Crime controls the surroundings of the Portal de las Américas, in Bogotá. The neighbors have a nightmare. Political leaders call for the area to be militarized. What’s going on?
Have you heard gunpowder? The curious question has become common among those who live or visit the neighborhoods that surround the Portal of the Americas of TransMilenio. When the outbursts are heard it means that tempers are heated and nothing good is going to happen. Gunpowder is the prelude to the excesses that end in a pitched battle with dead and wounded people. The residents of this large and busy area in the southwest of Bogotá have not known the word tranquility since April 28, when the days of unemployment began.
Today, four months later, the vandalism continues. The so-called first line, of which some members have been accused of being behind the violence, took control of the area . At night, criminals rob with armed hand, sell and consume drugs, extort money and permanently clash with the Police. The authorities have failed to prevent this. To the despair of the inhabitants, these same criminals take over any movement up to a kilometer around.
What’s going on? Why does the tranquility not return to this sector of the town of Kennedy? The truth is only one: the Portal of the Americas became a strategic point for the vandals. They know their surroundings like the back of their hand and established routes for drug trafficking before the fearless and fearful gaze of the neighbors. It is a hellish reality. For example, there are marijuana sales outside the Jaime Garzón school and the Las Margaritas institution, among other places. Traffic hides in candy and red stores. Everyone knows it and people are waiting for strong measures.
The scenario is so disturbing that Councilor Emel Rojas, of the Colombia Justa Libres Party, asked Defense Minister Diego Molano and Mayor Claudia López to militarize the Americas. “I see a beaten, tired and demoralized police,” said Councilor Lucía Bastidas.
The chaos of the 28th
The 28th of each month became traumatic. The residents of the area check their calendars and prepare. Crime takes the opportunity to “commemorate” their actions on a monthly basis and disturbs public order. There is no day 28, since last April, that there have not been attacks on the police, roadblocks or burning of tires.
Terrified, people rush to take public transport before the roads turn into a scene of riots and confrontations. The Police watch the area, but after three in the afternoon a reinforcement arrives to anticipate the chaos. When that happens, the stones come from one side and the other, the gases are unbearable in the eyes, nose and throat, the improvised bombs stun, while the fire illuminates the covered faces of the leaders of the protests. Klara, an inhabitant of the Calle del Aguante, as the vandals call her because they resist there for up to ten hours of fighting, has to brand new chairs, blankets and even a bed.The splinters of the explosives leaked through the windows and ended up in his home. 86A-46 South Street became a perfect place to attack the Esmad.
The hooded men have different places to run and have the obligatory support of some frightened neighbors, and even first aid in case of being injured. In that same block, where several commercial establishments swarm, the situation is complex. Few want to spend several hours in a business.In the presence of the Protestants, the clientele is shocked. The Titanics pizzeria, for example, dropped its sales by over 80 percent and the amount produced is not even enough to sustain the establishment, which had several branches, but was reduced to a single location. Of 40 employees in the boom season, four remain. The covid-19 pandemic did not bankrupt the fast food place because its customers did not stop asking for addresses. On the other hand, the protests did because of their excessive violence.
The valuation of the properties located around the Portal de las Américas is on the ground. José, one of the men who has lived in the sector for more than ten years, wants to sell his house. He got sick with nerves because he remains scared. The house is valued at 180 million pesos, but they are offering 70. “Not one peso more, not one less,” the buyers tell him. The area is stigmatized, vandalism took over the place and there is no early calm.
Today, unfortunately, the Portal of the Americas has a bad reputation. Before it was synonymous with commerce and strength, and its inhabitants know that. Angélica, for example, attends one of the drugstores in the area and suffers the ordeal of catching a taxi from another point in Bogotá to take her to her establishment. Public transport, except buses and TransMilenio, avoids reaching the place because of what happens every day. “The situation is not as serious as before, it has improved, I do not understand why the stigmatization”, the woman tries to clarify. Angelica overcame fear, but not necessarily her neighbors, who every time they get on the SITP entrust themselves to God or their deceased.
They fear being the target of a stone, a stray bullet or an artifact that comes from the constant confrontations between both sides. La Libertad, Brasilia and Porvenir are three of the neighborhoods in the southwest where the public service has been the target of vandalism. Judging by the truth, the excesses are not the same size that shook Bogotá at the end of April. The protests are intermittent and the number of protesters is smaller, although they generate the same chaos.
SEMANA established that at least 15 of the protesters reside in the area, but they have the power to summon other young people from the city. Many receive as payment up to 20,000 pesos for each day of protest, despite the fact that in other areas the figure reached 70,000. Who pays them? Prosecutor Francisco Barbosa has insisted that there are armed groups financing some cells, while Mayor Claudia López has denounced the radical left and Petrism as promoters of the excesses.
The outbreak just began, the villagers thought of fleeing, hiding in fear, but as the weeks passed, the scene of chaos became a landscape. Simply lock yourself in your homes, lock your doors, and protect your windows to escape reality. Outside, protesters and Esmad are in a brawl; Inside, the sound of the television is diverting attention. It is the only way to survive fear.
“It is sad to know that one has to adapt to living badly,” concludes an inhabitant. There are children with psychological problems because their parents avoid taking them out to the park because of crime. And from the confinement they are direct witnesses of the caliber of violence that is lived in the streets. However, normality must return and depends on the mayor Claudia López, and the measures that she can take in conjunction with the Ministry of Defense and the other authorities.
In the Portal of the Americas, the general interest must prevail over the individual and guarantee the safety of hundreds of families who all ask is to live in peace and that their area does not become a kind of Puerto Resistencia de Cali, a neuralgic area where not every authority has permission to enter.
That is the main challenge facing the mayor, whose vandalism became her Achilles heel. Today, 56 percent of citizens disapprove of his management, according to a Datexco poll for La W, among others, because he lost control of security. The disagreement is notorious. During the campaign, the mayor promised to become the chief of police who would make criminals “tremble”. Today, those who “tremble” are the citizens, such as those who live around Las Americas, whose nights have ceased to be quiet for four months.