The Cali mayor’s office is running a program called “Cali Without Gangs,” which aims to provide young gang members in the southern Colombian city with an alternative to a life of violence and crime.
A life of crime
A 24-year-old man participating in the program, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, spent nine years in a Cali gang, in which, he told Caracol Radio, he would be paid between COP500,000 and 1 million ($250 to $500) to commit murders for clients.
The anonymous man admitted he would take drugs such as Rivotril or cocaine in order to carry out his orders. He said it was very easy to secure weapons and that the city was rife with gangs.
“For example, near my house, in four blocks there were four gangs and each one controlled a block,” he said.
The father of two, who now raises chickens and pigs as part of a joint initiative by Cali’s University of Santiago and the mayor’s office, said, “I got out [of the gang] because that was no life. In the end we had so many enemies. We couldn’t look to the left or the right or to the front. Everyone was an enemy. That was no way to live. We couldn’t even go out with our kids in the street.”
“Now we are raising chickens and pigs. It’s very different because the community that rejected us, now supports us. Before when they saw us, they ran away, and now they call us over and speak to us,” he said.
The former gang member said that of the almost 30 members of his gang, fifteen were killed.
The “Cali Without Gangs” program aims to help the 800 youths between the ages of 14 and 26 thought to be involved with gangs.
The program identified 50 gangs in Cali, interviewed them and offered to help educate their members to help them start their own businesses. Thirty-five gangs are participating in the program, while the rest decided not to take part.
Youth crime in Cali
According to Caracol Radio, a gang war is going on in Cali. On June 3 a confrontation between students and gang members left three youths dead. Over the last three-day weekend, June 4 to 7, another four youths died at the hands of the gangs. Among the victims were a 15-year-old, a 22-year-old, a 23-year-old, a 25-year-old and an 18-year-old student.
The Cali mayor’s office has identified 85 gangs consisting of 905 youths aged between 9 and 25 years old.
In the first trimester of 2010, 47 murders were attributed to this demographic. Of those 47 murders, 23 were committed by youths aged between 18 and 26, fourteen were committed by adolescents between 14 and 17 years of age, and two were committed by children aged between 7 and 13.
The 85 Cali youth gangs are involved in murders, robbing pedestrians, motorbike riders and private residences, and the sale of hallucinogens and weapons. Territory wars are common and some of the gangs have converted into groups dedicated to organized crime, Caracol reports.