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History Journalism

Sicario culture: an analysis of violent crime and aggression in Colombia during the 80s and 90s

According to Blackburn (2005, pp. 211-223), “aggression describes the intentional infliction of harm, including psychological discomfort as well as injury, although it is sometimes loosely equated with vigour in competitive situations […] a constant need to discharge aggressive energy governs human behaviour […] anger is a socially constructed emotion […] In personality disorders, ego weakness results in the repression of aggression […] Ferguson and Rule, for example, suggest that anger is aroused not simply by the degree of perceived aversive treatment by others, but also by judgements of whether the aversion is intentional, malevolent, foreseeable, and unjustified”.

The cycle of criminogenic behaviour

Gillespie and Mitchell (2018, p. 85) describe individuals diagnosed with psychopathy as a personality disorder (ASPD) as “outwardly normal, but were nonetheless extremely callous and unable to express remorse or guilt, to the point where they seemed to be devoid of human emotion. The patients were typically of above average intelligence and seemingly charming, though lacked the capacity for love”. Psychopaths who go through the criminal justice system can at times exhibit great criminal versatility. The following is a diagram I designed to illustrate how such criminogenic needs and versatility develop and recur.

Recidivism

National homicide rates per 100 000 population, c. 1984

Blackburn (2005) included a table in his chapter about violent crime and aggression where Colombia is listed as the country with the highest homicide rate in 1984 and this was published in the United Nations year-book (1988). Even though the data has changed massively, and Colombia has dramatically reduced its crime rates; such bloody past would have caused generational trauma without a doubt, and the Colombian people would have had to adapt to survive potential death anywhere at any time if they upset the wrong person. Many political leaders were assassinated in order to stop the people from interfering with the criminal business of the mafia. A lot of blood was shed, and the Colombian people were over-exposed to extreme levels of danger to the point where the entire nation was having a humanitarian crisis, which still echoes, and which is still being solved.

CountryRate
Colombia37.4
Mexico17.9
Brazil13.4
Venezuela12.9
USA 8.5
Ecuador 7.1
Argentina3.8
Hungary2.7
Canada2.3
Italy2.1
Australia1.9
Poland1.6
Austria1.4
Israel1.4
France1.3
Scotland1.3
New Zealand1.2
FDR1.2
Spain1.0
Greece0.9
England and Wales0.7
Egypt0.5

Source: United Nations (1988). Demographic yearbook. New York: United Nations Publishing.

Case study: the criminal career of sicario alias Popeye

The following video covers the developmental trajectory of Jhon Jairo Velasquez Vasquez’ criminal career, the political context in which he was rewarded with attention and money for being a hired gun; and how such media attention has led to some of the Colombian people seeing and treating him as a celebrity. Behind this story is a real case of a mental health crisis where the hypernormalisation of violence from recent decades was so extreme, that many people became desensitised to the actions of this type of individual, seeing no difference between what is right and what is wrong. Furthermore, this documentary analyses some of the confessions of Popeye as the primary psychopath that he was, and shows how what is ‘normal’ in a country, is ‘abnormal’ in other places. Popeye specialised in crime, and developed all the skills needed for the criminal business. This makes an interesting case for forensic psychology, and for media studies.

References

1989: un año para la memoria (2014) Youtube video, added by El Espectador [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDFsNNaTQIY&t=4s (Accessed 9 March 2020). 

2015 Popeye Full TV Interview. Part 1 of 3. English Subtitles (2018) Youtube video, added by Colombian History X [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6NGWNrzg88 (Accessed 8 March 2020). 

Blackburn, R. (2005) The Psychology of Criminal Conduct, West Sussex, John Wiley & Sons/ University of Liverpool, pp. 210-245.

Escobar’s Hitman. Former drug-gang killer now loved and loathed in Colombia (2017) Youtube video, added by RT Documentary [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQy_LJdZ7qw (Accessed 8 March 2020).

Gillespie, S. M. and Mitchell, I.J. (2018) ‘Psychopathy’, in Davies, G.M. and Beech, A.R. (eds), Forensic Psychology: Crime, Justice, Law, Interventions, 3rd ed, West Sussex, British Psychological Society/ John Wiley & Sons, pp. 85-100. 

Popeye: The Jailhouse Interviews Pt. 1 – English Subtitles  (2018) Youtube video, added by Colombian History X [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaPw1EEPOCc  (Accessed 8 March 2020). 

Popeye: The early years (2018) Youtube video, added by Colombian History X [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAPsQ0P_4Q0  (Accessed 8 March 2020).

United Nations (1988) Demographic Year-Book, New York, United Nations Publishing Division. 

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