Colombian Paramilitaries Target Youth From Slums

Being young here is almost a miracle is to search for opportunities. This is Milton, a former gang member
living in Cazuca a slum near Colombia’s capital of Bogota. Young people hang out in corners some do drugs the paramilitary comes on motorcycles and kills them all. Milton, who is twenty-six, knows this
reality really well. His membership in a gang and use of drugs made him a target of what is crudely known in Colombia
as social cleansing where young men or women are assassinated simply for being undesireables. The reason is that they think these kids are bad for the community and they think they are doing a favor
to the community removing the rotten apples which are youth who steal and do drugs. So among those people there’s a plot to finance and get rid of youth. Being young is criminalized it’s not only criminalized but penalized and it’s penalized with the death penalty. Lilia Solano is the Executive Director of
Proyecto Justicia y Vida a human rights organization that
works in Cazuca. A report they wrote revealed that
between 2002 and 2006 approximately 600 youths were subject
to selective murders in Cazuca and a neighboring problem-area
called Ciudad Bolivar. The paramilitary controls youth in Cazuca
in various ways. One of those ways is imposing an order which is I’m in charge here because I have weapons and because I have economic control. So the ground is set for social cleansing saying that kids who play arcade games who like to dance or rap are going against the order that is established. But what’s behind this is:
‘If you don’t obey I’ll kill you.’ Social cleansing has been around
Cazuca for the last decade and it’s cyclical with a resurgence this year. Most people living in Cazuca attribute
this kind of violence to the Self Defense Forces of Colombia
known as the AUC a paramilitary group that officially
demobilized starting in 2003. Former members have regrouped and continue to carry out the same violence. There are illegal organizations that
intimidate people and that make a tremendous effort to
control the territory, its residents, and to not allow the government to have a presence in this area. Fernando Escobar is the municipal human rights represetantive for Soacha the municipality in which Cazuca is located. He has spoken out against the presence of armed groups in Cazuca which has resulted in death threats for him
and his office. It’s very hard for young people in Cazuca to gather with friends because there’s a culture of fear because they can’t be sure they will not be involved in an unwanted situation. And Cazuca with a population of approximately seventy-thousand residents is a place especially vulnerable to violence. The subdivision number four in Cazuca is one of the most depressed areas in the municipality of Soacha. Fanny Morales works for Corporacion
Infancia y Desarrollo an NGO operating at the heart of Cazuca. Most of the kids here come from families that are displaced by ongoing fights between the army, guerrillas and paramilitary forcing them out of their homes
in the countryside to the big cities. Cazuca’s cheap rent and proximity to
Bogota’s job market have turned it into one of the biggest recipients of displaced people in Soacha. It’s very hard for a displaced family to find a place in Cazuca because there’s barely any
government presence. There are low levels of coverage in education and of health there are many people living here it’s constantly becoming populated so it’s very hard to find a suitable place for the displaced people that arrive here. As the displacement crisis seems
to reach no end the situation of young people in Cazuca isn’t getting any better either. Almost half of its population is under
twenty-six years of age with little education and few employable skills. Many already have a family to care for, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Conditions for our youth in Ciudad Bolivar and Cazuca are very precarious. They have few opportunities and as the area is stigmatized it becomes harder for them to get a job. If you deprive people of the opportunities
to have a future you are forcing an entire community to live in primitive conditions and when you live in primitive conditions you accept that the law of the fittest is: ‘If I have to kill to survive, I will kill you.’ However, there are individuals
breaking the cycle like Milton who turned his life around. Since I saw how they were killing
people around me and with having my first kid, I have two now my life started to change. Milton is now a project coordinator at Ahmsa an international organization working on solutions to alleviate poverty in places like Cazuca. Many from my generation have been killed. In recent years police presence has
increased in Cazuca and there aren’t as many murders of
teens as before. But violence and threats towards youth remain at a critical level. Young people in Cazuca face as uncertain
a future as ever and are only hoping for a shot at life.

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