Local officials in Cali, Colombia are planning to expand a recently instituted gang reintegration program, raising questions about what type of long-term impact such an initiative could have on the city's security situation.
In early January, the Cali city government announced that the program is expected to take on a larger scope in 2017. The announcement indicates the government's openness to alternative strategies in solving a gang problem that has made Cali one of Colombia's most violent cities.
The program, dubbed Integral Gang Rehabilitation (Tratamiento Integral de Pandillas - TIP), began late last year with the participation of more than 30 of the 88 recognized local gangs. The government's 2017 projections estimate the addition of 20 more gangs, with the ultimate goal of enrolling more than 1,300 gang members in TIP.
The program is designed to offer the city's "high-risk" youth an alternative to gang life. Participants are offered vocational training, volunteer work opportunities and general reintegration guidance. In one neighborhood, according to a recent report by El País, gang members are working together on a farm that sits on the border of rival gang territories.
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Although Cali's government and law enforcement institutions have praised TIP and advocated for expanding the program, statistics measuring its impact have been inconclusive. Cali recorded a 54 percent decline in gang-related youth homicides in 2016, but the city also witnessed a 39 percent increase in revenge killings last year, according to a separate report from El País. The overall homicide tally dropped six percent.
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The TIP program is in its very early stages, making it difficult to judge the relationship between the introduction of the gang rehabilitation initiative and trends in violence in Cali. Nevertheless, there are other examples of similar programs in neighboring countries that could provide insight into the potential impact of Cali's TIP.
For example, Panama saw a decrease in homicides after launching a gang amnesty and rehabilitation program in 2014. According to a report by the BBC, the homicide rate dropped 21 percent from 2014 to 2015. However, as InSight Crime has previously noted, it is difficult to distinguish the impact of the rehabilitation program from the effect of the Panamanian government's increased spending on other violence prevention programs during that time period.
Further north, the government of El Salvador has also proposed establishing reintegration programs as part of its efforts to deal with serious ongoing security problems related to gangs. However, resource constraints and complex dynamics of violence in that country make it unlikely that such programs would yield sustainable results.