The European Commissioner for International Associations has spoken with former gang members who are leading the fight against crime within the framework of the EL PAcCTO project
“Europe is with you. Our security and justice institutions are committed to the fight against criminal networks in Latin America, but also against the causes that generate this violence.” With these words, the Commissioner for International Associations of the EU, Jutta Urpilainen, addressed Daniel Portillo and Antonio Sosa [fictitious names to protect their identity], who managed to rehabilitate themselves after years of violence and destruction in gangs in El Salvador. On the reasons that led him to join a gang, Daniel recounted the hatred and desire for revenge he felt towards his abusive father. Antonio also pointed to economic reasons: “The need to provide for your family. Only when I was able to learn a trade and they helped me with a small sum to open a barber shop did I realise that there was an alternative.”
“Young kids are cannon fodder for gangs whose criminal narratives and aesthetics have spread worldwide and come to be seen as attractive, and this applies both to recruitment and to punishment. Especially girls, who are subject to an additional and especially repugnant form of violence – sexual violence,” explained the director of FIIAPP, Anna Terrón. “Any public policy seeking to be effective in the fight against organised crime must have young people working with them to come up with measures appropriate to their particular situation,” she declared.
Jérémie Pellet, director of Expertise France – EL PAcCTO, a project funded by the European Union and co-led by Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese cooperation organisations, added: “Young people are key players in the future and their voices need to be heard when discussing public policies and strategies in all areas affecting their present and future. We have a huge responsibility to empower young men and women to take an active part in deciding what they want for their future and how they want to achieve it.”
The Civil Guard, part of Spanish public cooperation
Adriana Tostón, commander of the Civil Guard and among the 40 best young police officers in the world, according to the list of the International Association of Chiefs of Police: “We have to make sure crime no longer pays. Therefore we have to stop confining ourselves to arresting criminals and work harder to dismantle the economic structure of criminal organisations.” Tostón also valued the greater technological knowledge of young people for tackling the problem: “Crime evolves, we can’t just keep on offering the same solutions and it can’t just always be the same people doing it.”
Nicolás Zevallos, criminologist and former Vice Minister of Citizen Security of Peru, called for public policies that seek to strengthen the social fabric “we must develop community and family support networks so that the gang is not the only way out of desperate situations.” Pilar Díaz, director of the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Gender-based and Juvenile Crimes of Bolivia emphasised educational opportunities: “In Bolivia these young people usually come from rural and urban environments where there is great economic hardship and much conflict at home. It is crucial to offer them the chance for free education.”
Fabio de Gemmis, activist of the LIBERA NGO and partner and worker in the LA STRADA cooperative of Teano, Italy, which is dedicated to converting spaces confiscated from the Camorra to social purposes, pointed to the urgent need for young people to trust institutions: “If we talk about social justice and the fight against poverty, we have to be consistent, we can’t have corrupt institutions; institutions must be credible, the relationship between young people and institutions has to create a sense of community, we have to show them that we are counting on them.”
The participation of young people in public policies aimed at improving the lives of people and the planet is one of the priorities of FIIAPP, in line with European foreign action.
This meeting was organised by FIIAPP and its French (Expertise France) and Italian (IILA) counterparts within the framework of the European EL PAcCTO project.