“They could have killed me very easily,” my conversation with the Mayor of Cali, Colombia

If Zeke and Rahm Emanuel could combine in a single man, it would be Rodrigo Guerrero Velasco, mayor of Cali, Colombia. He is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine, and a PhD in epidemiology from Harvard. He’s played an important role in reducing homicides in Cali, despite that city’s incredible challenges from the cocaine cartel and other sources. (Progress is relative. Cali’s homicide rate remains four times Chicago’s rate.)

We had a wide-ranging conversation about youth homicide prevention, gun and alcohol curfews, and other matters. More here, at the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog section.


Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

7 thoughts on ““They could have killed me very easily,” my conversation with the Mayor of Cali, Colombia”

  1. Your exchange on inequality is interesting. Velasco must be right that it’s not the only cause of violence, and not a good reason to try to reduce violence. Besides, violence must reinforce inequality in a positive feedback loop: poor young men go to jail or die or get injured, any of which makes it difficult for them to get and hold down s steady job, and leaves more single mothers struggling to raise the next generation of boys, who therefore live largely in the streets exposed to gang culture.

    The weekend gun confiscation in Cali would have appealed to Wyatt Earp, patron sinner of American gun control.

  2. It is important to note that crime dropped all over that country. I think Bogota has a lower homicide rate than Cali, and if that is true does that mean the mayor and his policies are responsible for the slower drop? Politicians will always claim credit for drop in crime but that doesn’t make it so. The better explanation is probably just changes in the drug trade. In fact, it’s probably more reasonable to thank the increase in meth use, because it’s responsible for reducing the demand for cocaine in the US.

    1. Harold,

      Great interview.

      As we have discussed on this blog many times, there is nothing in the drug trade that inherently promotes violence, and if enforcement explicitly prioritizes violent actors (which it did in Colombia) criminal organizations curtail violence to avoid enforcement. It was not lost on the Cali cartel that the Medellin cowboys drew a lot of attention and ended up locked up or dead, and they responded by limiting violent conduct in their ranks.

      1. Sorry for the confusion, I am not that Harold (the author), just some random Harold. But yes, it was a good interview. And I definitely agree that violence is not an inherent part of the drug trade.

        1. At your option, you might consider a handle that includes the first initial of your last name. In any event, please do keep commenting.

  3. Harold, I must point out that Cali’s murder rate is approximately *85* per 100,000 and it’s increased steadily year-on-year since 2008. Not sure about 2012 yet but it is certainly higher than 65, that sounds like police-recorded data which show really strange patterns (i.e. obvious manipulation) for Colombia’s three biggest cities in recent years.

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