Criminal industry

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In the beginnings of this violent paramilitary activity, unique in its use of power saws to quarter their victims, the criminals shared out rural areas among themselves according to their rapacity and their leaden jaws. We know their history from the moment in which the State justified these Campesino Self-defenders or "Convivir", who took up arms under the pretext of defending themselves against the attacks of leftist guerrillas. It was in the decade of the 1980s, and here I can recommend the video of the humorist Jaime Garzón. There were a lot of bullets, a lot of deaths, political violence such as the extermination of the Union Patriótica political party, of whom more than four thousand members were assassinated, more than four million displaced people, deprived of their land, of which more than two million hectares had been seized. The countryside was cleared with fire and blood so that it might be occupied by these new colonizers, territorial occupiers, who saw in the land the easiest way to increase their own wealth through the production and sale of coca. Other areas of production included palms, ranching, bananas, coca, rice, dairy products and rubber. This was a phase marked by growth and consolidation.
This followed another phase of formalized occupation with the so-called Demobilization under the government of Alvaro Uribe Vélez, with all of its irregularities: false demobilizations, "false positives"[i], narcos buying a "franchise"[ii] from paramilitary commanders in order to obtain the generous benefits of the Ley de Justicia y Paz (Justice and Peace Law), under which the maximum sentence for crimes committed was eight years in jail, without counting other benefits of this law. And of course this also involved the legalization of their money. And alongside this horrifying strategy we have the military industry that today involves around seven percent of the Gross Domestic Product, almost 17 trillion pesos (around 9.3 billion US dollars), equivalent to the four-year budget of the second most important city of Colombia, Medellin.
This criminal business moved from the occupation of rural land to the colonization of urban territories of Colombian cities. In Medellin there are rumored to be more than 300 delinquent gangs and five thousand criminal groups. The warlords didn't satisfy their appetites with the land stolen from campesinos, they also occupied new territories, undertook new colonization, no longer rural, but urban. The carved up our cities into blocks, into barrios; sitting in a bar or in a corner of a city park, or in their haciendas, these paramilitaries traced their own maps, their new urban colonies. Their geographic frontiers, their territorial distribution, is their criminal quarry, in which they levy a toll on everything; no one escapes, no matter how poor, they have to pay their tribute. The aged person who sells cigarettes and candy from their kiosk, the woman in her eighties who sells fruit at a makeshift stall in the street, the small shopkeeper, the worker who earns just enough to feed his family; the sale of young virgin girls, houses of prostitution, trafficking in people, transport, gambling and so on, progressively, according to the size of the business.  They also employ children to transport weapons and drugs, for kidnappings, contract assassinations, and thus, grain by grain, the criminal businessmen fill their bags.
According to investigations, there are issues involving instrumental and spontaneous violence, the former corresponds to ruthless criminal actions such as those described in the previous paragraph; the latter to unbridled actions, arising, for example, from throwing tantrums or the wrath of intense pain. In a word, we are dealing with the consolidation and sustainability of criminal structures, children involved in conflict, the loss of legitimacy of institutions, inner-city displacement, homicide, criminal profits, family violence, interpersonal violence, theft. In this state of affairs, the dislocation criminality brings into every era of life is large enough to create a whole context in its favour, a space ruled by criminality.
Those who live in these districts live subject to this criminal world, under the temptation or rather the obligation to accept the work it offers. These are very complex areas. To give some notion we can quote this example. An eleven-year-old girl, calmly and unaware, relates her story to the teacher who hears her. Her mother took up work as a prostitute, leaving the child in the poor slum district, because she was left without a husband, she had had four husbands, who were assassinated in their pursuit of criminal activity; three of them were policemen. Now the child is in the care of an old woman, her grandmother, far from the bad example, as her own mother explained. This is a vulnerable life, exposed to the whole underworld scene.
The History Channel, in a genre between investigation and sensationalism, did a programme on the life of Colombian hired killers with respect to their religious beliefs and witchcraft, in which the protagonists planned their next assassinations through popular beliefs or witchcraft. They related the story of an assassin who made a pact with the devil to become wealthy in exchange for souls. Every day the quota was five murders. As he walked down the street the assassin encountered some unknown person and on the spot, took out his weapon and killed him. "I give you a soul", he murmured as an offer or payment to the devil. "Here is another", and so forth to fulfil his quota. He killed people as one would kill a fly, without any repentance or misgivings, without any moral limits such as those taught by a religion of love and pardon.
This story of criminal industry is not idle talk. After many years people are now talking of its serious dangers. Today specialists are hitting the nail on the head, tying the conflict to legal economic activity and the areas of the illegal economy, and particularly the military industry with its fruitful and diverse alliances with the creative world of the mafia. The most profitable element is fear, by subduing the civil population and civil authorities and forcing them to surrender at their feet. If suffices to recall their well-known methods: massacres, selective assassination, threats posed through pamphlets or graffiti. Their goal is to gain control of the territory, either because they need it to transport drugs or in order to have it as a centre of military operation or to open space for the urban profits of criminal industry.
(Translation: Jordan Bishop and ALAI).
--Mauricio Castaño H. is a historian.

[i] Translator's note: the term "false positive" (which describes a test falsely detecting a condition that is not present) refers to cases where members of the military lured poor or mentally impaired civilians to remote areas with offers of work, then killed them and presented them as guerrillas killed in battle, in an effort to inflate body counts and receive promotions or other benefits.
[ii] Translator's note: the "franchise" was a means of avoiding extradition for drug traffickers by identifying them as "paramilitaries", thus giving them the opportunity to seek shelter under the Justice and Peace Law.

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