The Power of Human Rights Frames in Urban Security: Lessons from Bogotá

Lindsay Mayka
Colby College

Published in: Comparative Politics, 54(1).

Keywords: human rights, policing, urban politics, Latin America, policy frames.


The primary objective of this operation was to reestablish rights, especially for children and adolescents, and for homeless people. 1

- Bogotá Subsecretary of Security Daniel Mejía, June 8, 2016.


Throughout the Global South, human rights discourses have proliferated in diverse policy areas. Governments deploy rights ideas in sectors spanning health and social assistance,2 the environment,3 and urban planning.4 In some contexts, the spread of rights-based policy frames reflects a deep-seated concern with the precepts of human rights. In other instances, governments adopt rights frames to repackage existing policy initiatives on more politically palatable grounds.5 Governments deploy human rights frames to mobilize public support behind an otherwise-unpopular policy reform,6 and to discredit opponents as morally bankrupt.7 What impact do rights-based policy frames have on the policy process? Can rights frames make it easier for governments to adopt and implement policies that violate rights? Does the use of rights frames hinder or help the efforts of advocates that seek accountability for rights violations committed by the state?

I argue that governments’ adoption of rights-based policy frames changes more than just language: rights frames can generate new resources and institutional opportunities that restructure political battles over public policy. Framing a policy initiative on human rights grounds can bolster the moral authority of the government and create openings for swift action given the state’s obligations as a duty-bearer. At the same time, by adopting rights frames, governments acknowledge the primacy of human rights standards, yielding political openings and strengthening the capacity of human rights defenders to demand accountability for abuses committed by the state in the name of human rights.

I develop this argument by analyzing the deployment of human rights frames in an unexpected policy area: urban security and policing. I investigate a militarized security intervention to eliminate a skid-row zone known as “the Bronx” in downtown Bogotá, which was the city’s epicenter of organized crime, open-air drug sales and consumption, and homelessness. In 2016, over 2,500 police officers and soldiers swarmed the three-square block radius of the Bronx with the aim of permanently shutting down the zone. Despite its highly militaristic nature, Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa framed the intervention as an effort to advance human rights, not just to fight crime. According to this rights frame, the criminal organizations in the Bronx had enslaved underage girls through commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking,8 thereby violating their human rights. The state emphasized its obligations as a duty-bearer to use military force to liberate these victims from rights abuses. Painting the Bronx as a site of grave rights violations enabled the government to build support for the militarized intervention and to silence potential critics. Yet in the aftermath of the intervention, the government’s initial use of a rights frame generated new resources and institutional opportunities for political opponents and civil society groups to demand accountability for rights violations committed by state security forces.

This article contributes to the literatures on the politics of human rights ideas, social accountability, and urban security. First, I add to a growing literature that analyzes how human rights ideas can be leveraged strategically as a weapon.9 Other scholars explore governments’ adoption of rights-based policy frames for strategic purposes, including justifying forced sterilization,10 promoting foreign wars to advance the rights of girls and women,11 and advancing militarization to protect innocent civilians during civil wars.12 I contribute to this literature by showing that while rights frames can advance interventions that violate rights, they also can engender new possibilities for accountability and remediation for rights violations committed by the state.

Second, I highlight the importance of ideas in accountability processes. Existing scholarship on social accountability shows that civil society can play a key role in demanding answerability and sanctions for rights violations, particularly in contexts of weak state capacity.13 Scholars have highlighted the role of networks,14 material and organizational resources,15 and institutional opportunities for citizen participation16 in explaining the conditions needed for effective social accountability. Yet, there has been less attention to the role of ideas in social-accountability processes. This article reveals how the ideational features of human rights discourses can transform the political terrain of social accountability.

Third, this article adds to the literature on policing in the Global South by shining a light on how human rights ideas can serve as a political resource in urban security policy. Prior scholarship explores the political dynamics that impede or enable police reforms, highlighting the role of interest groups,17 incentives of blame avoidance,18 and institutional roadblocks.19 However, this literature overlooks the ways that human rights ideas may advance militarization. I argue that rights frames can place militarized security interventions on the agenda, produce resources for both the government and opponents in battles over security policy, and open up new institutional channels for contestation over policing.

Theorizing the Impacts of Rights Frames in Urban Security

Human rights frames are grounded in the ideas of the fundamental, inalienable rights of individuals and the obligations of states as duty-bearers to protect those rights. This section conceptualizes rights-based frames in the field of urban security. I then explain how rights frames can generate institutional openings and discursive resources that make it easier to implement interventions that violate human rights, while also empowering political actors who demand accountability for rights violations committed by the state.

Human Rights Frames in Militarized Urban-Security Interventions

Policy framing20 is the process of “(a) highlighting certain features of the situation, (b) ignoring or selecting out other features, and (c) binding the highlighted features together into a coherent and comprehensible pattern.”21 Policy frames identify a problem, diagnose the problem’s roots, and develop solutions to resolve it.22 Given that actors develop frames strategically, the same policy intervention might be framed in different ways. Actors can draw on human rights ideas to frame virtually any policy intervention—including interventions that deploy state violence against marginalized groups.23

State actors can frame militarized urban-security interventions in a variety of ways. One common frame is the tough-on-crime frame, which emphasizes the need to use extreme force in dismantling criminal organizations that threaten the city.24 Under this frame, protecting the public and defeating criminals require the sacrifice of civil liberties and other rights. The tough-on-crime frame presents police violence against marginalized people as inevitable collateral damage in a righteous war against criminals.25 The tough-on-crime frame criticizes universal protections of human rights, including civil liberties and procedural rights, as protecting violent criminals at the expense of law-abiding citizens and police officers.26

In contrast, a human rights frame motivates a security intervention to protect the rights of marginalized citizens who are victimized by criminal organizations. Like the tough-on-crime frame, the human rights frame points to the negative effects of violence by criminal organizations and/or illicit economies. However, the rights frame emphasizes the harms of these activities to marginalized groups, rather than the damages for “good citizens” or the public as a whole.27 According to a rights frame, the state has an obligation to halt human rights violations of marginalized groups committed by criminal actors.28 The rights frame in urban security mirrors the rights frames that justify international military interventions—for example, promoting U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan as liberating women and girls from the Taliban,29 or justifying military action in Uganda as protecting civilians from the L.R.A.30—but motivates the use of force at a city level.

How Human Rights Frames Generate Institutional Openings and Resources

Two features of human rights frames shape their potential impact on the policy process: they activate institutional openings based on the state’s obligations as a duty-bearer, and they confer discursive resources due to the moral content of human rights. Because of these features, rights frames can enable governments to implement otherwise unpopular urban-security interventions. However, in the aftermath of a militarized intervention, opponents in the state or civil society also can harness these institutional openings and discursive resources to hold governments accountable for rights violations committed by state security forces.

First, human rights frames create institutional openings based on the state’s obligations as a duty-bearer. Human rights serve as “a standard of assessment and criticism for domestic institutions, a standard of aspiration for their reform, and increasingly a standard of evaluation.”31 A rights frame motivates policy change by asserting the primacy of individuals’ fundamental and inalienable rights, rather than the benefit of the collective. Rights frames emphasize the state’s non-negotiable obligation to protect these rights, given its obligations under international and national laws.32 A human rights frame thus sets a low bar to justify state intervention: the government only needs to argue that the intervention will stop the violation of at least one individual’s rights.

In the aftermath of a militarized intervention, rights frames also engender openings to critique state performance in protecting those rights. As a point of contrast, a tough-on-crime frame motivates intervention to protect the collective well-being of the city from criminals and makes no promises to prioritize the rights of marginalized groups. A rights frame, however, claims that the ends do not justify the means. Comparatively, then, it is easier for civil society and political opponents to criticize a militarized intervention that the government has framed on rights grounds because they only need to document that the intervention yielded rights violations. A militarized security intervention framed by the government on rights grounds is particularly vulnerable to the problem of poor empirical credibility, which occurs when there is a mismatch between the ideas behind the frame and events in the real world.33 Militarized security interventions yield human rights violations because they rely on coercion and violence by state security forces, thus opening new lines of denunciation.

Moreover, human rights frames can aid in activating mechanisms for horizontal-accountability oversight to assess the state’s performance in protecting rights. Justifying a security intervention in human rights terms signals that the legislature, state oversight bodies, and/or the judiciary must evaluate the intervention’s impact according to a human rights standard, given the charge of these bodies to protect the fundamental rights of citizens. In contrast, a tough-on-crime frame would make it easier for the government to reject oversight by other state agencies by invoking a state of siege, justifying rights violations committed during an intervention as the necessary costs involved in combatting an urgent security crisis.

Second, human rights ideas serve as a “moral touchstone,”34 generating discursive resources that the government can use to demand swift action. The principled nature of human rights takes them out of the world of regular politics and into the realm of moral imperatives.35 Invoking human rights abuses allows governments to forestall “normal” political processes of debate and compromise.36 Governments can use human rights frames as rallying cries to mobilize supporters and potential sympathizers on these grounds of moral superiority.37 These discursive resources enable governments to put the security intervention on the political agenda as a non-negotiable moral imperative that is above the traditional political debate. Moreover, rights frames can turn a proposed intervention into a valence issue that is difficult for opponents to contest, lest they appear to support human rights abuses.

By accepting the moral authority of human rights, governments strengthen the value of rights discourses, which can later be harnessed by critics of the intervention. In other contexts, governments have rejected human rights as foreign, naïve, or dangerous ideas that stand in opposition to the public interest.38 By framing a security intervention as protecting the rights of marginalized groups, a government limits its ability to later reject the inherent value of human rights. With the standard of human rights accepted, critics can employ rights criteria to challenge the government’s record. The result is the government’s acceptance of the broad paradigm of human rights, shifting debates to lower-level disagreements over how to protect the human rights of marginalized groups. Strengthening the power of rights discourses can further grant human rights defenders enhanced visibility and legitimacy among the media, access to powerful allies in the state, and new sources of material resources from donors.

In sum, human rights frames open the door for governments to implement militarized security interventions under the guise of protecting marginalized groups. However, when governments adopt rights frames, opponents also can leverage the powerful features of human rights ideas to demand accountability and remediation for rights violations. Table 1 maps how these features of human rights frames both enable militarized intervention, while spurring accountability for rights violations committed by the state.

Table 1 The Impact of Rights Frames in Security: Institutional Openings and Resources

Who Leverages Rights Frame? -Government: to build support for militarized intervention -Political opponents and civil society: to demand accountability for state violations of human rights
Institutional Openings

-Establishes standard of evaluation: are rights abuses that require state intervention occurring?

-Suspends “normal” politics of debate and consultation due to state obligations as duty bearer

-Establishes standard of evaluation: did the state commit rights abuses through intervention?

