Blood on the streets: the U.S. needs to stop supporting the murder of street youth in Colombia

In the beautiful country of Colombia, ugly killings plague the streets of large cities like Bogot’Û΍, Medellin and Cali. Paramilitary groups, partially funded by the U.S. government, continue to commit widespread murders of people labeled “undesirable” such as prostitutes, cross dressers, homeless and street children.

The U.S. government needs to use their economic aid as a way to put pressure on the Colombian government to end social cleansing. U.S. aid money should not go towards such blatant acts of human rights violations.

Colombia’s problem with homeless youth is rooted in the economic instability and widespread poverty of the 1990s, the statewide presence of the paramilitary group known as the FARC, and years of political turmoil. Families in Colombia have been displaced because of violence ravaging their country, leading to mass migration to urban centers in search of jobs and safety.

Many of these people have subsequently turned to gangs, drugs and violence to cope with the problems of poverty, leaving many children to flee their home and fend for themselves on the streets. These children are known as “gamines.” Al Jazeera reports that as of 2008, it is estimated that over 60,000 gamines live on the streets of Colombia, though the exact numbers have been hard to track. An enticing and graphic documentary about homeless youth in Colombia made by Vice‘s video team can be seen here.

The street children of Colombia Š—ê as well as homeless people of other ages Š—ê are forced to hide in the sewers for fear that they will be killed by paramilitary forces known as “death squads,” who are hired by industrialists and business owners to “clean up” the areas around their storefronts. Other guerrilla groups and even the National Police have supplied weapons or participated, justifying their actions by saying that gamines and other “undesirables” are a danger to society.

According to one article from the University of Miami Inter-American Law Review, The National Police intelligence squad is partially trained and funded by the U.S. government. Colombia receives more U.S. aid than any other Latin American country and is the seventh largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world. The U.S. currently gives Colombia around 800 million dollars worth of aid each year, 200 million of which is purely for military use.

According to the organization Let the Children Live!, many of the gamines in Colombian cities join gangs called “gallada” to protect each other and provide social interaction. Many of the gamines in gangs begin sniffing glue and using other various cocaine-based drugs to numb the pain that comes along with life on the streets. In one Twitter post by a Canadian living in Colombia, he said that a young boy came up to him and asked for money in between huffs of a glue can.

In addition to the harmful life of living on the streets, paramilitary groups seek to eliminate the homeless youth however possible. In an interview conducted by Human Rights Watch with one gamine named Frankie, he said that vigilante groups dressed in civilian clothes attempted to murder him, but merely injured him on two different occasions. In one of these attempts, Frankie’s girlfriend was shot and killed. The homeless youth hide in the sewers from the death squads, but even there they are not safe. Human Rights Watchadditionally reported that 22 gamines living in the sewers were once killed when paramilitary forces doused the sewers with gasoline and ignited the entire underground area.

U.S. aid money is being used to carry out some of these vicious attacks on street children in Colombia. The U.S. government should put more pressure on the Colombian government to condemn the widespread violence in the country. The U.S. government cannot continue to funnel money into global situations where massive amounts of human rights violations take place. At the height of social cleansing in Colombia, 74 percent of the 4,300 murders were tied to groups supported by national funds, according to a report by Colombian politics expert Elizabeth Schwartz. U.S. aid money is dirtied with the violence that has been able to continue in Colombia and many other countries.

The violence against street children has occurred for decades in Colombia. It has received some international media attention in the 1990s, but is mentioned very little today. Though the country has improved its economic situation slightly, poverty and violence still run rampant with little interference or condemnation by the corrupted government. The U.S., as a major aid contributor, should keep track of the ethical use of aid money and ensure that it is not used to kill street children and other helpless social groups.

In addition to U.S. pressure on the Colombian government, business owners and industrialists ordering the attacks should be held accountable by the government for their atrocities. People need to be aware that massive killings are happening and place attention on the subject until the situation begins to improve.

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Author’s note:

Doing my individual part in bringing attention to the human rights violations in Colombia, I attempted a solidarity movement via Twitter under the tag @WeRSolidaridad. Follow me for more information and help spread the word that the U.S. and Colombia need to STOP funding violence against helpless street children.