Uribe plan for youth to spy on gangs sparks uproar

Murder has skyrocketed in Medellin since the 2008 extradition of its underworld boss, known as Don Berna, who once kept tight control of organized crime.

There were 2,176 killings in the city last year, a 108 percent rise from 2008, as a new and less-disciplined generation of criminals in Berna’s absence fight for control of the cocaine and extortion rackets that blight the city’s poor neighborhoods.

Uribe has increased police presence in Medellin, an industrial city long associated with Colombia’s cocaine trade, but law enforcement has not been able to dismantle the local gangs, prompting him to turn to the schools for help.

Those caught informing on criminal activity are targeted for reprisal, which is why there was concern when Uribe told reporters on Tuesday that he wants to hire 1,000 students to provide information to government security forces.

“This shows that the government does not know what to do about Medellin,” said Rafael Pardo from the opposition Liberal Party.

Uribe did not specify if the fledgling spies would come from high schools, universities or both. “They would have to be students,” he said. “Each one will get a 100,000 peso ($50) bonus per month.”

The army said it backs the idea of tapping the schools for informants.

But Gustavo Gallon, head of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, said the proposal blurs the line between civilians and state security forces trained to fight gangs and leftist rebels waging an insurgency since the 1960s.

Said Bogota Mayor Samuel Moreno: “The young people of Medellin cannot go to work as amateur informants.”

The president remains popular for his US-backed crackdown on the rebels, which has made much of Colombia safer and attracted investment to the country.

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