-Triggers obligation to investigate, demand redress for rights violations committed by state

Resources -Amplifies moral authority of human rights ideas, which are used to justify militarized intervention

-Amplifies moral authority of human rights ideas, which are used to criticize militarized intervention

-Rights defenders in civil society gain greater media visibility, access to new allies within the state, and new material resources


This article analyzes the impact of human rights frames through the lens of militarized urban-security interventions in skid-row zones. Skid-row zones are characterized by the confluence of social marginality, organized crime and insecurity, and decay of the urban physical environment.39 These zones typically are sites of open-air drug markets and drug consumption. Skid-row zones exist in cities throughout the world, including the original Skid Row in Los Angeles, the Tenderloin in San Francisco, Zona Norte and El Bordo in Tijuana, and Cracolândia in São Paulo.40 Skid-row zones are striking contexts to study the use of rights frames. On the one hand, their residents are subjected to violence, abuse, and other rights violations on a daily basis. Yet on the other hand, the extreme stigma that residents of these zones experience means that they are typically seen as morally deficient and unworthy of basic protections and rights.

The Bronx of Bogotá is an extreme case, both in terms of the size of the militarized intervention in 2016 and in the use of rights language. Extreme cases are useful in theory building because they allow the researcher to “define concepts by their extremes, or their ideal types,”41 which enables the identification of causal mechanisms. In the case of the Bronx of Bogotá, the sharp contrast between the rights frame and the resultant violation of human rights helps delineate the impact of the rights frame in a seemingly unlikely case.

Two features of the Bogotá case signal the necessary scope conditions under which this argument applies. First, rights frames can only leverage institutional opportunities in a country with an institutionalized rights regime that lays out institutional tools, arenas, and responsibilities for state agents as duty bearers. Without the prior construction of this legal and institutional framework, a rights frame would not trigger formal institutional obligations. Colombia meets this first criterion, with its rights-based 1991 Constitution and well-established jurisprudence that elaborates citizen rights and state duties to protect those rights. Second, in order for a rights frame to yield discursive resources, human rights ideas must be widely recognized by the public and imbued with moral weight before the rights frame is deployed. If human rights are unfamiliar to the public or are seen as illegitimate by a majority, then a rights frame will fail to mobilize discursive resources in policy battles. While human rights frames are new in the field of urban security in Colombia, human rights discourses have proliferated in other areas—particularly in discussions of conflict with guerrilla groups and paramilitaries, but also in health, education, and housing. In Bogotá, the combination of an institutionalized human rights regime and the proliferation of human rights ideas create conditions for rights frames in urban security to both activate institutional opportunities and leverage discursive resources in the policy process.

To assess the impact of rights frames, I use process tracing, which is ideal for identifying and evaluating causal mechanisms via causal-process observations.42 Process tracing emphasizes the need to identify evidence for causal mechanisms, interrogate alternative explanations, and employ counterfactual analysis, making it particularly useful when studying the causal impact of ideational processes.43 I leverage qualitative sources to trace the mechanisms by which rights frames help governments set policy agendas and implement interventions, and then help opponents hold governments accountable for rights violations that occur through these interventions.

This article draws on a range of textual and interview sources to evaluate the origins and impact of rights frames in the Bronx of Bogotá. I examine policy documents and state responses to freedom-of-information requests. Through these documents, I trace the emergence of rights discourses used by state officials to frame the Bronx intervention. I also analyze the construction of a rights frame in the media through an original news database, which consists of 629 news articles mentioning the Bronx of Bogotá in Colombia’s three top periodicals, El Tiempo, El Espectador, and Semana, published between 2004 and 2017. Scholars have shown that the media plays a crucial role in developing and disseminating new policy.44 Even when the media is not directly controlled by the state, the media often gives primacy to statements by state actors.45 Policy frames communicated through the media establish the “common knowledge” about the roots of a policy problem and define appropriate policy solutions, thereby shaping public opinion and policy preferences.46 To assess the causal impact of the rights frame, I combine these textual sources with semi-structured interviews with forty-six politicians, bureaucrats, civil-society organizations, and private-sector groups conducted in 2017, 2018, and 2019. For more information on data sources and methodology, see Appendix A.47 For a list of all articles in the news archive, see Appendix B.

This article was prepared using Annotation for Transparent Inquiry (ATI), a tool to enhance qualitative data transparency and offer deeper insights into the logic of interpretation and causal analysis.48 Annotations, which appear in the online version of this article that is available on the Qualitative Data Repository website, provide opportunities to share data sources, context, discussion of the data collection/generation process, and elaboration on analytic claims using annotations.49 I use annotations to share additional evidence referenced in the text, such as extended interview quotes, tweets, and excerpts from state documents. Other annotations offer more context about how the Bronx of Bogotá operated, human rights violations that stemmed from the 2016 security intervention, and insights from ethnographic fieldwork. My hope is that these annotations bring to life the complexity that was the Bronx of Bogotá and clarify how I employ qualitative data to make causal claims.

Rights Violations and Militarized Intervention in the Bronx of Bogotá

The Bronx: Violence against Marginalized Groups in Downtown Bogotá

Prior to the 2016 intervention, the Bronx was Bogotá’s most populous and violent zone for drug sales and consumption,50 despite being just blocks away from Congress, the presidential palace, and Bogotá City Hall. Criminal organizations ran markets for prostitution and drug sales for consumption within the Bronx, including marijuana, cocaine, and bazuco (a coca-paste derivative similar to crack cocaine). Criminal groups contracted social control out to a group known as the sayayines, infamous for their use of murder and other forms of violence to assert domination over both territory and people inside the Bronx. The zone was incredibly dangerous, marked by astronomical rates of homicide.51 It was a place where dead bodies were dumped, mixed in with trash.52 The Bronx was a particularly dangerous place for children and adolescents. Some runaway youth made the Bronx a makeshift home, while other teenagers visited the Bronx to party and to use drugs. An unknown number of these minors became entangled in networks of commercial sexual exploitation, selling sex in exchange for money and/or drugs.

The Bronx also was the epicenter of homelessness within Bogotá. According to a 2011 study, approximately 2,000 people experiencing homelessness lived in the three blocks of the Bronx, one-fifth of Bogotá’s homeless population; the zone had the greatest density of homelessness in the city.53 Many—though not all—of the unhoused people living in the Bronx used drugs.

The 2016 Intervention to Eliminate the Bronx

The Bronx was eliminated through an intervention that unfolded at 4:00 AM on May 28, 2016, with over 2,500 police officers and soldiers swarming the three square blocks of the Bronx, using a “shock and awe” strategy to seize the territory (Secretaría Distrital de Gobierno de Bogotá 2016, 3). Despite the size of the operation, only twenty individuals—mostly low-level henchmen—were captured for criminal activity connected to the drug trade.54

Security forces forcibly removed all people from the zone. 1,852 homeless people were forced onto buses and sent to shelters to receive services from social policy agencies.55 The police and ICBF (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar)—the national child-protection agency—removed 117 minors from the Bronx during the intervention.56 ICBF noted that all adolescents they picked up from the Bronx had been using drugs at parties. Although the intervention would be justified by portraying the Bronx as a den of sexual slavery, it remains unclear how many, if any, of these minors had been sexually exploited.57 Homeless individuals, sex workers, and other residents were not allowed to return to the Bronx after the security operation ended, given the aim of dismantling the zone as a site for drug consumption and prostitution.

While the government presented the militarized intervention as non-violent, citizens present disputed the state’s claim. The Human Rights Ombudsman registered twenty-five human rights violations committed by state actors during the raid, including allegations that security forces beat and tasered people and stripped them of their belongings and cash.58 Homeless citizens described the use of state violence—including beatings, tear gas, and dragging people away by their hair—to remove them from the Bronx.59 During an interview, one bureaucrat who tended to homeless residents on the morning of the intervention confirmed that security forces had “pressured” them to leave with teargas.60

Rights Violations in the Aftermath of the Intervention

In the weeks after the 2016 intervention, state security forces maintained a significant presence in the Bronx, with roughly 300 officers present at all times to prevent drug gangs and people experiencing homelessness from returning.61 Former occupants of the Bronx moved into surrounding zones in the city center, triggering violent skirmishes between criminal organizations over turf to sell drugs.62 Merchants in neighboring parts of downtown Bogotá grew outraged as homeless people and drug users relocated in front of their shops and mounted intense pressure on the government to remove them.63

Responding to these pressures, the police pushed unhoused citizens into a canal further west in the city center and used violent force to contain them there at night, including tear gas; physical assault through beatings with sticks, rubber bullets, and rocks; and threats of murder and sexual assault.64 Homeless citizens who escaped were sent to holding cells without being formally charged, violating their civil liberties.65 One person died after allegedly being beaten by a police officer, another was hit by a car when trying to escape the canal, while a third drowned in the canal during heavy rains. Dozens of other homeless people disappeared, many of whom are presumed dead.66 In sum, the aftermath of the Bronx intervention yielded serious violations of human rights for displaced homeless citizens.

Legitimizing Militarized Intervention through a Rights Frame

How did the government build support to implement this militarized intervention? Constructing and deploying a human rights frame enabled the center-right government of Mayor Enrique Peñalosa to put a security intervention on the political agenda, build public support for the intervention, and silence potential critics. First, the rights frame opened up new institutional openings for intervention by invoking the state’s non-negotiable obligations as a duty bearer to protect rights, signaling that Peñalosa’s government must act swiftly and with little oversight to halt human rights violations. Second, a rights frame draws on discursive resources generated by the moral authority of human rights ideas. By highlighting the horrors of sexual slavery and framing intervention as protecting the rights of vulnerable children, Peñalosa’s government limited the ability of its opponents to criticize calls for intervention, lest they appear to condone sexual and physical violence against children.

The Need for a Powerful Rights Frame

Putting an end to the Bronx was a top priority for Peñalosa from the start of his mayoral administration in January 2016. Yet Peñalosa encountered political liabilities that made intervention a tough sell, creating the need for a powerful frame to rally support for the project. First, Peñalosa’s first term as Bogotá’s mayor (1998–2000) raised questions about the effectiveness of security interventions to recuperate territory from organized crime. During his first term in office, Peñalosa led a series of security interventions in another Bronx-like zone known as El Cartucho. These interventions displaced 12,000 people,67 dispersing homeless people and drug users to new parts of the city and resulting in the emergence of the Bronx. Middle-class residents objected sharply to the arrival of homeless individuals, drug users, and other poor people into their neighborhoods.68 Many Bogotanos were wary of repeating the model of El Cartucho, creating potential resistance to an intervention in the Bronx.

Second, Peñalosa entered office in a politically weak position. He was elected with only 33 percent of the vote, giving him a narrow mandate.69 Moreover, Peñalosa’s close ties with business groups and his reputation for prioritizing economic development over social issues created the common belief that the Bronx intervention would only benefit his supporters in the business community.70 A rights framing would sidestep criticisms that Peñalosa only sought to intervene in the Bronx to pursue economic redevelopment that would favor the rich.

