Some 300 families have fled a slum in the southwest of Cali after a local gang gave inhabitants the choice to leave or be killed, local newspaper El Pais reported Friday.
The approximately 1,500 people were forced away from the Brisas de Comuneros slum amid threats of local gang “Los Buenaventureños.” According to El Pais, locals fear an all-out gang warfare as the peripheral slum is contested by four different criminal gangs.
The displacement has been ongoing since May 14 when some 20 presumed members of the Buenaventureños “flooded” the neighborhood with pamphlets warning inhabitants they will be killed if they do not abandon the slum within three weeks.
Since then, the neighborhood has slowly turned into a ghost town. Fled inhabitants told El Pais that — less than one week before the end of the gang’s deadline — some 300 of approximately a 1000 homes have been abandoned.
The tensions in the southwest of Cali seem to be related to regional shifts in control over regional drug trafficking routes originally belonging to the local “Los Rastrojos” drug cartel that have been increasingly contested by neo-paramilitary group “Los Urabeños.”
According to disputed claims by residents and the local Ombudsman’s Office, the Buenaventureños gang is relatively new in the city; The Ombudsman’s Office said the gang has been in the city for less than half a year, operating from the outskirts of the slum. The gang possibly originates from the Pacific port city of Buenaventura where the Urabeños violently took over control of local gang “La Empresa,” killing or displacing most its members.
Three other Cali gangs — “Los del Centro,” “Palmas de Milor” and “Los Haitianos” reportedly are disputing the territory claimed by the alleged newcomer and, while vying the blessing of the nationally operating and much bigger Urabeños, may plan an offensive to remove the neo-paramilitaries’ rival from the city.
Local authorities seem unable to stop the exodus of residents, despite Cali Police claiming to have deployed some 40 policemen in the area to control over the slum. Locals however told the newspaper that there are no policemen in the neighborhood and their only option is to flee or die.
Of Colombia’s largest cities, Cali has proven to be the most difficult for authorities to control. While other cities’ homicide rate have slowly been dropping over the past four years, those of Cali have only gone up and are now three times as high as the national homicide rate.
MORE: Cali crime statistics