug cartel leaders hail. Here, a group of men in their 30s and 40s sporting designer jeans and T-shirts knock back cold beers under the piercing afternoon sun. Two police officers are stationed less than metres away.
They operate with almost complete impunity. Trafficking has become so normalised and rewarding that young people look up to them. One in five children here wants to be a pimp when they grow up, according to a University of Tlaxcala study.