Moreover, the legal, institutional, and discursive power of human rights ideas had gained strength since Peñalosa was last in office in the late 1990s, making a rights frame appealing. Throughout the 2000s, the Constitutional Court issued a number of rulings that fleshed out the jurisprudence supporting human rights in Colombia, based on the principles established in the 1991 Constitution.71 This jurisprudence elaborated the rights of citizens and detailed the obligations of state actors in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches to ensure the protection of human rights. Human rights ideas proliferated in political debates due to the influence of these Constitutional Court rulings,72 making rights discourses a more powerful tool to be accessed in debates about urban security. Human rights ideas were further developed in Colombia due to activism by human rights NGOs mobilized around the country’s decades-long civil war.73 In turn, the military and other state agencies justified their actions in the conflict using the language of human rights. In an interview, Alírio Uribe, a former politician and constitutional rights lawyer, explained the proliferation of rights language during the 2000s:

The human rights discourse became widespread, right? Even the military put their officers to study in human rights schools … the first specialization in human rights opens at ESAP [Escuela Superior de Administración Pública, Superior School of Public Administration], and the military begins to show up, public officials too, right? And later, that model is replicated in various universities throughout the nation. It’s like a wave of rights discourses.

The institutionalization of human rights frameworks and spread of rights discourses made 2016 a very different political context for Peñalosa than the late 1990s had been, one in which rights ideas could be harnessed in new ways to advance old urban security projects.74

The Emergence of the Rights Frame of the Bronx

The Peñalosa government began constructing the rights frame of the Bronx in early 2016. Peñalosa presented the Bronx as an existential threat to the city on human rights grounds and called for a militarized intervention to eliminate it. The government advanced the narrative that criminal organizations were luring adolescent girls into the Bronx, getting the girls addicted to drugs to groom them, and then ensnaring them in sexual slavery.75 The Peñalosa government and journalists worked together to “raise awareness” about the commercial sexual exploitation of children and other threats facing minors in the Bronx through media coverage.76

The government’s rights frame fused the objective of protecting the rights of vulnerable groups with that of combatting criminal organizations. Both objectives required a militarized intervention to seize the Bronx, as Sebastián Pavía, Bogotá’s Director of Security, explained in an interview: defeating criminal networks depended on cutting off their ability to make profit through drug sales and the sex trade, while protecting the rights of children required shutting down these zones of sexual exploitation.77

Table 2 demonstrates the dramatic shift from a tough-on-crime frame to that of children’s rights in the media from 2015 to 2016. Prior to 2016, most media accounts of the Bronx focused on how criminal mafias dominated the zone for illicit economies. For example, an article from 2014 explained that a recent raid was needed “to ensure that the [criminal] organizations that sell [drugs] do not resettle in the area, and also to recover the public space.” Typically, these accounts gave little attention to marginalized groups, including children.78 In 2015, the commercial sexual exploitation of children is mentioned in only two news stories, while children, in general, are mentioned in just 22 percent of articles. By contrast, 47 percent of 2016 articles in the lead up to the intervention mention children, with one-third focused on the problem of commercial sexual exploitation of children. The percentage of articles mentioning rights jumped from 5 percent in 2015 to 23 percent in 2016 before the intervention.

Table 2 Rise of Children’s Rights in Media Coverage of the Bronx of Bogotá

  2015 January 1-May 27, 2016
Articles Mentioning Children


(12/55 articles)


(14/30 articles)

Articles Mentioning Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children


(2/55 articles)


(10/30 articles)

Articles Mentioning Rights


(3/55 articles)


(7/30 articles)

Source: El Bronx News Archive, compiled by author. See the Methods Appendix for information on news articles and coding strategy.

A qualitative analysis of these news articles further reveals the prominent role of the children’s rights frame in the media after Peñalosa entered office in 2016. A number of articles explored the dangers of the Bronx for children and adolescents.79 Some articles raised the specter of schoolgirls being recruited in schools to enter the Bronx and eventually becoming ensnared in drug addiction and sexual exploitation.80 Others detailed the structure of networks of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children in the Bronx.81 A series of heart-wrenching articles profile mothers who went looking for their missing, runaway adolescent daughters who ended up being exploited in the sex trade in the Bronx.82 The trend in the media matches the administration’s strategy linking the problem of criminal networks with violations of children’s rights, which, interviews confirm, was facilitated by collaboration between journalists and government officials. 83

Invoking a Rights Standard to Create New Institutional Openings

Adopting a rights frame created an institutional opening for the Peñalosa government to take swift and forceful action to shut down the Bronx, given its obligations as a duty-bearer. By presenting the Bronx as a site of severe human rights abuses, the government presented the intervention as being beyond the constraints of “normal” politics, which would have required public debate, consultation, and oversight.

The Peñalosa government excluded key state actors from planning the intervention, reflecting the rights frame’s call for quick and decisive military action. Indeed, only a handful of individuals had knowledge of the operation before its implementation, including top leadership from Bogotá’s Subsecretary of Security, the Metropolitan Police of Bogotá, the Attorney General’s Office, and the National Army.84 The Bogotá government informed representatives from most social policy agencies only at the last minute,85 meaning that the public servants working on child protection and homelessness on a daily basis were excluded from planning the 2016 Bronx intervention. Moreover, Peñalosa’s government did not consult with Congress or the City Council in designing the Bronx intervention, which preempted potential obstruction from political opponents.86

Peñalosa’s government also did not work with major societal stakeholders and human rights groups in planning the Bronx intervention. Despite framing the Bronx intervention as essential to halt child sexual exploitation, the main NGOs working on this issue did not advocate a militarized operation in the Bronx, nor were they consulted before, during, or after the intervention.87 Likewise, homelessness rights groups had no involvement in the planning process.88 The Defensoría del Pueblo (Human Rights Ombudsman) issued a press release criticizing the Peñalosa government for excluding it from carrying out the Bronx intervention.89 Even the influential Chamber of Commerce and FENALCO, the national merchants’ association, only began to advise the Peñalosa government on revitalization in the Bronx after the intervention had occurred.90

Mobilizing the Morality of Human Rights as a Discursive Resource

Framing the situation in the Bronx in human rights terms yielded key discursive resources for the government. While we lack public-opinion data gauging support for an intervention in the Bronx, interviews with stakeholders in the state, civil society, and the private sector confirmed that the rights frame helped build popular approval of the intervention. One bureaucrat in the Secretariat of Security explained, “I think that the administration was very strategic to sell the idea that this [the Bronx intervention] was done for children and adolescents. […] This was the discourse to sell it, and they sold it well. People [in society] felt like it was an intervention that had to happen.”91

In the five months leading up to the intervention (January 1–May 27, 2016), the government monopolized the narrative in the media about the Bronx, which helped build a positive view of the proposed intervention. Interviews with bureaucrats confirmed that they worked behind the scenes to amplify media coverage of rights abuses of children in the Bronx.92 During the agenda-setting period in the months prior to the intervention, there were no news articles that cited civil society criticisms of the government’s frame.93 In the days immediately following the intervention, journalists relied solely on official government sources and praised the operation for combatting the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

The rights frame turned the proposed Bronx intervention into a valence issue: there was little room for human rights activists to challenge the government’s problem definition of the Bronx, because doing so would suggest that they condoned the abuse and sexual trafficking of minors. One activist explained this bind in an interview:

Because when [the government] says that “The issue is that in the Bronx, they are raping little girls,” and then you try to say something different like, “But listen, there are these other issues going on too,” it would backfire on you. They would say, “Of course, you think we should allow the rape of children and the murder of women!” So we didn’t even try to get into that.94

The power of the rights discourse to shut down criticism is further reflected in the Bronx News Archive: there were no stories mentioning voices critical of the intervention until June 10, 2016, twelve days after the intervention.

How the Rights Frame Created Resources and Opportunities for Accountability

While the government’s human rights frame initially cleared the way for a militarized security intervention in the Bronx, this rights frame also strengthened the capacity of opponents to advance accountability for rights violations committed by the state. In the weeks following the intervention, contradictions between the rights frame and the state’s human rights record began to emerge as homelessness rights movements documented abuses committed through the operation. The government’s rights frame set a high standard of evaluation and thereby strengthened the discursive resources of human rights defenders, which in turn enhanced their legitimacy, enabled network-building with powerful allies, and yielded new material resources. Moreover, the government’s rights frame precluded its rejection of horizontal-accountability mechanisms within the state to protect citizen rights.

Strengthening the Resources of Homelessness Rights Movements

The government’s rights frame encountered challenges in the weeks following the Bronx intervention, as the operation’s effects on people experiencing homelessness became increasingly visible to the public. People who were displaced from the Bronx moved to new neighborhoods, creating the sense that homelessness was increasing, as well as generating fear of rising crime and disorder. Interviews with a range of actors from the state and civil society underscore that the Bronx intervention made homelessness more noticeable and salient, and thus invited new criticisms for the Peñalosa government.95 As one bureaucrat working on homelessness explained, “The intervention in the Bronx grabbed attention and put the issue on the agenda. [Homelessness] was something that people had never really noticed before, but when the Bronx [intervention] happened, it was made visible.”96

As homelessness emerged as a major public concern, media coverage about the Bronx intervention shifted from stories emphasizing the commercial sexual exploitation of children to more critical articles that traced how the Bronx intervention dispersed homeless citizens throughout the city (Figure 1). Growing attention to homelessness put the Peñalosa government on the defensive about the Bronx intervention, reducing the government ability to frame the intervention solely as addressing the moral crisis of sex trafficking of children.

Figure 1 Shifting Media Coverage: From Sexual Exploitation of Children to Homelessness


Source: The Bronx News Archive, compiled by author. Articles are coded as being primarily about sexual exploitation of children or about homelessness if at least 50 percent of the text was dedicated to analyzing the issue. See the Methods Appendix for information on the coding strategy.

With the growing emphasis on homelessness, media coverage related to the Bronx grew increasingly negative. In the lead up to the intervention, media coverage included no critical voices in news articles, which centered on the government’s rights frame. Yet as Figure 2 shows, media coverage of the Bronx intervention grew more negative congruently with the increased attention to homelessness.

Figure 2 Rise in Critical Media Coverage in the Bronx Intervention’s Aftermath


Source: The Bronx News Archive, compiled by author. Stories are coded as critical if they include critiques of the Bronx intervention from actors within the state or in civil society, or if the article is an opinion piece describing problems associated with the intervention. See the Methods Appendix for information on the coding strategy.

