City on Clampdown: Who’s behind the increased violence in Medellín?

By Arjun Harindranath April 28, 2018

Image courtesy of @AlcaldiaDeMed

Medellín is facing a crimewave with multiple acts of violence terrorising civilians in various neighbourhoods in the city. So far, murders have been reported in Unicentro, Comuna 10, La Candelaria, Robledo and La America. In response, local authorities have ramped up the police presence with many heavily-armed security forces seen around the city in an attempt to prevent and contain the increased violence.

Speaking on the efforts to stabilise the situation, General Oscar Gómez of the Metropolitan Police of the Valle de Aburra said that “we are going to increase the intervention with 320 men, 200 policemen and 120 soldiers, we are going to have combined patrols that allow us a greater coverage and will generate a sense of confidence and security within the community.”

In addition to the homicides, there have also been violent confrontations with bus drivers where a number of bus drivers have been threatened, assaulted and, in one instance, set on fire along with the bus in Calasanz.

One of the epicentres of the conflict are the barrios of Comuna 13. Known today for its vibrant graffiti, outdoor escalators and having a cable car that connects it to San Cristobal, San Javier in Comuna 13 stands uneasily between its violent history and the city’s desire to move on from it.

San Javier in Comuna 13 was the scene of the notorious Operation Orion in 2002 that resulted in nearly 300 forced disappearances. Photo by Arjun Harindranath.

Notorious paramilitary interventions like Operation Orion which resulted in nearly 300 forced disappearances remain a painful memory in the sprawling sector. Today, although this impoverished neighbourhood houses a vibrant arts community and is welcoming to tourists, criminal gangs continue to operate within its cavernous slopes.

Hypotheses abound as to the reasons for the unrest in San Javier and Medellín. One theory, as per El Tiempo, is that the violence has spilled over from a gang power struggle that followed the capture of ‘Sombra’, leader of the Robledo branch of the criminal group Odin. There had also been the capture of ‘Mario Chiquito’, ringleader of Los Triano, a gang that has spread across Antioquia since its inception in the 90s. A transcript between Sombra and other gang leaders has since been released, suggesting that the dissemination of fear through acts of violence is being orchestrated by them.

Medellín Mayor Federico Gutierrez had previously celebrated the arrests of both Sombra and Mario Chiquito, hoping that their incarceration indicated a weakening in the structures among criminal enterprises. Gutierrez has since denounced the violence as ‘terrorism’, tweeting that the people of Medellin must stand with the people of Comuna 13. “This ethical fight is for everyone: the only way we can win against crime is if we are united,” he said.

Meanwhile, homicides in the city for the year (over 190) have already overtaken the number of deaths for the same period last year, according to a report by Sistema de Información para la Seguridad y la Convivencia (SISC), a body that monitors statistics relating to the safety and security within the city. It is hoped that, despite the growing sense of alarm among residents, the increase in security forces will bring about greater calm within the troubled neighbourhoods of the city.