BOGOTA – Colombian authorities have regained control of a lawless section of downtown Bogota, where fearsome, drug-peddling gangs carried out an array of shocking crimes, including enslaving minors and dismembering the bodies of petty thieves.
An ongoing investigation is revealing the extent of the depravity in “El Bronx,” a small district of Bogota made up of two streets in the shape of an L and located near the presidential palace and the Metropolitan Police headquarters.
The Colombian state simply did not exist in that 500-sq.-meter (5,375-sq.-foot) area of the capital, where 2,500 soldiers and police had to storm the district last Saturday as if they were regaining control of an Iraqi combat zone.
“This is not an operation against homeless people, but rather against criminal organizations ... We’re not going to allow criminal gangs to establish an island, an independent republic in the middle of the city,” said Enrique Peñalosa, who was elected for a second time as Bogota’s mayor last October.
Police from other cities were brought in due to evidence that some Bogota officers were on the payroll of the El Bronx gangs and might alert them to the raid, prosecutors said.
The gangs’ reign of terror quickly came to light after the area was secured.
Video footage seized by the authorities showed that individuals caught stealing or fighting inside places where alcohol and drugs were consumed were beaten, tortured and dismembered or even fed alive to wild dogs.
Other victims of the gangs were minors who went to El Bronx on weekends in search of vice and adventure and ended up falling into drug addiction and prostitution.
After the police operation, around 100 minors were rescued and reunited with their families.
But Bogota now faces a new challenge in the wake of the raid, as more than 500 homeless people – mostly drug addicts coping with withdrawal symptoms – have left El Bronx and are now walking the capital’s streets.