Facing mounting criticisms, the Peñalosa government doubled down on the rights frame to defend the intervention’s merits. In a June 2016 Congressional hearing, state officials used the words “right” or “rights” thirty times to defend the positive impact of the intervention. Yet, with heightened attention to homelessness, the administration needed to update its frame to explain how the intervention advanced the rights of the unhoused. Whereas the initial frame centered on rescuing children from sexual slavery, the updated frame expanded to include protecting the rights of homeless individuals who the government claimed were enslaved by drug addiction. For example, in a tweet from September 2017, former Secretary of Security Daniel Mejía—the architect of the intervention—emphasized the value of the Bronx intervention as advancing both vulnerable children and homeless citizens: “With the intervention in the Bronx, we saved hundreds of lives of the most vulnerable populations: children, people experiencing homelessness, women.” In a Congressional hearing in June 2016, Mejía argued:

At no moment was this an intervention against people experiencing homelessness, against minors, or against drug consumers, as we have repeated ad nauseam. It was not against any of these vulnerable populations—to the contrary, it was an operation to guarantee the rights of these populations that were being exploited in this place in the city.97

Similarly, Sebastián Pavía, Bogotá’s Director of Security, justified the intervention’s success in human rights terms for both children and people experiencing homelessness:

It wasn’t necessarily a security intervention. It was an intervention to reestablish rights. Because in the end, it did more in quantitative terms for those social results—for example, the number of children rescued, the number of people experiencing homelessness removed from this place where they were living in a very complex situation ... that has a greater impact.98

The Peñalosa government did not argue human rights ideas as unrealistic and dangerous in the face of a grave security threat. Instead, it dug in and defended its record on the same ideational terrain of human rights. In the process, the government accepted that the Bronx intervention should be evaluated as successful on human rights terms. Doing so bolstered the discursive resources of civil society groups that mobilized around the rights of people experiencing homelessness.

Homelessness rights organizations, such as Parces and the Homelessness Working Group (Red de Trabajo de Habitabilidad en Calle), seized this opportunity to criticize the intervention on human rights grounds. The first step involved documenting human rights abuses associated with the intervention, leading these organizations to conduct interviews and focus groups with unhoused citizens displaced from the Bronx. Some activists spent evenings in the canal where the police detained people experiencing homelessness, producing harrowing first-person accounts of police abuses.99 They posted photos and videos on Facebook that documented conditions in the canal and shared testimonies of state violence that contradicted the government’s rights frame.100 Their success in documenting the conditions of homeless individuals generated attention from the traditional media.101 One activist explained that increased media attention created “an opportunity to make these criticisms, to begin to monitor on a daily basis how they are violating the rights of people experiencing homelessness.”102

The government’s adaptation to use a homelessness rights frame, tacked onto the initial children’s rights frame, had the unintended effect of strengthening the legitimacy and capacity of homelessness rights movements. Before the intervention, groups such as Parces and the Homelessness Working Group received little media attention in their critiques of state security and homelessness policy, and limited access to state actors. Yet the government’s human rights frame of the Bronx yielded new opportunities to build relationships with politicians critical of the intervention and attracted greater media coverage to amplify their denunciations.103 Moreover, their newfound visibility opened the door to new financial resources from international donors, enabling organization building:

It helped us to position ourselves, and obviously helped us to grow. Parces went from being a small organization, without money, in which people worked for the love of it, to receiving thousands of dollars every year for this work—all this to demonstrate how the state, in this case with a discourse of defending human rights, was also violating those same rights.104

To be clear, these groups would have documented rights violations that resulted from the security intervention, regardless of how it was framed by the government. The key difference is that activist groups gained increased capacity through the government’s rights frame, which reinforced the resonance of their human rights critiques and in turn generated new networks, funding, and organizational resources to advance accountability.

New Institutional Openings: Activating Horizontal Accountability

Politicians and the judiciary demanded answerability and remediation for rights violations following the Bronx intervention, holding the Peñalosa government to the rights standard it had embraced. Congress and the Bogotá City Council held hearings on the intervention and homelessness policies.105 During these hearings, officials were called on to explain the government’s actions in implementing the operation and in addressing the subsequent needs of people displaced from the Bronx—offering answerability, which is a key component of accountability.106 During these hearings, the government laid out concrete steps to meet the rights of unhoused citizens and agreed to timetables.107 Thus, oversight through horizontal accountability pushed the government to move from empty discourses about human rights to committing itself to material changes. These commitments served as obligations that legislators could then monitor, with the assistance of civil society groups, to push for compliance.

Opposition politicians and civil society groups also turned to the courts to demand accountability according to human rights standards. One member of Congress initiated legal actions on behalf of unhoused citizens displaced during the intervention.108 The courts blocked government petitions to forcibly intern people experiencing homelessness in drug-treatment programs, demanded ongoing social programs to meet these citizens’ needs, and blocked harsh security measures.109 The civil society group Parces also used a legal strategy to demand remediation for rights abuses that occurred in the canal.

While these steps towards horizontal accountability may have been possible under an alternative framing, they were made easier because of the government’s use of a rights frame. First, by using a rights frame, the government accepted the demanding human rights standard when it used a rights frame, which created grounds for critique by political opponents and civil society. If Peñalosa had used a tough-on-crime frame, it might have rejected allegations of human rights violations as irrelevant given the importance of security objectives. Instead, the government doubled down on the rights frame, embracing the standards of human rights. Second, since the government justified its actions on human rights terms, it did not reject the authority of legislative bodies or the courts to guarantee human rights. Seeking to show that it was not being cravenly strategic in using a rights frame, the government justified its actions in venues dedicated to the protection of rights. Doing so created a political bind that opened up opportunities for accountability in the aftermath of the intervention.


This article has investigated the impacts of human rights frames to motivate urban-security interventions through an analysis of the Bronx of Bogotá. I have identified two features that make human rights frames powerful. First, human rights ideas can serve as a valuable discursive resource, given the moral authority of human rights. While setting the agenda for a policy intervention, a human rights frame can enable the government to present its proposal as morally necessary and beyond political debate, and can shut down space for criticism by potential opponents. Yet, once governments have legitimated the importance of human rights, opponents can also leverage rights-based claims to critique the record of state policies, which can then spark new networks and create access to additional resources for rights defenders.

Second, human rights trigger a series of institutional openings and state obligations due to the state’s role as a duty-bearer. Governments may use a rights frame to implement a policy initiative swiftly and without engaging other institutional actors, given the primacy of halting rights violations. However, in the aftermath of a policy intervention, civil society groups and political opponents also can invoke the state’s obligations as a duty-bearer to hold the government accountable for rights violations committed along the way.

One implication of this article is that rights ideas can have a dark side, as rights frames can be deployed for projects that further marginalize minoritized groups. This echoes the findings of scholars who have analyzed the ways that governments and right-wing movements have harnessed rights discourses to undermine other rights—for example, anti-abortion movements that frame abortion policies as violating the human rights of women and of fetuses.110 Yet, as this article shows, rights frames can also create new resources and opportunities for civil society and other state actors to challenge militarized security policy. Human rights ideas are not static standards, but rather are subject to interpretation and reinterpretation in political battles over policy.

This article raises important questions for future research. First, what are the long-term effects of using rights frames on public attitudes about human rights? Governments’ strategic use of rights discourses might increase awareness of rights violations and broaden acceptance of marginalized groups as rights-bearing citizens. The Bronx intervention appeared to raise awareness about the sexual exploitation of children—a challenge that had existed for years with little attention. Can employing a human rights frame actually deepen the power of rights ideas in the long run? Further studies are needed to explore when human rights ideas gain sufficient power to be used strategically by political actors and when politicians benefit from their deployment.

Second, what are the impacts of rights frames in other policy areas and levels of government? As noted earlier, governments have deployed human rights frames in diverse policy areas, ranging from reproductive health to environmental policy. Different policy sectors are characterized by different political logics and institutional frameworks that may shape the potential of rights frames to generate new discursive resources and institutional openings. Likewise, the impact of rights frames may vary at different levels of government. While this study examines rights frames in local politics, human rights frames have been used commonly at other levels. For instance, in the United States, the Trump Administration pushed for greater militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and new funding for the border wall to combat human trafficking and protect the human rights of migrants. A White House press release from February 2019 stated that “Congress has a moral responsibility to pass legislation that strengthens border security and includes funding for a wall to prevent human trafficking in all forms.”111 In another example, the U.S. war in Afghanistan was justified as protecting the rights of women and girls who suffered under the Taliban.112 Do rights frames have the same effects on the policy process when used at the national or international level? Giraudy, Moncada, and Snyder caution against theory stretching across different levels of analysis, since theories developed at the local level may not apply at the national or international level, or vice versa.113 Future research is needed to analyze how rights frames operate at different levels of analysis, which are characterized by distinct sets of institutions, levels of visibility, and constellations of political actors.


Appendix A: Methodology Appendix

This paper draws on a range of qualitative data sources to trace the emergence of a human rights framing that justified the security intervention in the Bronx, and to assess the impacts of this rights frame on the policy process.

News Archives

My research team and I compiled a news archive to track key events in the zones of the Bronx. This news archive served three purposes. First, it provided basic background information about the social and economic structure of life in the Bronx, as well as timelines for security and social policy interventions in the zone. Second, I drew on these news stories to identify broad shifts in policy framing of the Bronx over time. Third, I drew on the news archive for illustrative and representative quotes from politicians and other public officials that capture the shift from a crime frame or a public space frame, to a human-rights frame in the Bronx.

The Bronx news archive included all news stories between January 2004-December 2017 that mentioned the Bronx in the three top periodicals in Colombia: the newspapers, El Tiempo and El Espectador, and the news magazine, Semana. I selected these periodicals to balance out ideological biases in coverage: El Espectador has long been aligned with the Liberal Party, while El Tiempo is comparatively more conservative; for decades it was run by the family of former President Juan Manuel Santos. Semana is a weekly news magazine that offers more in-depth coverage. In practice, there was no clear ideological difference in media coverage of the Bronx intervention, though articles in Semana tended to be longer and involved more analysis.

We began the news archive in January 2003 because it was the year that El Cartucho—the skid-row zone seen as the precursor to the Bronx—was finally demolished. However, there were no news articles that mentioned the Bronx in 2003. Once El Cartucho was demolished, the Bronx began its rise as the most important drug-consumption zone in Bogotá. While the Bronx was eliminated in May 2016, the aftermath of the intervention continued to be felt throughout the remainder of 2016, and to some degree into 2017. By 2018, media coverage of the Bronx declined and focused primarily on efforts to turn the zone into a gastro-cultural hub. Thus, the Bronx news archive ends in 2017.

The research team searched news databases (EMIS and Factiva) for articles from El Espectador and El Tiempo, and Semana’s online archive for news articles in these three periodicals that included the word “Bronx”.114 There was a gap in news coverage for El Espectador between 2003-2006 using these search engines. However, there were relatively few articles during that time period on the Bronx, and this is not the main period of analysis, so the gap should have little impact on the data analysis. We eliminated all stories that referred to the New York City borough, the Bronx, as well as duplicate stories that emerged more than once in the search engines (including stories that were republished later the same day under an alternate headline). The Bronx news archive of includes a total of 629 articles. As Figure A shows, news coverage increased over time as the Bronx grew in importance as a site for illicit economies and criminal organization. News coverage declined in 2017, with most stories in that year covering the aftermath of the intervention, or referring obliquely to the Bronx intervention as one of the defining events of Enrique Peñalosa’s first year in office as mayor of Bogotá.

