The barrios of Medellin are controlled by criminals and are full of prostitutes, with virgins commanding the highest prices. Guillermo Galdos meets one woman who fears for her daughter’s future.
I have been travelling to Medellin for nearly 20 years and during that time I have witnessed the city’s mutation from one of the murder capitals of the world to one of Colombia’s booming cities. Unfortunately the years of evil and greed have marked this city for life, and the beauty hides a violent and disturbing criminal underworld.
When Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993 the Medellin cartel was left without a boss – and most of the assassins, traffickers and foot soldiers were left without a job. But soon, criminal gangs started to appear to fill the gap.
La Oficina – or “The Office” – is one of the most notorious groups that sprung up. They started literally as an office where anyone could hire a hit man. Years later they developed into one of the biggest criminal organisations in the history of Colombia. Today “The Office” is not only involved in drug trafficking but also in extortion, prostitution and human trafficking.
The narcos have always had an appetite for beautiful women. Money has never been an obstacle for them and in a city used to the flow of easy money, everything has a price.
Escobar himself was known for paying thousands of dollars to have sex with models, actresses and even television presenters. Prostitution is not new to Medellin. A Colombian man once told me that “if you put a roof over Medellin it would be the biggest brothel in the world”.
When you are out in the city you realise why he said that. The back streets are full of prostitutes, both male and female. Many of them are incredibly young; smoking bazuco, a Colombian version of “crack”.
The place looked like the end of the world. On the corner you could see the gang members looking around, controlling the barrios.
After Medellin was “pacified”, tourists started to flock to the city looking for cheap drugs and for sex. Gangs like “The Office” realised the potential business they had in front of them.
First they offer just girls, then for more money you could have underage girls and then the golden prize for those willing to pay: “virgin girls”.
I met several victims of the gangs but most were too scared to go on the record. Only one of them agreed to speak to us. She lives in one of the poorest barrios in Medellin. Her name is Maruja. She is in her early 30s but looks older.
Her daughter is just 14 and the gangs have already warned her that they have somebody willing to pay lots of money for her daughter’s virginity. She has no means to move to another barrio.
She feels trapped. Incredibly, she tells me that she also was a victim of sexual abuse when she was young. “They will have to kill me if they want to take my daughter, my life was ruined and I don’t want them to do the same to her.”
I wanted to meet the new generation of criminals in Medellin. They are not the type of people that like cameras or journalists.
It took several months of meetings to convince them to allow me to film them. Then one night two boys picked me up in a car park in Medellin and took me up to a barrio controlled by “The Office”.
The local boss – Chino – came out to a shop to meet me. We walked and talked about Escobar, the paramilitaries, Farc and the current peace process in La Havana.
Chino never met Escobar but he admired him. He was proud when he told me that he killed for the first time when he was just 13 years old. Now, he looked no older than 30 and says he has murdered dozens of people.
“I lost count of how many people I have killed, I don’t want to remember,” he said, while joking about how they dismember the bodies and dump them in the canal to leave no evidence.
“We don’t want to heat up the barrio so you won’t see any bodies lying in the street like before. We are still at war but you won’t see the weapons in the street.”
Chino is well dressed and has clearly been educated. He doesn’t look like a Colombian criminal from Hollywood; he looks more like a young raver.
“The product has changed but we are still providing services. Before we sent coke to the world, now the world is coming to us. They come here because they can’t get what we offer anywhere else.”
He is right. It’s a shocking new criminal world thriving in Medellin – with criminals formerly of the drugs trade now trading in women.
Police raids rescue children
As a result of the Channel 4 News report above, Colombia Virgins for Sale, several police raids have taken place in the city of Medellin to rescue children who are being sexually abused and exploited. New police funding programmes to combat child prostitution have also been announced by the Mayor of Medellin following the airing of the piece by Guillermo Galdos.
Mayor of Medellin Anibal Gaviria ordered the raids after the report highlighted the grooming of young girls by criminal gangs – and the huge rise of sex tourism in the city. The mayor says sixteen children who were being held in child sex rings have been rescued and are now being cared for by child protection services. All the children were under 14 years old. Local media have reported that the raids were prompted by the Channel 4 News film that embarrassed the Medellin government. Shortly after our report was aired, the police raids took place and city authorities announced new funding programmes for police to combat child prostitution.