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COSTA RICA NEWS | Friday 27 January 2012

Gangs in Medellin Charge "Vacuna" For Use of Public Escalator
Special report from Colombia

In the conflictive neighbourhood of Comuma 13 in Medellin, Colombia, known for the presence of gangs and drug traffickers, a new kind of "super extortion" is taking place, local criminals are charging residents a toll to use the publicly installed escalators.

Last month the barrio de la Independencia made news when the municipality installed an escalator for residents to climb the slope that is common in Medellin.

However, rumours of possible extortion raised the concerns of neighbours who decided en masse to stay away.

Another reason for the not using the escalators is that, despite its inauguration, the work is not complete and for the time being the escalators are operating only three hours daily.

Thus for the moment the novel structure in a poor neighbourhood has become the object of curiosity and entertainment fr the children who spend hours going and up and down moving stairs, a sight some had never seen before in their life.

Although not affecting the children, according to neighbours gangs are charging a 1.500 pesos (us$0.60) toll or "tax" for adults to use them.

The alarming situation has come to the attention of the country's national police and although the Alcaldía de Medellín (Medellin mayor's office) is denying the existence of gangs and their extortion, say police will be posted at each end of the escalator.

Colombian merchants are accustomed to paying a 'vacuna' (slang for extortion) in many areas of country as part of doing business. One merchant in Medellin's Comuna 13, who spoke to the EFE news agency, said "he pays" weekly his vacuna but was not clear if it was for the escalators or not.

What is clearly exemplified by this incident is that gangs are the owners of large parts of Medellin's poorer communities. The same is occurring in Colombia's other major cities like Cali and Bogota.

This report is from Inside Colombia.





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