Figure A: News Coverage of the Bronx, 2004-2017


For a summary of these articles by year and by publication, see Table A.

Table A: News Coverage of the Bronx by Periodical, 2003-2017

Year Semana El Tiempo El Espectador* Number of Articles
2003 0 1 0* 1
2004 0 7 0* 7
2005 0 8 0* 8
2006 0 4 0* 4
2007 1 8 13 22
2008 1 15 10 26
2009 1 11 1 13
2010 1 10 0 11
2011 15 25 0 40
2012 35 31 0 66
2013 11 14 12 37
2014 16 15 24 55
2015 9 15 6 30
2016 41 57 153 251
2017 18 20 6 44
TOTAL 149 241 225 615

Note: The El Espectador news archive only goes back to 2008.

After collecting the news articles, members of the research team produced brief summaries of each article. They then coded whether the articles included at least one mention of the following elements on a yes (1) or no (0) basis. It is important to note that the coding does not refer to the number of mentions in each article, simply whether or not the issue was mentioned on a yes/no basis. Two members of the research team coded every article to achieve inter-coder reliability, and I adjudicated any inconsistencies.

  1. Did the article mention children in relation to the Bronx?

    • We coded as “yes” all articles that mentioned children, adolescents (considered to be those 17 years of age and under), and/or minors.

    • The article may refer to children and adolescents being within the Bronx, or may refer to the threat that the Bronx poses for children and adolescents in nearby districts.

    • We coded as “yes” any article that mentioned the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF) in reference to the Bronx; the ICBF is the national child-protection agency.

    • To be conservative, we did not code as “yes” articles that mentioned “youth” (joven/es); the category of “youth” in Colombia refers to young people ages 14-28. It is likely that a number of articles referring to youth in the Bronx are referring to those under age 18, however.

    • We did not code as “yes” any article that mentioned children and adolescents completely separately from the Bronx—for example, an article covering a political candidate’s proposals that may include a discussion of what to do about the Bronx, and separately a discussion of the need for investments in early childhood.

    • Members of the research team did not simply search for keywords, such as “niño” for child; instead, they read the article in its entirety to ensure that the were able to detect other references—for example, an article that mentions a 15-year-old girl in the Bronx would be coded as “yes.”

  2. Did the article mention the sexual exploitation of children in the Bronx?

    • We code as “yes” anything that referred to “prostitution” of minors or sexual exploitation of children and adolescents.115

    • We did not code as “yes” articles that referred to prostitution of youth, since “youth” can include those ages 18-28. We also excluded mentions of sex trafficking or prostitution that did not explicitly refer to the involvement of minors.

    • We did not code as “yes” articles that mention “abuse”, or “violation”/“rape” of children. Commercial sexual exploitation is distinct from sexual assault, which does not involve the exchange of money for sex acts. It is likely that journalists were making a reference to sexual exploitation when using the language of rape or sexual abuse. However, we excluded these mentions to be conservative in our coding.

  3. Was the article primarily about sexual exploitation of children in the Bronx?

    • We coded as “yes” if at least 50% of the article covered the issue of sexual exploitation of children. These articles took the form of profiles of minors who had entered sexual exploitation and overviews of how sexual exploitation worked in the Bronx.

  4. Did the article mention the issue of homelessness or discuss people experiencing homelessness?

    • We coded as “yes” all articles that mention “habitantes de la calle” (street-dwellers) in the Bronx, the main term for people experiencing homelessness in Spanish. We also coded as “yes” all articles that refer to “indigentes” (indigent people) in the Bronx; in practice, indigente is synonymous with a person experiencing homelessness in Bogotá.

    • We coded as “yes” articles that referred to a homeless shelter (albergue or instituto).

    • We did not code as “yes” articles that referred to residents or inhabitants of the Bronx. Most people living in the Bronx were experiencing homelessness, but some individuals and families lived in buildings in the zone. It is likely that journalists were using the phrase inhabitants of the Bronx to refer to people experiencing homelessness, but we code these articles as not referring to homelessness to be conservative in our coding.

  5. Was the article primarily about homelessness?

    • We coded as “yes” if at least 50% of the article covered the issue of homelessness. These articles took the form of discussions of the consequences of the Bronx intervention for homelessness, conflicts that emerged when people experiencing homelessness moved into new neighborhoods, discussions of government policies about homelessness, stories about people experiencing homelessness in the canal, and stories about legislative or judicial oversight of the government’s policies towards homelessness.

    • We only coded on this criteria starting January 1, 2016, because we sought to show the limited attention to homelessness in the months leading up to the intervention, compared to the aftermath of the intervention.

  6. Did the article mention the words “right” or “rights” with reference to the Bronx?

    • We coded as “yes” all references to the words “derecho” or “derechos”, if they refer to the rights of citizens that lived, worked, or moved through the Bronx.

    • We did not code as “yes” any article that makes a reference to someone studying law, or some other meaning that was clearly disconnected from the concept of human-rights ideas.

  7. Did the article mention official sources?

    • We coded as “yes” if the article included a quote or referred to information provided by representatives from the Peñalosa government or from the national government.

    • We only coded on this criteria starting January 1, 2016, because we sought to show the shift from a reliance on official sources to more diverse sources immediately before and in the aftermath of the intervention.

  8. Did the article include critical sources?

    • We coded as “yes” if the article included a quote or referred to information provided by state actors, civil society groups, business groups, people displaced from the Bronx, or everyday citizens that criticized the intervention or its effects; we also coded yes any op-eds that directly criticized the intervention and its effects.

    • We broke down the critical sources category according to which type of actor issued the criticism, and the basis of the criticism. In particular, we separated out criticisms on human rights grounds from criticisms on other grounds—for example, complaints from local businesses that the influx of people experiencing homelessness was scaring away potential customers.

    • We only coded on this criteria starting January 1, 2016, because we sought to show the shift from a reliance on official sources to more diverse sources immediately before and in the aftermath of the intervention.

An overview of the news archive can be found in a separate excel file (Appendix B). This file includes each article’s title, date, periodical, a brief summary, and the content analysis coding for the criteria listed above.

Freedom-of-Information Requests, Congressional Debates, and Policy Documents

This paper draws on responses to freedom-of-information requests made to state agencies that were involved in the May 2016 raid of the Bronx. In March and April 2018, my research team submitted four freedom-of-information requests to the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (the national child protection agency), the Metropolitan Police of Bogotá (a branch of the National Police), Bogotá’s Secretariat of Social Integration (Secretaría Distrital de Integración Social, which is responsible for policies towards homelessness), and the Secretariat of Security for the District of Bogotá (Secretaría Distrital de Seguridad , which coordinated the intervention). I also draw from responses to two information requests made in 2016 by the Bogotá City Council: Proposición 355 and Proposición 500. Proposición 355 yielded responses from Bogotá’s Subsecretariat of Security, Secretariat of Social Integration, Secretariat of Women (Secretaría Distrital de la Mujer), Secretariat of Health (Secretaría de Salud), Secretariat of Housing (Secretaría del Hábitat), and the Metropolitan Police of Bogotá. Proposición 500 yielded responses from Bogotá’s Subsecretariat of Security, IDIPRON (Instituto para la Protección de la Niñez y la Juventud—Bogotá’s agency that works with street-connected youth), Legal Secretariat (Secretaría Jurídica), Secretariat of Social Integration, and the Secretariat of Health. I use the responses to these freedom-of-information requests to capture the language used by state agencies to justify the need for an intervention and to identify the goals of the intervention. These responses also include key information about how the intervention unfolded, and the intervention’s impacts on the well-being of children and people experiencing homelessness.

I also draw on a range of other state documents and statements that refer to the Bronx, El Cartucho, children’s rights, and skid-row zones (ollas) from Bogotá district agencies. These include strategic planning and policy documents, a transcript from a debate in Congress about the human-rights record of the May 2016 intervention, press releases and social media posts related to the Bronx from Bogotá district agencies. In addition, I analyzed legal petitions made by Congressperson Alirio Uribe Muñoz to challenge government policies towards homelessness in the aftermath of the intervention, and the sentences issued by courts. I use these documents and statements to trace the language used by state officials to paint the Bronx as a site of sexual slavery of children and abuses of people experiencing homelessness, and also to justify the 2016 intervention using rights language.

In-Depth Interviews with Stakeholders

In June 2017 and June 2018, I conducted 42 semi-structured, elite interviews during field research in Bogotá.116 I interviewed four more people via Skype in June and August 2019, yielding a total of 46 interviews. Interview respondents included public officials from Bogotá district agencies and national agencies that participated in the 2016 intervention in The Bronx, legislators from City Council and Congress that were involved in debates about the intervention, and representatives from civil society (including NGOs, think-tanks, private-sector groups, and human-rights movements). I identified initial interview respondents based on policy documents, the news archive, and NGO reports. Additional respondents were selected through snowball sampling, when indicated by another interview respondent.

The aim of these interviews was to understand better the process of planning the May 2016 intervention, and how key actors framed the successes and limitations of the intervention two years later. Some of these interviews also provided a greater understanding of the structure of Colombia’s system of child protection and anti-sexual exploitation policies. Moreover, I used these interviews to sort through different hypotheses to explain why the framing of children’s rights gained prominence for the police raid into the Bronx, and the impact of this rights framing on the policy process.

I followed standard informed consent procedures for all interview respondents, meaning that they were given the option to either be identified by their name or have their name withheld, and that they could choose whether or not the interview was recorded. While nearly all respondents agreed to have their names used in the study, I refer to mid-level bureaucrats and activists by their positions to protect their privacy. I refer to politicians, political appointees in the bureaucracy, top leadership in civil society by their names, given their public profiles. All respondents agreed to have their interviews recorded and transcribed, though I respected the requests by a number of respondents requested to pause the tape at key moments so they could explain sensitive material off the record. All interviews were conducted in Spanish, with the exception of one interview respondent from the Open Society Foundations, who I interviewed in English since he is a native English speaker.

The list of respondents interviewed follows:

  1. Subdirector, Childhood and Adolescence Division, Secretaria Distrital de Integración Social, Alcaldía de Bogotá. Bogotá. 21 June 2017.

  2. Subdirector, Families Division, Secretaria Distrital de Integración Social, Alcaldía de Bogotá. Bogotá. 21 June 2017.

  3. Nelson Rivera, Subdirector, Fundación Renacer. Bogotá. 21 June 2017.

  4. Advisor, Division for the Reestablishment of Rights, Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar. Bogotá. 22 June 2017.

  5. Jimena González, Coordinator, Inter-agency Working Group to Combat Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. Bogotá. 23 June 2017.

  6. Alejandro Acosta, General Director, Fundación Centro Internacional de Educación y Desarrollo Humano (CINDE). Bogotá. 23 June 2017.

