Sicario, that ancient Roman world for ‘hired-killer’, was updated in the Latin American Spanish by the Colombian mafias since the 1980s. The figure of a “professional” assassin got a kind of fascination not only by popular stories, but literature and movies. It even attracted prestigious writers like Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa who traveled to Medellín to see if it was real that guns were everywhere shooting everyone like a kind of wild west movie. Several authors and film directors like Fernando Vallejo and Victor Gaviria, are even responsible for the foundation of a new kind of literary genre: the Sicario Novel.
But what calls more the attention in the person of the sicario and what he means for the stability of a society, is that many of them are children.
Child assassins, hired by paramilitary or drug gangs, killed 542 people in Colombia in the past two years, El Tiempo reported Sunday. Their age makes it easier for them to approach and kill their targets. Besides, they’re cheap.
Less than a week ago, an eight-month-pregnant lawyer from Medellin was shot through the head. One of the two involved in the attack was 15 years old. The recent murder of an unknown man in a BMW in Bogota is suspected to be committed by a 16-year old.
As the newspaper indicates, almost every day someone in Colombia is assassinated by a minor. Generally speaking, these children are part of criminal gangs involved in robberies and are recruited for a murder, because they are less likely to be bothered by security forces that and because they are cheap.
The lesser experience a ‘sicario’ has and the lower the profile of the victim is, makes using young ‘sicarios’ financially more attractive while it is equally efficient. In some cases a young assassin can more easily avoid suspicion and approach a victim more easily than one who is over 18.
According to El Tiempo, many of the ‘sicarios’ in Medellin are sons and nephews of the hitmen used by Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The city has a fame of raising a large number of assassins that are feared throughout Colombia.
One of the ‘sicarios’ the newspaper talked to received 200,000 pesos (US$97) for his first murder. “I was 13 the first time I did one in. A guy from the neighborhood who was on bad terms with the husband of his daughter contracted me. I approached him from behind and put the gun close to his ear,” the kid told El Tiempo.
According to authorities, the child assassins are the lowest in the chain and receive only a small part that is being paid for an assassination. A criminal organization can charge up to 50 million pesos (US$24 thousand) for a murder, while the juvenile assassin only receives one to six percent of this.
Colombian President Uribe Friday called on authorities to go after the leaders of these assassination gangs.
I’m ‘Sicariato’ because “I love you”
Even if the Colombian cities are not under permanent fire as Vargas Llosa wanted to prove and it is quick secure that you will not meet ‘sicarios’ if you come for tourism, it is real as long as drug traffic dealers will be around in the country and in Latin America.
‘Sicarios’ do not exist by themselves. They are the product of a more complex system of criminality ready to hire assassins as young as 12 to guarantee its power through terrorism. Of course, young people ready to do so come from realities of marginalization, where opportunities of education and a good living are far from their families. Poverty and marginalization are always cause of violence. Mafias offer to hopeless young people an opportunity in their life.
Many of them consider that they must do something to support their families, under the same reasons that many decide to be involved in prostitution, for example. A rancor for a society that denies his entrance into the systems of education, social protection and employment, plays also a great part in how a boy accepts the invitation of the mafias. “El Patrón” (the boss) is the one who contracts the boy to do the job (El Trabajito) and then there is a relation of loyalty. The ‘Sicario’ will have the same commitment of the most professional royal bodyguard of England.
Asked why he kills persons for money, he would answer almost the same: to help the family, because he loves his mother and wants to give her a best life.
Living in a world of crime
The boys dedicated to such business come most of them from the most marginalized sectors of the Latin American cities. It does not mean that all boys in poor quarters are ‘sicarios’, a statement that has put in risk the life of many innocent people, and it does not mean either that all ‘sicarios’ come from poor quarters.
But those who are in such activity live in a world of drug dealers, revenge, paranoia and mental chaos. They become experts in any kind of guns and very sophisticated strategies to get their goals.
Under the need to be protected from others, sicarios have to form gangs that would need a territory to defend from other guns, the seed of the unavoidable gang war. In consequence, the presence of the sicario means also the presence of a wide net of criminality and insecurity forced by terror.
Many of the victims of the sicario phenomena, are the same young persons involved in the gung wars, other then the victims killed by specific order of the mafias. In this sense, the number of victims of violence in Colombia and Latin America are young people aged 15 to 30 and most of them males.
Cutting the roots of sicarios
Military and represive actions without a social intervention, would lead to more violence. In the case of Medellín, the city that became the icono of sicarios, the sucess of military actions like the persecutions of guns, have been supported by the opening of spaces of development in poor quarters.
It is the need to take the boys out of the hands of mafias and give to them the opportunities to succes in life. Fighting poverty means to fight the violence that comes from social groups traditionally marginalized from the national schemes of economy and opportunities.