Civil war, crime, cocaine, violence spin a nation down a dark spiral of blood

Gang member shows off his prized gun

Equally proud of both his cross and his gun, a pubescent gang member shows off a prized possession in a Medellin slum.

Originally published Oct. 26, 1997

Stories by Dudley Althaus, Photography by Dave Einsel


Murder victim lies unattended A murder victim lies unattended in a Bogota hospital's emergency room. "People come up with a lot of ways to hurt each other," says Jorge Rueda Torres, a young intern. "It terrifies you."


  • "We are exterminating our youth"
  • With a bullet in his head at 17, Jimmy Botero is one of thousands of young men killed every year in this bloody city
  • Terrorist bombings have become commonplace
  • Street people are targets of "social cleansing"
  • Thousands trek to the grave of drug boss Pablo Escobar
    San Jose Apartado:
  • Hundreds of refugees from Colombia's civil war are marooned in this village while various factions wage cat-and-mouse warfare in the surrounding hills.
  • Fueled by oil and fed by the civil war, a maelstrom of violence builds in the cattle country surrounding this boom town.
  • Civil war unchecked for 35 years
  • A litany of bloodshed, recited for centuries
  • Home-grown law enforcement thrives across Colombia
  • Searching for ways to stop the violence occupies many
    Additional coverage:
  • Assassin has faith in God: Killers in Colombia find religion

    Dudley Althaus, the Chronicle's Mexico City bureau chief, has covered Latin America for 13 years. He is the recipient of the distinguished Maria Coors Cabot Prize for his body of work. Dave Einsel, director of photography, has won national and state awards for photojournalism. Other staffers: Darlene Stinson, project editor; Hank Glamann, coordinating editor, Susan Barber, designer; Bruce Oren, graphic artist; Ernie Williamson, art director; David Foltyn and Pattie Harrington, electronic imagers; Fernando Dovalina and Chris Shively, supervising editors. Marla Cloud, interactive site design.