Some things just never stay the same. For years I had been pleased to report that Chile was mercifully free of violent gangs, commonplace in the United States and elsewhere. There were (and still are) groups that “hang out” together, called tribus urbanas, and that sometimes have tussles with the police. However, USA-styled gang “warfare” simply has not been widespread in Chile.
Now we hear news reports about a pistol-toting gang in Northwestern Santiago known as Los Chubis. News cameras have recorded their members, which are also involved in drug trafficking, shooting up the neighborhood, leaving bullet holes everywhere. The gang is located in the Parinacota neighborhood of the Quilicura comuna. The area is quite poor, but by no means the poorest part of Santiago. Now residents are quite scared.
Gang members are largely made up of convicted felons that speak coa or flaite dialects. One can hardly understand them when interviewed. What one can readily perceive in the news reports is building walls, inside and out, riddled with bullet holes. Moreover, members of both gangs sport many surgery scars and bullet holes in the bodies that they readily show to news reporters.
Worse yet, Los Chubis apparently now have a rival gang to contend with: El Barza, led by a guy known as “El Polaco.” One result was the October 31, 2015 (Halloween) murder of a neighborhood youth on his birthday (apparently by a Chubi), Arnaldo Céspedes, age 14, cousin of one of the El Barza gang. This act incurred retaliation by intentionally burning down the house of the “mother” (gang leader) of Los Chubis, María Vilches. So far, four homes have been burned down due to gang violence, which continues to escalate. For instance, the body of a boy, Isaac Pardo, known as El Palta, was burned beyond recognition and dumped up the road in the comuna of Lampa.
For a country not known for its violence, this gang activity has been shocking. Although it is not widespread in Chile, and certainly has not attained anything close to the level of gangsterism in the United States, obviously the idea of violent gangs has become a reality in some places and, unfortunately, may tend to spread.
This change marks a difference from when I first introduced largely peaceful tribus urbanas in an April 2010 blog entry. Of course, all of this sad crime does not affect the upper-class areas of Northeastern Santiago, or nicer regional communities like Viña del Mar, Concón, Zapallar, La Serena, etc. But newcomers to Chile would be well-advised to steer clear of the Parinacota barrio of Quilicura. Doing so should be easy to do, since they would normally have no reasons to go there.
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