On the morning of February 3, 2014, Marco Luigi Socola Farfán, a drug-addled gang member in his early 20s, was dropped off in El Cerro de San Cosme in La Victoria, a district in Lima. He wasn’t from the area, had never been there before, and didn’t plan on staying long.
The barrio, a vast and ramshackle slum built on one of Lima’s many hills, loomed above him. Some of the neighborhood’s buildings had crumbled, like wet sugar-cubes, into fine rubble. As Farfán walked the narrow alleyways, he passed dilapidated homes with windows protected by thick metal bars and doors made of steel. Above him, residents streamed down the hill to the commercial morass of stalls and rundown shops that sat at its foot.
Farfán had been snorting methamphetamine all morning. He fumbled absentmindedly with the gun in his pocket and hooked the thumb of his other hand inside his bulletproof vest, picking at its stitching. He wanted the job to be over and done with. Farfán had been sent here for a specific, bloody task: To murder a man named Elmo Ramos Acosta.
That morning Acosta was nearby at the Estadio de San Cosme, a public park in the center of the neighborhood, conducting a meeting with members of a community organization called GREVA, an acronym for The Union of Resocialization for the District of Victoria. Acosta founded GREVA in 2007. The group was comprised of reformed ex-convicts, was organized largely through Facebook, and formed part of a grassroots movement to combat rising crime that had resulted from the country’s flourishing drug trade. Peru is the world’s second largest producer of cocaine, and suffers from some of the highest crime rates in South America. El Cerro de San Cosme is one of the worst affected areas.
The steep streets of El Cerro San Cosme. All photos by Sebastian Castañeda for Roads & Kingdoms.
GREVA patrolled the slum, capturing criminals and drug-addicts and handing them over to the police. Because of these actions, Acosta was respected by many locals, and his men were famously loyal to him. He’d had problems with the authorities in the past, but as far as his supporters were concerned, he had no real enemies in San Cosme.
Farfán knew none of this; he had never met Acosta before—he’d never even he heard of him. Killing Acosta would be nothing more than another job, and all he had to work from was a photograph.
But that morning Farfán—a hitman from the Los Piuranos gang, with no previous convictions—was having trouble finding his victim. He searched the slum high and low but saw no sign of Acosta. The more time that passed, the more vulnerable he felt.
Around him, the traffic grumbled and hissed. Farfán snorted another line and peered out at the park through clouded, bloodshot eyes. He rummaged in his pocket for the gun, gripping it tightly, and muttering to himself.
GREVA members spotted Farfán pacing back and forth at the side of the road. He’d been there for a while, prowling, they said, like a caged tiger. One of the men shouted at him, asking him what he was doing in the neighborhood. Stirred from his drug-induced fog by the man’s aggressive tone, Farfán panicked. He ran, stumbling away from his interlocutor towards the steep streets of central San Cosme. The pistol he had been concealing in his pocket was now in his hand.
The would-be assassin didn’t get very far. Disorientated by the labyrinthine streets, Farfán was soon lost and surrounded by furious neighbors loyal to GREVA. The locals confiscated his pistol, tied him up, and began to beat him ceaselessly, filming the event on their smartphones.
The crowd around him grew and soon there were hundreds of people kicking and cursing. Before the police came to save his life, a battered and bruised Farfán confessed that a man he knew only as Quijandría had ordered him to kill Acosta in exchange for around $300.