Crime surge in Bogotá puts Mayor Claudia López under scrutiny

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The killing on Monday of a Bogotá businessman as he left the Bodytech gym in the Colombian capital’s affluent La Cabrera neighborhood occurred on the same day four youngsters were mugged at knife point near their school in the locality of Usaquén (one student was stabbed during the assault), and a third incident, involved a bomb threat near Carrera 7 and Calle 127.

The targeted murder of the business by motorized hit men, who according to police reports, were waiting outside the gym for more than an hour before shooting the victim at close range in the head, is the most recent case of “sicariato” to shock Bogotá residents.

The infamous tactic used by the Medellín cartel during the 1990s in which young men were recruited by Pablo Escobar to assassinate journalists, magistrates and politicians from motorcycles is now a modus operandi of Bogotá’s criminal gangs. In marginalized and impoverished neighborhoods in the south of the capital, illegal armed groups have proliferated to the extend that entire communities are under control of elaborate criminal networks.

“What we are seeing in Bogotá is similar to what happened in Medellín with the comunas,” says 26-year-old Jeison Ruiz from the San Cristobal locality. “They set night curfews, demand payment from shopkeepers for security, and recruit young women into sex trafficking rings.” According to statistics released by the National Police’s Crime database (Siedco), between January and June 2023, 670 cases of extortion were reported to the police – number 3.6% higher than the same period last year.

The same database reveals that 403 persons are mugged every day in Bogotá, and number that does not account for the muggings that are not reported to the police. The capital’s grim security situation, from street robberies to vehicle-related crimes, has unleashed a barrage of criticism against Mayor Claudia López, and with a staggering 72,957 muggings during the first six months of this year (reflecting a 28% increase compared to the same period last year), the rise in homicide rates has the capital’s 8 million inhabitants worried. “Claudia López will end her term with a disheartening homicide toll. This is a matter of grave concern,” stated Daniel Mejía, former Secretary of Security during the Enrique Peñalosa administration.

The National Police has registered 529 murders in the Colombian capital so far this year – represented as an 11% surge compared to the corresponding period in 2022. This grim reality highlights that three lives are lost to violent crime daily in Bogotá.

As Bogotá finds itself grappling with unprecedented challenges to security, the issue of public safety is at the top of the political agenda for the six mayoral candidates in the race to clinch the second highest seat in the country. Ahead of the October 29 vote, the rash in violent crimes has prompted strong statements from right-wing candidate Diego Molano. Molano, who officialized his candidacy for Mayor on Monday with more than 117,000 signatures, is among the fiercest critics of López’s security policies. “We are tired of living in fear,” he said outside the Office of the National Registrar. “If we lose Bogotá (to crime), we lose Colombia.”

For Carlos Fernando Galán, son of the slain Liberal presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán by the Medellín drugs cartel, “the secret to attacking insecurity in Bogotá is to dismantle all links of criminal structures,” he stated on Radio Red. While center-left candidate and former Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo has vowed to put more police on the capital’s streets, and another former Senator Rodrigo Lara running as an independent wants surveillance globes to reinforce the urban grid of CCTV cameras, Molano leads as a forceful candidate in guaranteeing public order given his experience as President Duque’s Minister of Defense.

“Bogotá is in chaos due to the prevailing insecurity. The city has been taken over by crime and is ruled by it today. What we are witnessing during this last semester is that out of 12 main security indicators, we have regressed in eight, especially homicides, kidnappings, and theft. Citizens are terrified.”