  7. Advisor, Families Division, Secretaría Distrital de Integración Social. Bogotá. 28 June 2017.

  8. Team Lead, Childhood and Adolescence Division, Secretaría Distrital de Integración Social. Bogotá. 28 June 2017.

  9. Ernesto Durán Strauch, Profesor Pediatría Social y Comunitaria y Coordinador, Observatorio de la Infancia, Universidad Nacional. Bogotá. 28 June 2017.

  10. Technical Subdirector, Division for the Territorial Coordination, Sistema Nacional de Bienestar Familiar, Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar. Bogotá. 29 June 2017.

  11. Ingrid Pelagos, Consultant, Inter-agency Working Group to Combat Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. Bogotá. 29 June 2017.

  12. Technical Professional, Division for the Reestablishment of Rights, Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar. Bogotá. 30 June 2017.

  13. Wilfredo Grajales Rosas, Director, IDIPRON (Instituto Distrital para la Protección de la Niñez y la Juventud). Bogotá. 13 June 2018.

  14. Advisor, Adulthood Division, Secretaría Distrital de Integración Social. Bogotá. 18 June 2018.

  15. Social Worker, ACJ-YMCA/Hogar AmaneSer. Bogotá. 18 June 2018.

  16. Yefer Vega, Concejal de Bogotá (Cambio Radical). Bogotá. 19 June 2018.

  17. Coordinator for Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Program, IDIPRON (Instituto Distrital para la Protección de la Niñez y la Juventud). Bogotá. 19 June 2018.

  18. Liliana Forero, Consultant, UNICEF. Bogotá. 19 June 2018.

  19. Alirio Uribe Muñoz, Representante a la Cámara (Polo Democrático Alternativo). Bogotá. 20 June 2018.

  20. Adriana Fuentes, Legislative Aide to Representante Alirio Uribe Muñoz. Bogotá. 20 June 2018.

  21. Antonio Sanguino, ex-Concejal de Bogotá and Senator-elect (Alianza Verde). Bogotá. 20 June 2018.

  22. Fábio González, Regional Coordinator for Latin America, ECPAT International. Bogotá. 20 June 2018.

  23. Coordinator, Asociación Cristiana Nuevo Nascimiento. Bogotá. 20 June 2018.

  24. William Alfonso Peña, Former Secretary of Planning during Antanas Mockus’s first administration. Bogotá. 21 June 2018.

  25. Hugo Acero Velásquez, Former Secretary of Security during Antanas Mockus’s first administration, Enrique Peñalosa’s first administration, and Antanas Mockus’s second administration. Bogotá. 21 June 2018.

  26. Intendant for Inspections and Oversight, Policía Nacional de Infancia y Adolescencia de Bogotá. Bogotá. 22 June 2018.

  27. Vicepresident of Public-Private Coordination, Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá. Bogotá. 22 June 2018.

  28. Director of Peace and Justice, Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá. Bogotá. 22 June 2018.

  29. Director of Public Management, Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá. Bogotá. 22 June 2018.

  30. Director of Citizen and Business Security, Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá. Bogotá. 22 June 2018.

  31. Advisor, Division of Childhood and Adolescence, Secretaria Distrital de Integración Social. Bogotá. 22 June 2018.

  32. Stella Cárdenas, National Director, Fundación Renacer. Bogotá. 22 June 2018.

  33. Humberto Rodríguez, Coordinator of The Code and Communications Coordinator, Fundación Renacer. Bogotá. 22 June 2018.

  34. Omar Oróstegui Restrepo, Director, Bogotá Cómo Vamos. Bogotá. 25 June 2018.

  35. Manager of Inter-institutional Relations, Federación Nacional de Comerciantes (FENALCO). Bogotá. 25 June 2018.

  36. Advisor in charge of combatting sexual exploitation of children, Secretaría Distrital de Seguridad de Bogotá. Bogotá. 25 June 2018.

  37. Former Subdirector for Localidad de Los Mártires, Secretaría Distrital de Integración Social. 25 June 2018.

  38. Mario Gómez Jiménez. Lead Prosecutor for Crimes against Children and Adolescents, Grupo de Trabajo de Violencia contra los Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes, Fiscalía General de la Nación. Bogotá. 26 June 2018.

  39. Ángela María Robledo. Representante de la Cámara and former Director, Departamento Administrativo de Bienestar Familiar during the second administration of Antanas Mockus. Bogotá. 26 June 2018.

  40. Sebastián Pavía. Director of Security, Secretaría Distrital de Seguridad de Bogotá. Skype. 28 June 2018.

  41. Advisor, Ministerio de Salud y Protección Social. Skype. 30 June 2018.

  42. Jerónimo Castillo. Executive Director, Fundación Ideas para la Paz. Skype. 6 July 2018.

  43. Luz Mary Pardo. Former member of Parces and Executive Director of Las Callejeras. Skype. 25 June 2019.

  44. Former member of Parces and member of Las Callejeras. Skype. 25 June 2019.

  45. Former member of Parces. Skype. 27 June 2019.

  46. Program Officer, Open Society Foundation Public Health Program. 7 August 2019.

The Role of Informal Conversations and Site Visits

This project emerged initially from casual conversations over the years with my friend Amy Ritterbusch, a human geographer who has done ethnographic and participatory action research for over a decade with communities of sex workers, street-connected youth, trans people, and people experiencing homelessness in Bogotá’s drug-consumption zones. Through our friendship, I have met Ritterbusch’s collaborators in participatory action research—people who have lived and worked in the sex trade in the Bronx and other skid-row zones of Bogotá. Conversations with Ritterbusch and her collaborators made me wonder why there seemed to be so little political science research addressing the intersection between urban revitalization projects, urban security, and the rights of marginalized groups. These informal conversations also made me pay critical attention to the Bronx intervention when it happened, and made the choice of a human-rights framing for the intervention seem particularly puzzling, given the stories I had heard over the years about the forms of state and social violence that these groups have experienced.

During fieldwork, I balanced the data collection described above with visits to core sites that are relevant to this project to gain a more textured understanding of the Bronx, the nature of state policies towards children and adolescents, and policies towards people experiencing homelessness. I visited a shelter where people experiencing homelessness stay when they want to have a night away from the streets; this shelter is in downtown Bogotá and provides services to many people experiencing homelessness that used to live in and/or visit the Bronx. I also visited a YMCA affiliate in the neighborhood of Santa Fé, also in the city center. Santa Fé is a “zona de tolerancia”—the only red-light district in which prostitution is legal in Bogotá. This YMCA provides services for children who live in the neighborhood who are the children of sex workers, and offers programs to prevent children from entering into sexual exploitation. As part of my visit, a YMCA social worker (and former sex worker) gave me a tour of the neighborhood of Santa Fé, offering her commentary about how each corner offers a different kind of “product”—some corners have Venezuelan women that recently fled the economic collapse and have caused tensions in the zone because they undercut the Colombian sex workers’ prices; one strip is for trans sex workers; one section is for older women who can no longer charge much money for sex; one corner had three adolescent girls, and is where men go to find minors for sex. This social worker explained the informal rules behind the sex trade in the zone, how the informal rules that govern Santa Fé compared with those governing other ollas, the contradictions inherent in anti-sexual exploitation programming and the realities experienced on the ground, and the organization of pimp structures in Bogotá’s red-light districts.

These informal conversations and site visits were helpful in understanding the nature of drug-consumption zones, homelessness, the sex trade, and sexual exploitation of children in Bogotá. I consider the accounts offered in the official record—newspaper articles, policy papers, interviews with experts—with a level of skepticism, rather than as a clear-cut description of how the Bronx operated. I came to realize that many people who speak with authority on the Bronx have spent little time there. Official narratives reflect different framings about how to make sense of these zones of extreme poverty, violence, drug use, and sex. As interviews progressed, I found that I was particularly wary of people who repeatedly mentioned violations of human rights and the need to rescue children from the Bronx. These narratives did not seem to match the more nuanced accounts that I had heard from those who spent time in the Bronx, who noted that sexual exploitation of children occurred, but did not match the sensationalist depictions found in the media and in state discourses. Occasionally, I relayed the information offered to me in interviews with people who had spent time there to assess whether certain statements were accepted across people from a range of backgrounds/experiences, or whether the statements fell more into the rumors or opinion camp.

I was not able to visit the Bronx, because the Bronx no longer exists. When I conducted fieldwork in Bogotá, the Bronx was an abandoned zone, with plans to develop it into a trendy gastro-cultural hub. Therefore, even if I could have gained access, that access would have told me nothing about what the Bronx used to be like.


  1. I am grateful for feedback provided by Santiago Anria, Ana Arjona, Carew Boulding, Mariel Szwarcberg Daby, Kent Eaton, Christina Ewig, Janice Gallagher, Yanilda González, Zach Mampilly, Eduardo Moncada, Sara Newland, Jami Nelson-Núñez, Eleonora Pasotti, Alison Post, Juan Diego Prieto, Juliana Restrepo Sanín, Jessica Rich, Erica Simmons, and Sara Watson. Amy Ritterbusch deserves special thanks for providing the inspiration for this project and for teaching me so much about human rights and the ollas of Bogotá. Catharine Christie, Luis González Kompalic, Laura Liévano Karim, Andrés Lovón Román, Nancy Mateo, and Brooke Moree provided invaluable research assistance, particularly in building the news archive. Research for this project was made possible through the financial support of Colby College’s Social Science Division Grants and through generous funding to hire talented Colby students as RAs.

    This article uses Annotation for Transparent Inquiry (ATI), an approach to openness in qualitative scholarship. Access to the annotations can be found here: [] For more on ATI, see:↩︎

  2. Wendy Hunter and Natasha Borges Sugiyama, "Transforming Subjects into Citizens: Insights from Brazil's Bolsa Família," Perspectives on Politics, 12 (December 2014), 829–45; Wendy Hunter, "Making Citizens: Brazilian Social Policy from Getúlio to Lula," Journal of Politics in Latin America, 6 (December 2014), 15–37.↩︎

  3. Veronica Herrera, Slow Harms and Citizen Action: Environmental Degradation and Policy Change in Latin American Cities, Unpublished book manuscript, n.d.; Thea Riofrancos, Resource Radicals: From Petro-Nationalism to Post-Extractivism in Ecuador (Durham: Duke University Press, 2020); Veronica Herrera and Lindsay Mayka, "How Do Legal Strategies Advance Social Accountability? Evaluating Mechanisms in Colombia," Journal of Development Studies, 56 (August 2020), 1437–54.↩︎

  4. James Holston, Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).↩︎

  5. Winifred Tate, Drugs, Thugs, and Diplomats: U.S. Policymaking in Colombia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), 5, 7–8.↩︎

  6. Clifford Bob, Rights as Weapons: Instruments of Conflict, Tools of Power (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019), 14, 67.↩︎

  7. Bob, 44–46; Mary Ann Glendon, Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse (New York: Free Press, 1991).↩︎

  8. “Commercial sexual exploitation of children” (CSEC) refers to activity that involves the exchange of money for sexual activity performed by a minor under age 18. The most common forms of CSEC include the selling of sex acts and child pornography. CSEC is distinct from sexual abuse or statutory rape, which do not involve the exchange of money. CSEC has been illegal in Colombia since 2009.↩︎

