Welcome To El Bronx, Colombia’s Capital Of Violence And Vice

A recent drug raid in a south-central Bogotá neighborhood that shares its name with the New York borough uncovers a veritable den of vice, violence and unfettered gang rule.

On the streets of Bogota's Bronx

BOGOTÁ â€" A massive police raid has turned public attention to an area of downtown Bogotá that makes its rugged New York City namesake, the Bronx, look charming by comparison.

"El Bronx," as the sector is known, is the Colombian capital's main point of sale for drugs, not to mention a den of kidnappings, extortion and torture. It also attacts an inordinate number of homeless people. About half of the city's 4,000 or so homeless live in the city center, and 30% of those are in El Bronx, which is little more than the intersection of a few streets in the Los Mártires district. The addicts among them constitute a core of collaborators, willing or otherwise, with criminal structures engaged in the trafficking of drugs and people.

The city knows that policing is not enough to put an end to such activities, and officials recently doubled efforts to help the homeless coming out of Bronx. The Bogotá social integration secretariat, part of the municipal government, had recently come to attend some 1,500 homeless people a day, providing shelters to 800 or so homeless people every night.

The area raided by police on May 28 was an ongoing carnival of crime, with a gruesome menu including criminal "slaughterhouses," torture, kidnappings, setting dogs on people, people trafficking, sexual slavery. Each person there seems to have a story, revealing a brutal picture of the working methods of the main gangs, how they used homeless people to ward off authorities and how a private hospital has been saving their lives.

Crime for all

"The Bronx belongs to everyone. We just supply the "product" and you have to take care of the business." That is the message transmitted by the Sayayines, the gang that has largely ruled the neighborhood.

Photo: Daniel Garzón Herazo/Pacific Press/ZUMA

Whenever there were police operations, the homeless were told to take to the streets and riot, ransacking shops and throwing stones at the Transmilenio bus system. Only they had to stay clear of certain clothes shops that were a cover for gang operations. In response to the recent raid, local mobsters were said to have handed out "boxes of bazooka" (cocaine paste), to fire up the homeless to loot shops in nearby Plaza España.

One Bronx resident says the raided zone had two "security chiefs," working around the clock. One was in charge of monitoring the zone and noting unusual entries. The other tracked problems on the street, like a customer paying with counterfeit money or some recycler stuffing a slot machine with cardboard.

For any loan received had to be repaid double the amount within 24 hours. "If they started taking their stuff but weren't showing up, you can be sure they wouldn't get to smoke their bag to the end," as anyone not paying up was burned with acid.

Another means of keeping order in the Bronx was that punishment for thefts among drug was often a fist fight or boxing match, with dealers providing gloves.

The addicts worked for bazooka cocaine paste, and in general, while the Sayayines had a potent arsenal of weapons, they did not mistreat the homeless, locals say. It was their way of ensuring the local version of "peace."

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Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe

BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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