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Colombia's Sicarios

Date:         Mon, 11 Jul 1994 18:21:38 CDT


 Subject: "Colombia's Sicarios", life and death, past and present in Medellin.
 "Death became a routine, first for the state and society at large,

 and then for the groups of adolescents who grew up in the corssfire

 and amidst the indifference to corpses on the streets. The young

 sicarios were born of the absence of any binding principles which might

 have given then some respect for one another and for life itself. They

 were the result of the absence of moral and cultural prototypes, and

 of the multiple influences of new social actors who made brute force

 and the love of luxury the pillars of social relations. The juvenile

 gangs were the result not only of a socioeconomic crisis, but of a

 crisis of legitimacy of social institutions."
        For those who have been following the 1994 World Cup, the

 news the Colombian player who scored against his own team during

 the game against the Americans had been shot and killed came as

 a complete shock. People wondered how such a senseless act of

 violence could take place, but that was it. Almost no one bothered

 to look further back into the recent history of Colombia in

 order to find an answer of how defenseman Escobar (no relation to

 well-known Pablo) culd lose his life for the "horrible sin" of

 scoring against his own team.

        After the news of Escobar's assassination hit the airwaves,

 people around the world were quick to point the finger to the

 drug-lords and to Colombia's culture of violence as the main

 culprits in Andres Escobar's death. However, almost no one

 paid any attention to those who actually pulled the trigger:

 Medellin's young sicarios. It is expected that with time,

 people (including those historians interested in Colombian

 history) will begin to attempt wider explanations of the

 self-goal that cost Andres Escobar, a promising young star

 of Colombia's national soccer team, his life. It is in this

 context that the article "Colombia's Sicarios", published in

 the May/June issue of NACLA Report on the Americas represents

 a valuable source of information.

        In addition to its testimonial account of the reasons

 that one of Medellin's many poverty-stricken youths had to

 become a "sicario" (as a paid assassin for the drug-cartels

 is commonly known), "Colombia's Sicarios" offers a good

 and extensive analysis (from a socio-historical perspective) of

 the culture of drugs and violence that engulfed Colombia in

 the early 1970s and 1980s.

        Very carefully, and step by step, the author/s of this

 article offer a glimpse of life and death in the shatytowns and

 belts of poverty that appeared in various Colombian urban centers

 as a result of a number of social, political, and economic

 developments during the last three decades. Most important,

 it offers a historical analysis of how the drug-lords (with

 the indirect-or direct-help of the state's, police, and/or

 military institutions' misguided policies) were able to lure

 hopeless young kids into their ranks. As the drug trade and

 the violence began to overcome the state's ability to control

 them, the establishment's repressive apparatus increased its

 arsenal with the goal of crushing these social threats. The

 result: increased violence, camouflaged counter-insurgency,

 death squads, and social cleansing. It is its discussion of

 these topics, and of Chucho's life and reasons to become a

 "sicario", that the article "Colombia's Sicarios" becomes

 an excellent source for historians and other academics interested

 not just in Colombia, but also in social and modern Latin American

 history. Had "Colombia's Sicarios" been written two months later,

 it would have (without any doubt) have contained an analysis of

 Andres Escobar's death at the hands of Medellin's infamous sicarios.

                Alex Taylor

                University of Saskatchewan.