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‘Para-justice’ or vigilante justice in Colombia

The citizens’ weariness with street thieves naturalised revenge and punishment as instruments of a kind of dangerously vindictive “para-justice”.


German Ayala Osorio*


Every day, videos are posted on social media showing citizens, particularly men, subjecting thieves to violent punishments they call “paloterapia” (lynching), cognitive recalibration, therapeutic massages (punching the thief), brain resetting or brain reprogramming“.

All of them are striking euphemisms that produce hilarity and at times distract us from their real meaning and the impact they have on the rest of society: they are primitive reactions of those who, in a gang and in a cowardly manner, savagely beat the rascals.

This legitimises revenge, vigilante justice and, in many cases, the murder of the “owners of other people’s property”.

These cowardly and primitive reactions take place before the arrival and intervention of the police. Even when the perpetrators are already in the hands of the police, the punishment continues with the consent of the uniformed officers who are outnumbered by the horde of savages who are present at the scene to participate in the massive and public “lynching”.

We hear cries of “hit him hard, in the head, kill him, kill that rat bastard”. All adjectives and tenebrous harangues that clearly seek to strip the thugs of their human condition, to give them the precise place with which to facilitate “cognitive recalibration” and their death: they are a “filthy rat” and therefore do not deserve to live.

Despite calls from the authorities themselves for people not to take the law into their own hands, the violent spectacles continue. On account of the “therapeutic massages”, the street and the public space become spaces where people fight for survival, in a jungle where the most violent, the most macho will always triumph. On the side of the muggers, their lives are in danger because they know that if they fall into the hands of the “furtive and violent judges”, they can suffer serious injuries and die. And on the side of the permanent street users, they know that the value of their lives depends, basically, on the high commercial value of the watch, bracelet, ring or mobile phone they carry and on what the bandits who have also become “judges” receive from them, whose decisions are based on the thieves’ reason: “I am hungry and you have plenty of money”.

Victims and perpetrators are children of the same society and of the same cultural, political, social and economic systems that reproduce the problems and virtues of a community that has become accustomed to the absence of the state as a moral reference point for an order that has not yet been consolidated.

Vigilante justice is justified because kleptomaniacs regain their freedom a few hours or days after committing their crimes. The police explain that they comply with bringing them before judges, but in the face of a minor crime and prison overcrowding, the rogues are then ordered to be released and return to the streets to make a living, even if it means exposing their own lives and determining which of their victims they do not murder.

Under these circumstances, then, the “right to take justice into one’s own hands” comes to life. The sum of this right allows the violent public spectacles called “paloterapia” (stick beatings; lynching) to be legitimised by the inaction of congressmen and judges who walk these same streets protected by the accumulated rage of hundreds of thousands of citizens who know that public space in Colombia is the place where everything is at stake.

Those who participate in the cruel “lynchings” should know that by their actions they end up resembling petty thieves. The contempt for the lives of the thieves does not make them better citizens. On the contrary, it puts them on the same level of immorality that the crooks have long since settled into.

*German Ayala Osorio: Journalist, writer and political scientist, with a Ph D in Sustainable Regions. Author of the blog La otra tribuna.


 (Translated by Cristina Popa – Email: Pixabay

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