BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The streets of Colombia’s largest open-air drug market look like a war zone following a police sweep through one of Bogotá’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
More than 2,500 riot police officers and heavily armed soldiers participated in a raid that began Saturday in the capital’s “Bronx” area, nicknamed for its comparison to the troubled New York neighborhood.
New Mayor Enrique Peñalosa decided to clamp down on the district in response to complaints of brazen drug consumption and crime in plain view and just blocks from the presidential palace.
More than 1,000 people, many of them homeless crack addicts, were removed and offered treatment. Authorities also rescued 136 minors, some of them possibly used as child prostitutes, and turned them over to the state welfare agency.
Julián Quintana, head of the judicial police, said 11 people were arrested and large amounts of cocaine, marijuana and a highly addictive crack-like substance called basuco were seized.
Police also located a 100-meter-long hidden passageway running under a building overrun by squatters that was used by criminal gangs to smuggle drugs, weapons and possibly even kidnapping victims in and out of the neighborhood.
“The Bronx will never again be an independent republic of crime where city officials and agents of order can’t circulate freely,” Peñalosa said as he outlined plans to provide better lighting and clean up the neighborhood.
The Bronx has long been a major embarrassment and symbol of abandonment by the state. Authorities have tried to neutralize the neighborhood in the past, most recently three years ago, but to no lasting effect.
On Monday, police wearing surgical masks to keep out the stench of human excrement escorted journalists through the desolate neighborhood. Streets were littered with furniture and trash — evidence of a fierce street clash when police swept into the neighborhood unannounced just after dawn Saturday.
Not everyone welcomed the intervention. Dozens of people removed from the Bronx relocated to a nearby plaza and have been burning stores and fighting with police using gasoline bombs and rocks.