Friday, March 16, 2012

Battle in El Bronx

The entrance to El Bronx, on the left. After taking this picture, several drug dealers kicked my bike as I  pedaled furiously past. On the building's corner it says 'Christ loves you.'
Three people were murdered. The police invaded, destroying homes. The local mayor was fired via Twitter. And now things are back to normal, as if nothing ever happened. 

A man walks across Los Martires Plaza.
Sound like something out of Iraq or Afghanistan, or a bad movie? It actually happened the other day in a notorious street in central Bogotá.

This street, called El Bronx (or La Ele), near Los Martires Plaza, might contain one of the planet's greatest concentration of vice and crime. Near the entrance, a furious market operates in notoriously stolen property. Inside, I've heard, are prostitutes, drug dens and child crack addicts: complete human degradation.

Soldiers stand by the monument to Colombia's
revolultionary martyrs on the plaza.
Behind them is the Iglesia del Voto Nacional. 
Strangely, El Bronx exists right beside the military's recruitment building, just a couple of blocks from the Presidential Palace. It is where the thieves, prostitutes and drug addicts went after the city bulldozed the old crime-packed El Cartucho neighborhood in 2004 to create Tercer Milenio Park.

About three days ago, three people were shot in El Bronx under confused circumstances. Police told reporters that there had been disputes between El Bronx's residents. A man who frequents the area told me that a disturbed man had charged into El Bronx firing a gun "just like happens in the United States." I passed by El Bronx's entrance Thursday afternoon and one of the drug dealers who hang out at its entrance told me that everything was "normal again." Normal for El Bronx, that is.

Today I bicycled by again, snapping a few pictures, which the Bronx's denizens do not like. This time the drug dealers yelled at me and kicked my bike. I'm not sure why they didn't try to knock me off of the bike and steal the camera, but perhaps they have an understanding with local police: keep your problems inside El Bronx.

Even so, many people have told me that inside El Bronx you're safer than you are in the supermarket, because a strict code of conduct is enforced, so as not to scare away customers.
A pedicab driver on a Los Martires street.
The neighborhood has many hardware
stores and other small businesses.

El Bronx is home for many drug addicts and other homeless people, who sleep curled on the ground or in shacks. It's also a drug distribution center for the city. But El Bronx is also a community with an economy, including beauticians and hair-dressers, of a sort.

Why does El Bronx exist? A police officer once suggested to me that, since vice and crime were inevitable, it was better to have them concentrated in one place. That's sensible enough.

Last year, the police made one of their rare invasions of El Bronx and confisticated more than 900 kilograms of marijuana - tripling pot prices throughout Bogotá.

The once-wealthy neighborhood has
many homes with still-handsome facades.
This time, police invaded El Bronx again, destroying some of the shacks and 'discovering' drugs, stolen property and the usual group of drug addicts and delincuents. They seized stolen bicycles, cigarretes, weapons and illegal drugs. Twenty children were sent to a orphanage to be rehabilitaded. Hopefully, but don't bet on it.

The episode has had repercussions far beyond what El Bronx's denizens could have imagined. Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro announced by Twitter that the Martires District's mayor "is on his way out," for destroying Bronx residents' shacks - and got himself into trouble for supposedly misusing his Twitter account.

Meanwhile, those back in El Bronx likely do not care. They're into their own thing.

According to Thursday's El Tiempo, the man who shot the three people and injured four others has not been found.

Related Post: Back Into El Bronx

Video: 'The Cemetery of the Living Dead.'

Video about a police raid on El Bronx, and the tremendous haul of drugs and stolen merchandise.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


mauricio forero l said...

Mike, you are a brave man. But be careful. Your good luck might run out. What you are describing is really scary. Just remember, you are an American. That, by itself, is very risky. In going into a neighborhood like that, you really stand out -- you're the white American. When I was living there, the cartucho was the WORST neighborhood, and I remember awful stories about that place.

In any case, my respect, you really have guts. Even I would think twice in getting into a neighborhood like that, with my six-three frame. Again, what an excellent post. Thank you.

Mauricio Forero

meltingcielo said...

Wow, gotta agree with Mauricio, Mike you really got some balls heading into that mess, i know some well built locals who wouldnt dare, but I do have to say its a really great article you've written...Just watch your back, and lots of Good Luck!!

Miguel said...

I don't want to give the wrong impression - I didn't venture inside El Bronx, just the neighborhood around it.

However, several people have told me that it's not actually that dangerous inside - just as long as you don't take pictures, and they think you're a customer.


Unknown said...

Here is the reason why this area of Bogota. Like many other in Colombia and other Latin American countries have become deprived "No-go zones"; because other fellow citizens turn their back as soon as they hear the nasty stories, then they ignore the reality and their fear and selfishness drive them away! and even worse, their word-of-mouth probably with an warning intention and go aware, does not really contribute to solve the problem. We cannot keep ignoring what really goes inside of these GHETTOS. Hence we need these courageous explores to give us an inside of the social situation and for that, I, personally thank you! With regards to my fellow colombians, shame on you, show more courage and do something more than squeak with fear!!!

Unknown said...

Un Viejo rolo told me, "you can walk the few short blocks of the Bronx without problems, the second time you walk through you'll get noticed and probably followed, the third time you better have something to give someone -- being a gringo -- or they will just take it. "It" being your shoes, watch, camera, cell -- or anything else of value if you are naïve enough to bring anything.
The sad thing is the young kids already whoring or smoking bazuca/las bichas. I took a Colombian girl there to get me some ------ and she went in, while I waited in a cab, and returned in two minutes. Back at my apartment she goes in the bathroom, comes out after five minutes and drops dead on the floor. I didn't know it but she had copped some smack. Cost me $1,000 US to get out of that one.

If you want drugs or whores don't go to the Bronx for gods sake...there are no free-passes for tourists as Mike claims. But in the ollas -- dilapidated buildings on the other side of 19th from Santa Fe you can spend all day -- and all your money -- and people will beg a hit but these building DO have rules, do fuck with gringos, don't rape girls.

Unknown said...

I mean DONT FUCK WITH GRINGOS, DONT RAPE THE GIRLS...even if they are whores. -- They have money, like the gringos and so the narcos who run these cash cows establishments enforce these rules. Or rather the dealers on shift have to enforce them or they will get BEAT DOWN!!!

Miguel said...

Hi Shawn,

As you say: 'Go to AA/NA instead of the Bronx', where terrible things happen.

For the record, I never said there were any 'free passes' for gringos, altho I have heard about outsiders, including foreigners, entering the Bronx and emerging alive.


BoHeMiAnEz said...

Thanks so much for this insight into what El Bronx is like. One of the people murdered in that incident was my mother. I cannot explain to you how I wish I could find the person that did this to me and my family.

Cyclist10 said...

I entered El Bronx on 22nd feb 2016 got around the bollard and started looking at the bikes for sale. Quickly I felt this street is sinister its darker in there because ropes are tied between the buildings some with decorative flags on between the buildings blocking out the sunlight, and with all the addicts worn down by drugs. After about a minute I felt a tugging at my waist turned to see a very cold character producing a handgun from behind his coat. Then 2 more men joined him both with handguns, starting to search me probably for a camera. Then they asked what I wanted and offered to sell me perico or maruana. I told them I d just come for a look and offered them the little money I had which they didn t want. Then they let me go, probably not a good idea to wonder in there.