In many countries around the world, Sundays are a day for worship, family and rest. In Bogota, Colombia, Sundays are a day of terror: waiting to see if your makeshift home in the sewer system will be filled with gasoline and set on fire and avoiding the police on the street.
According to a documentary from VBS.tv, at the height of child homelessness in Bogota, Colombia, wealthy business owners began putting together death squads to “cleanse” the city of the people living on the street, deemed “the disposables.” These cleanses have continued ever since, now commissioned and carried out by the police as well.
The squads would exterminate the people living in the parks, on benches or in the streets: pregnant women, children and entire families.
These “social cleanses” forced the homeless people of Colombia to retreat into the sewers. One couple has been living in their “penthouse by the sea” for seventeen years, giving birth to three children.
According to an article from 1990 in the LA Times, no one has an exact count of how many are living in the sewers but it is somewhere in the hundreds, possibly thousands by now.
15 years ago, a rotating group of teenagers was living beneath one manhole. Once it was determined they could not get into the sewer with their guns, the police poured gasoline into the tunnel and lit a match, burning 22 kids alive. This is common practice.
CNN reported last year that after the initial wave of publicity and activism in the 90s, this story faded away and “about six months after all the stories aired, the death squads went in, armed with the whereabouts of the sewer-kid hot spots, and carried out massive reprisal killings.” But with most of the death squads being made up of cops and retired military personnel, the Colombian government did nothing and the issue stagnated as other tragedies gained attention.
In 1994, the New York Times quoted a study by Carlos Rojas, a researcher at the time, stating that almost 2,000 people were killed from 1988 to 1993 as a result of what Colombians call limpieza social, or social cleansing. In the first half of 1994, he counted 215 deaths by vigilante gropus. Other human rights organizations estimate that there were 345 such killings in Colombia every year.
If those numbers held steady from 1988 to 2011, nearly 8,000 human lives would have been taken through this “cleansing” process.
Even though they are constantly surrounded by feces, garbage, rats and water, the homeless still prefer the sewers to the streets. “You’re still safer sleeping in here than out there,” one man said about the sewers over outdoor parks or the streets.
You can watch the documentary here. you should know that it is very graphic.
Sign the petition and tell the President of Colombia, the Minister of Defense and the National Police Director that the social cleansing occurring in Colombia is unacceptable and must stop!
Photo credit: David Feltkamp via flickr