Uribe said on Tuesday that Medellin students would receive $50 a month in return for intelligence about gang and drug trade activity in the city’s neighborhoods. Defense minister Gabriel Silva later clarified that minors would not be allowed to participate.
Presidential candidates and political opponents were quick to react to the proposed measure, with liberal party candidate Rafael Pardo criticizing the proposal as a poor response to Medellin’s rising crime and homicide rates.
“It´s a monumental error,” echoed the former mayor of Medellin and independent presidential candidate Sergio Farjado.
Current Medellin mayor Alonso Salazar distanced himself from the president. According to Salazar, measures are a “necessity” to curb the city’s ongoing violence, but added that the city would never use minors in its fight against crime.
Green party candidate Luis Eduardo Garzon called it “a bizarre proposal that adopts the attitudes out of an old Western movie.”
“The youths of the Medellin can’t be tattle-tales,” the mayor of Bogota, Samuel Moreno, member of the opposition Polo Democratico, said.
Some conservatives also expressed reserve. Conservative presidential candidate Alvaro Leyva said such a measure would have to be applied “very carefully,” pointing out that it might draw into drug and gang conflicts youths who otherwise would not be involved.
Fellow-Conservative Jose Galat disagreed with the president completely, and said that the state should focus on generating employment for students rather than paying a monthly stipend for intelligence which may be unreliable.
Former defense minister and possible presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos said that such a strategy may yet prove helpful to police forces. He said that state policy to pay informants in return for intelligence has so far been “quite successful.”
“It seems to me this could help calm down and improve the public order in a city like Medellin,” he said. In a radio interview, he added that information obtained from students would be “useful, and the population would then have dividends for their families.”
General Alberto Jose Mejia, commander of the military’s 4th Brigade, said the policy “does not seek to militarize students.” More and better intelligence from Medellin’s poorer neighborhoods could improve coordination between the police and the army, and allow security forces to respond more quickly, he said.
The homicide rate in Medellin increased by 108% from 2008 to 2009.