  9. Bob.↩︎

  10. Christina Ewig, "Hijacking Global Feminism: Feminists, the Catholic Church, and the Family Planning Debacle in Peru," Feminist Studies, 32 (October 2006), 633–70.↩︎

  11. Charli Carpenter, "'Women, Children and Other Vulnerable Groups': Gender, Strategic Frames and the Protection of Civilians as a Transnational Issue," International Studies Quarterly, 49 (June 2005), 295–334; Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015); James Peck, Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-Opted Human Rights (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2010), 250–51.↩︎

  12. Adam Branch, Displacing Human Rights: War and Intervention in Northern Uganda (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Nicola Perugini And Neve Gordon, The Human Right To Dominate (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).↩︎

  13. Jonathan Fox, "Social Accountability: What Does the Evidence Really Say?," World Development, 72 (August 2015), 346–61; Enrique Peruzzotti and Catalina Smulovitz, "Social Accountability: An Introduction," in Enrique Peruzzotti and Catalina Smulovitz, eds., Enforcing the Rule of Law: Social Accountability in the New Latin American Democracies (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006), 3–33.↩︎

  14. Fox, 2015, 347; Jessica Rich, State-Sponsored Activism: Bureaucrats and Social Movements in Democratic Brazil (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019).↩︎

  15. Brian Palmer-Rubin, "Evading the Patronage Trap: Organizational Capacity and Demand Making in Mexico," Comparative Political Studies, 52 (March 2019), 2097–134.↩︎

  16. Jonathan Fox, Accountability Politics: Power and Voice in Rural Mexico (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 33–34; Herrera and Mayka; Peruzzotti and Smulovitz, 17–19.↩︎

  17. Kent Eaton, "Paradoxes of Police Reform: Federalism, Parties, and Civil Society in Argentina's Public Security Crisis," Latin American Research Review, 43 (January 2008), 5–32; Alisha Holland, "Right on Crime? Conservative Party Politics and Mano Dura Policies in El Salvador," Latin American Research Review, 48 (January 2013), 44–67; Eduardo Moncada, Cities, Business, and the Politics of Urban Violence in Latin America (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016); Eduardo Moncada, "Urban Violence, Political Economy, and Territorial Control: Insights from Medellín," Latin American Research Review, 51 (January 2016), 225–48.↩︎

  18. Hernán Flom and Alison Post, "Blame Avoidance and Policy Stability in Developing Democracies: The Politics of Public Security in Buenos Aires," Comparative Politics, 49 (October 2016), 23–46; Yanilda González, "Participation as a Safety Valve: Police Reform Through Participatory Security in Latin America," Latin American Politics and Society, 61 (May 2019), 68–92.↩︎

  19. Eaton; Eduardo Moncada, "Toward Democratic Policing in Colombia? Institutional Accountability through Lateral Reform," Comparative Politics, 41 (July 2009), 431–49.↩︎

  20. The policy framing literature shares similar theoretical roots as the social movement literature on framing; see Robert Benford and David Snow, "Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment," Annual Review of Sociology, 26 (August 2000), 611–39; Hank Johnston and John Noakes, eds., Frames of Protest: Social Movements and the Framing Perspective (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005). Whereas social movement scholars focus on how social movements frame grievances, scholars of policy framing examine how state actors, the media, and societal actors advance competing frames of policy problems. For more on policy framing, see Robert Entman, "Framing: Toward Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm," Journal of Communication, 43 (December 1993), 51–58; John Kingdon, Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, 2nd ed. (New York: Harper Collins, 1995); Merlijn van Hulst and Dvora Yanow, "From Policy ‘Frames’ to ‘Framing’: Theorizing a More Dynamic, Political Aproach," American Review of Public Administration, 46 (January 2016), 92–112.↩︎

  21. van Hulst and Yanow, 96.↩︎

  22. Benford and Snow, 615-17; William Gamson, Talking Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992).↩︎

  23. Perugini and Gordon, 8-10.↩︎

  24. Michelle Bonner, "Media and Punitive Populism in Argentina and Chile," Bulletin of Latin American Research, 37 (March 2018), 276.↩︎

  25. Krystin Krause, "Supporting the Iron Fist: Crime News, Public Opinion, and Authoritarian Crime Control in Guatemala," Latin American Politics and Society, 56 (Spring 2014), 103–104; Michelle Bonner, "State Discourses, Police Violence and Democratisation in Argentina," Bulletin of Latin American Research, 28 (February 2009), 228; Krystin Krause, "Authoritarianism, Social Dominance and Contesting Human Rights in Latin America," Latin American Research Review 55 (June 2020), 254–65.↩︎

  26. Teresa Caldeira, "The Paradox of Police Violence in Democratic Brazil," Ethnography, 3 (September 2002), 252–53; Nicholas Rush Smith, Contradictions of Democracy: Vigilantism and Rights in Post-Apartheid South Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), 25–27; Krause, 2020. In Colombia, a mano dura frame also has been used to criticize the work of human rights organizations documenting state and paramilitary abuses during the country’s long-running conflict between guerrilla groups and the military. Hardliners, including former President Álvaro Uribe, argue that human rights organizations harness international human rights laws to protect guerrilla groups in ways that undermine the rights of citizens and soldiers. See Winifred Tate, Counting the Dead: The Culture and Politics of Human Rights Activism in Colombia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 111–13, 305.↩︎

  27. The focus on marginalized groups makes this rights frame different from an anti-rights discourse under a mano dura frame, which rejects universal rights as helping criminals. An anti-rights approach features the common refrain, “What about the rights of police/soldiers/good citizens?” while denying the universality of human rights. On anti-rights frames, see Smith, 2019; Krause, 2020.↩︎

  28. The use of human rights frames is not equivalent to designing a security intervention that protects the rights of marginalized groups. A rights-based approach to urban security would seek to reduce abuses by state security forces, including extrajudicial violence, arbitrary or indefinite detention, and torture. See Daniel Brinks, The Judicial Response to Police Killings in Latin America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Ruth Stanley, "Controlling the Police in Buenos Aires: A Case Study of Horizontal and Societal Accountability," Bulletin of Latin American Research, 24 (January 2005), 71–91. In contrast, this article focuses on rights frames of militarized security interventions that are prone to rights abuses.↩︎

  29. Hudson and Leidl.↩︎

  30. Branch.↩︎

  31. Charles Beitz, "Human Rights as a Common Concern," American Political Science Review, 95 (June 2001), 269.↩︎

  32. Bob, 8-9.↩︎

  33. Benford and Snow, 620.↩︎

  34. Beitz, 269.↩︎

  35. Michael Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 56.↩︎

  36. Stephen Hopgood, The Endtimes of Human Rights (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015), 189–90; Beitz, 270.↩︎

  37. Bob, 14.↩︎

  38. Bonner, 2009, 242; Nicholas Rush Smith, "Rejecting Rights: Vigilantism and Violence in Post-Apartheid South Africa," African Affairs, 114 (July 2015), 341–60; Tate, 2007, 111–13.↩︎

  39. Laura Huey, Negotiating Demands: The Politics of Skid Row Policing in Ediburgh, San Francisco, and Vancouver (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), 5.↩︎

  40. Forrest Stuart, Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016); Huey; Dan Werb, City of Omens: A Search for the Missing Women of the Borderlands (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019).↩︎

  41. Gerring, Case Study Research: Principles and Practices (New York Cambridge University Press, 2007), 101.↩︎

  42. David Collier, "Understanding Process Tracing," PS: Political Science and Politics, 44 (October 2011), 824.↩︎

  43. M. Jacobs, "Process Tracing the Effect of Ideas," in Andrew Bennett and Jeffrey Checkel, eds. Process Tracing: From Metaphor to Analytic Tool (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 41–42.↩︎

  44. William Gamson and Andre Modigliani, "Discourse and Public Opinion on Nuclear Power: A Constructionist Approach," American Journal of Sociology, 95 (July 1989), 1–37; William Gamson, David Croteau, William Hoynes, and Theodore Sasson. "Media Images and the Social Construction of Reality," Annual Review of Sociology, 18 (August 1992), 373–93.↩︎

  45. Robert Entman and Andrew Rojecki, "Freezing out the Public: Elite and Media Framing of the U.S. Anti-Nuclear Movement," Political Communication, 10 (January 1993), 155–73; Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York: Pantheon, 1988).↩︎

  46. Gamson et al.; John Zaller, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992).↩︎

  47. Due to space constraints, the Appendix is not in the print version of this article. Appendix A can be viewed in the online version, at↩︎

  48. For more on ATI, see: Diana Kapiszewski and Sebastian Karcher, "Empowering Transparency: Annotation for Transparent Inquiry (ATI)," PS: Political Science and Politics (Forthcoming); Lindsay Mayka, "Bridging Positivist and Interpretative Approaches through Annotation for Transparent Inquiry," PS: Political Science and Politics (Forthcoming).↩︎

  49. The annotated version of this article can be found on the Qualitative Data Repository website through this link:  The data project, which provides an overview of the project and the files, can be found here:↩︎

  50. The zone that I name as “the Bronx” was called “La L” by those that lived in and frequented it. In this article, I use the name “the Bronx” rather than “La L” given my interest in understanding how state actors and the media framed the 2016 intervention in this zone, and these actors almost exclusively call it “the Bronx.” Nevertheless, I recognize the problematic practice of using the state’s term instead of the name used by its residents, as well as the pejorative implications of equating Bogotá’s epicenter for drug consumption and violence with the diverse New York City borough of 1.5 million people.↩︎

  51. Bogotá Cómo Vamos, Informe Especial: Calidad de Vida en la Zona Centro de Bogotá (Bogotá: Bogotá Cómo Vamos, 2016), 11.↩︎

  52. “Reciclador llevaba un cadaver en su carreta,” El Tiempo, Jun. 11, 2010.↩︎

  53. Subdirección para la Adultez Secretaría Distrital de Integración Social de Bogotá, VI Censo Habitantes de Calle (Bogotá: Secretaría Distrital de Integración Social, 2012), 9.↩︎

  54. Secretaría Distrital de Gobierno de Bogotá, "Respuesta a Proposición 355 del Concejo de Bogotá," (Bogotá: Secretaría Distrital de Gobierno de Bogotá, 2016), 4-5.↩︎

  55. Ibid., 1, 3.↩︎

  56. Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar, "Derecho de Petición No. 1761147217," (Bogotá: Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar, 2018), 3.↩︎

  57. Ibid., 2–3, 7.↩︎

  58.ón-de-autoridades-al-Bronx-Bronx-Defensor%C3%ADa-del-Pueblo-Bogotá-derechos-humanos-Derechos-Humanos.htm, accessed May 4, 2018.↩︎

  59. CPAT and Parces, Destapando la olla: Informe sombra sobre la intervención en el Bronx (Bogotá: Centro de Pensamiento y Acción para la Transición (CPAT) and Pares en Acción Reacción Contra la Exclusión Social (Parces), 2017), 27–28.↩︎

