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

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.


  1. This article feels a bit sensationalist to me, and it fails to offer context to people who don’t understand the city and its dynamics.

    “So far, murders have been reported in Unicentro, Comuna 10, La Candelaria, Robledo and La America.”
    As sad as it is, murders happen in Medellin’s many districts all the time. This line has zero information value. Furthermore, the Unicentro case was a guy in a car shooting two guys who attempted to rob him. An unfortunate incident, but not particularly related to the situation in Comuna 13 and Robledo.

    “Meanwhile, homicides in the city for the year (over 190) have already overtaken the number of deaths for the same period last year”
    True, but what does this actually mean? For a city which has been expiring a drastic decline in murder rates for more 15+ years, eventually, a point comes at which this trend might temporarily halt.

    There are issues indeed, and it is good to report them. But without context, this type of article misinforms rather than informs. How do I judge that? I imagine my parents reading this. They’d be terrified and picture me staying in some kind of warzone. But it does not feel that way for me, because everything of course depends on in which part of the city one stays. Most parts of the city are not at all affected by the increased tension in a few disadvantaged, troubled areas.

  2. I’m a tourist here and I love this city. I know every city has problems, and I hope this is one that can be resolved quickly through peaceful means. Medellin and it’s people are too beautiful to suffer another wave of violence.

      • I’m in the Poblado area right now as a tourist – honestly stuck in my hostal bed at the moment because of stomach flu – but I wouldn’t be too concerned. I feel safe enough in the Poblado area, and I’ve also bern on a tour to Centro just this friday, but I’d probably ask the staff here before going anywhere new.


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