Members of seven separate gangs decided to sign the agreement because, according to one gang member, “the guys are tired of their families suffering, of the difficulties and they decided not to keep on attacking and to see if there are work opportunities.”
“I hand over my weapon and I promise to respect life and not cause any more deaths in my community. I will cooperate with the judicial authorities and we hope that the state supports us by helping us to engage in productive projects as people and as citizens,” a representative from each of the seven gangs stated. Gang members lined up to sign the pact, as well as providing their citizen identification.
Community police commander Colonel Omar Rojas, who attended the signing, said that the aim of the pact was to create dialogue between young gang members and the Medellin mayor’s office and offer the youths the opportunity to participate in resocialization programs.
“This process is more than just the handing over of arms. The idea is to seek solutions, real alternatives for training and employment,” Rojas said.
The colonel said that public education institute Sena is involved in the project, and invited private businesses to get involved as well.
“What we want is for the state to come, to be visible and to commit to alternatives of study and work for these guys, because if we don’t offer them opportunities or take away their arms, they will go back to the same [life of crime],” Rojas said.
Medellin, Colombia’s second city, has recently seen an increase in violence, with 1,250 deaths related to gang warfare since January of this year.
During a visit to Medellin‘s Comuna 13, one of the areas most affected by the violence, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called for more “communication” between locals and the authorities in order to halt the violence gripping the central Colombian city.
Colombian Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera, who accompanied Santos to Comuna 13, promised to “protect” inhabitants who provide information to the authorities.
Santos declared war on the violence in Medellin several weeks ago, and 1,000 police reinforcements arrived in the city on September 1, but the violence has continued. Authorities argue that the extra police are having an impact, with 75 alleged gang members arrested in the past week.
The detainees are alleged to be members of the criminal organizations of drug kingpins Maximiliano Bonilla, alias “Valenciano,” and Erickson Vargas, alias “Sebastian,” who are caught in a battle for control over the city’s underworld.
According to authorities, Sebastian has 25 illegal armed groups comprised of some 2,000 men under his command, while Valenciano is believed to control 32 groups and 1,500 men.
Rojas stressed that the peace agreement “is not the product of a pact between Valenciano and Sebastian, but the response of guys who want to change their lives.”