  60. Author interview with Coordinator for Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Program, IDIPRON, Bogotá, June 19, 2018.↩︎

  61. “Distrito anuncia que recuperará el ‘Bronx’ en cuatro etapas,” El Tiempo, May 30, 2016.↩︎

  62. “A bala, mafias del ‘Bronx’ se iban a tomar San Bernardo,’” El Tiempo, Jun. 27, 2016.↩︎

  63. Author interviews with Director of Public Management, Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá, Bogotá, June 22, 2018; Manager of Interinstitutional Relations for Bogotá and Cundinamarca, FENALCO, Bogotá, June 25, 2018.↩︎

  64. CPAT and Parces, 46, 48–49.↩︎

  65. CPAT and Parces, 48.↩︎

  66. CPAT and Parces, 9, 48, 52.↩︎

  67. Alcaldía de Bogotá, En un lugar llamado El Cartucho (Bogotá: Instituto Distrital de Patrimonio Cultural, 2011), 16.↩︎

  68. Author interviews with William Alfonso Piña, Former Secretary of Planning, Bogotá, June 21, 2018; Hugo Acero, Former Secretary of Security, Bogotá, June 21, 2018.↩︎

  69. “Enrique Peñalosa, nuevo alcalde de Bogotá,” El Espectador, Oct. 25, 2015.↩︎

  70. Author interviews with anonymous local politician that is part of Peñalosa’s ruling coalition, Bogotá, June 2018; Jerónimo Castillo, Executive Director, Fundación Ideas para la Paz, Skype, July 3, 2018.↩︎

  71. On the development of Colombia’s legal protections for human rights and citizenship, see Rodolfo Arango, Julieta Lemaitre, Clara Burano Herrera, Everaldo Lamprea, and Pablo Rueda.Manuel José Cepeda Espinosa, "The Judicialization of Politics in Colombia: The Old and the New," in Alan Angell, Line Schjolden, and Rachel Sieder eds., The Judicialization of Politics in Latin America (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 67–103;, Jurisprudencia constitucional sobre el derecho al mínimo vital (Bogotá: Estudios Ocasionales CIJUS, 2002). On the implementation and enforcement of social and economic rights, see: Sandra Botero, Courts that Matter: Judges, Litigants and the Politics of Rights Enforcement in Latin America, Ph.D. Dissertation (University of Notre Dame, 2015); César Rodríguez-Garavito and Diana Rodríguez-Franco, Radical Deprivation on Trial: The Impact of Judicial Activism on Socioeconomic Rights in the Global South (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015).↩︎

  72. Pablo Rueda, "Legal Language and Social Change During Colombia’s Economic Crisis," in Javier Couso, Alexandra Huneeus, and Rachel Sieder, eds., Cultures of Legality: Judicialization and Political Activism in Latin America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 25–50.↩︎

  73. Tate, 2007; John Lindsay-Poland, Plan Colombia: U.S. Ally Atrocities and Community Activism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018). Rights discourses and Colombia’s legal framework to protect human rights were further elaborated as a condition to receive military assistance from the United States under Plan Colombia and the U.S.’s Leahy Amendment, which required human rights certification for Colombian military bases that received U.S. military aid. Tate, 2015, 57–59.↩︎

  74. To be clear, the proliferation of rights discourses in the 2000 does not mean that human rights are sacrosanct in Colombia. Indeed, scholars have shown how the spread of legal requirements related to human rights have spurred new forms of rights violations. For instance, Tate traces how certification under the Leahy amendment transformed the mode of rights violations—leading the military to outsource violence to paramilitaries—rather than preventing rights violations. See Tate, 2007, 83–108. The key for this argument is that the ideas of human rights have been well-developed and thus stand to produce real resources and institutional opportunities when deployed.↩︎

  75. Adult sex workers who used to work in the Bronx contested this account; one explained in an interview: “I never saw a house for girls or for adolescents who were forced into prostitution… I would be a liar if I said I saw girls that were kidnapped.” Author interview with former member of Parces, Skype, June 25, 2019.↩︎

  76. Author interviews with Sebastián Pavía, Director of Security, Secretaría Distrital de Seguridad de Bogotá, Skype, June 28, 2018; Coordinator for Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Program, IDIPRON, Bogotá, June 19, 2018.↩︎

  77. Author interview with Sebastián Pavía, Director of Security, Secretaría Distrital de Seguridad de Bogotá, Skype, June 28, 2018.↩︎

  78. Between 2008 and 2015, 26 percent of articles in the news archive mention children, compared to 42 percent of articles in 2016. More strikingly, only 3 percent of articles published between 2008 and 2015 mention the commercial sexual exploitation of children, whereas 25 percent of articles from 2016 article mention this issue. Moreover, only 9 percent of articles from 2008–2015 mention rights, in contrast to 20 percent of articles from 2016.↩︎

  79. “Los menores en la ‘olla’,” El Tiempo, May 14, 2016 ; “Quién responde por niños que entran al ‘Bronx’,” El Tiempo, May 13, 2016.↩︎

  80. “Vicio en los colegios,” Semana. Feb. 2, 2016 ; “Campañas en colegios para evitar que los menores vayan a la ‘olla’,” El Tiempo, Mar. 6, 2016.↩︎

  81. “La cara oculta de la trata de personas en el ‘Bronx’,” El Tiempo, Jan. 29, 2016; “Explotación sexual de menores, otra plaga de la calle del ‘Bronx’,” El Tiempo, Mar. 6, 2016.↩︎

  82. “La titánica búsqueda de una madre en el 'Bronx',” El Tiempo, Mar. 29, 2016 ; “12 días de angustia por miniteca en el 'Bronx’,” El Tiempo, May 12, 2016.↩︎

  83. Author interview with Coordinator for Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Program, IDIPRON, Bogotá, June 19, 2018.↩︎

  84. Secretaría de Seguridad de Bogotá, Respuesta derecho de petición No. 20185000143771, 1 (Bogotá: Secretaría de Seguridad de Bogotá, 2018).↩︎

  85. Author interview with Coordinator for Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Program, IDIPRON, Bogotá, June 19, 2018.↩︎

  86. Author interview with Ángela María Robledo, Congressional Representative (Bogotá/Alianza Verde), Bogotá, June 26, 2018.↩︎

  87. Author interview with Stella Cárdenas, National Director, Fundación Renacer, Bogotá, June 22, 2018.↩︎

  88. Author interview with former member of Parces, Skype, June 28, 2019.↩︎

  89., accessed November 25, 2019.↩︎

  90. Author interviews with Director of Public Management, Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá, Bogotá, June 22, 2018; Manager of Interinstitutional Relations for Bogotá and Cundinamarca, FENALCO, Bogotá, June 25, 2018.↩︎

  91. Author interview with advisor, Bogotá Secretariat of Security, Bogotá, June 25, 2018.↩︎

  92. Author interview with Coordinator for Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Program, IDIPRON, Bogotá, June 19, 2018.↩︎

  93. 57 percent of articles from the Bronx News Archive during this period (17 out of 30 articles) refer to official sources. Other articles do not mention official sources yet reflect the government’s framing due to close relationships between journalists and government officials.↩︎

  94. Author interview with former member of Parces, Skype, June 28, 2019.↩︎

  95. This theme emerged, unprompted, in 10 out of the 29 interviews completed in 2018.↩︎

  96. Author interview with Advisor, Bogotá Secretariat for Social Integration, Bogotá, June 18, 2018.↩︎

  97. The Bronx Congressional hearing, June 8, 2016.↩︎

  98. Author interview with Sebastián Pavía, Director of Security, Secretaría Distrital de Seguridad de Bogotá, Skype, June 28, 2018.↩︎

  99. Author interview with former member of Parces, Skype, June 25, 2019. See also CPAT and Parces, Destapando la olla: Informe sombra sobre la intervención en el Bronx.↩︎

  100. For videos that document conditions in the canal and offer testimonies from people experiencing homelessness:

    and, accessed August 20, 2019.↩︎

  101. Author interview with former member of Parces, Skype, June 28, 2019.↩︎

  102. Author interview with former member of Parces, Skype, June 25, 2019.↩︎

  103. Author interviews with former member of Parces, Skype, June 28, 2019; Ángela María Robledo, Congressional Representative (Bogotá/Alianza Verde), Bogotá, June 26, 2018; Alirio Uribe, Congressional Representative (Bogotá/PDA), Bogotá, June 20, 2018.↩︎

  104. Author interview with former member of Parces, Skype, June 28, 2019.↩︎

  105. Congressional hearings were held June 8, August 29, and September 14, 2016. The City Council hearing was held September 13, 2016.↩︎

  106. Andreas Schedler, "Conceptualizing Accountability," in Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, and Andreas Schedler, eds., The Self-Restraining State: Power and Accountability in New Democracies (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1999), 14.↩︎

  107. “Proponen campamento humanitario para habitantes de calle en Bogotá,” El Espectador, Aug. 19, 2016.↩︎

  108. Acción de Tutela 11001400303620160068200, filed by Alirio Uribe Muñoz on behalf of Juan Carlos Páez Patarroyo; Acción de Tutela 2016–009500, filed by Edgar Rene Garzón and Marcela Velásquez.↩︎

  109. “¿Qué hacer con los habitantes de calle?,” El Espectador, Aug.12, 2019.↩︎

  110. Marta Rodriguez de Assis Machado and Débora Alves Maciell, "The Battle Over Abortion Rights in Brazil’s State Arenas, 1995–2006," Health and Human Rights Journal, 19 (June 2017), 126–27; Camilla Reuterswäerd, "‘Pro-Life’ and Feminist Mobilization in the Struggle Over Abortion in Mexico: Church Networks, Elite Alliances, and Partisan Context," Latin American Politics and Society (Forthcoming); Alba Ruibal, "Movilización y contra-movilización legal: Propuesta para su análisis en América Latina," Política y Gobierno, 22 (June 2015), 185; Alice Kang, Bargaining for Women’s Rights: Activism in an Aspiring Muslim Democracy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015).↩︎

  111., accessed July 1, 2020.↩︎

  112. Hudson and Leidl.↩︎

  113. Agustina Giraudy, Eduardo Moncada, and Richard Snyder, "Subnational Research in Comparative Politics: Substantive, Theoretical, and Methodological Contributions," in Agustina Giraudy, Eduardo Moncada, and Richard Snyder, eds., Inside Countries: Subnational Research in Comparative Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 6.↩︎

  114. We also searched for articles mentioning “La L”, as the zone was known by those who lived there and frequented it. However, all articles mentioning “La L” also referred the the zones as “El Bronx”, since that was the name used by public officials, journalists, and most Bogotanos.↩︎

  115. Minors cannot engage in “prostitution” because they legally cannot give consent. However, journalists sometimes used the language of prostitution in their coverage.↩︎

  116. Three of these interviews had to be rescheduled and were completed via Skype.↩︎