HE knew how to fight with a knife before he even understood how to use his fists. Manuel Gustavo Mosquera didn’t think he’d even live to adulthood. The aim, when he was growing up in Cali, Colombia, was just to get an ID. These weren’t issued until you were 18. Gustavo thought it would be an achievement to live that long. “We believed we were born to die,” he said.
Life in Cali hadn’t always been this way. He remembered a time before the gangs. He and his family first lived in an informal settlement. There had been a community then, people had helped one another. When they were moved and built their own houses, the atmosphere began to change. “People felt envy because others had better places. My family changed as well. My father became really an aggressive person. He started being very aggressive towards me, my brothers and also my mum. So we started having difficult times,” he recalled. “The neighbourhood became a really dangerous place.”
“Young people started taking sides in fights. That’s how the first gangs started. Young people started coming into gangs just to defend themselves. They were fighting for something when they didn’t even know what was the problem,” he continued. “I was accepted as part of the gang because I was strong.”