Medellin’s combat zone turns a corner.

Posted: November 6, 2017 by bernardbarbour in Expedition/Travel

As we walked around Comuna 13, we began to notice the playfulness and joy in the children we’d meet. Affected by heartbreaking accounts of violence and strife, especially in Comuna 13 it was a welcomed distraction.  However, in the last few years, it has transformed into a place of optimism becoming a livable, vibrant, and growing neighborhood.

Comuna 13, also known as the San Javier, has the most tumultuous history of the city, once labeled the most dangerous community due to homicide rates and forced displacement of thousands of residents.  It’s an over-populated and low socio-economic zone that crawls up along the west hills of the city with thousands of red brick, wooden, cement and corrugated roofing materials type homes. It was a pivotal center for paramilitary, guerrilla, and gang activity. Its location is ideal for crime, as it leads directly to the main highway (San Juan Highway), providing easy transportation of guns, drugs, and money.

From the 1980s-’90’s, Comuna 13 was controlled by groups loyal to Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug lord who lived in Medellín. Illegal activities remained rampant after his death in 1993, as drug cartels sought control of the area.

In October, 2002, The City fed up, launched Operation Orion. You’ll notice in some of these pictures there are hummingbirds flying over the city, while machine guns are aimed down, attached to the hummingbirds backs. One of the most pivotal events was on Oct. 16, 2002, when the Colombian military carried out this controversial Operation. A sure footed blow, a strike to overthrow all rebel groups in Comuna 13. Over 1,000 policemen, soldiers, and aircrew in helicopters attacked the area (comprising of roughly 100,000 inhabitants). Nine people were killed (three children), and hundreds were wounded. The siege made it impossible to seek medical attention for the wounded, and the community took to the streets in solidarity flying white rags. With that action, the fighting stopped.


Now Comuna 13 neighbors voice their discontent and anger with the violence that occurred in 2002 through art and community events. Graffiti art around the neighborhood depicts scenes with the white rags raised for peace and solidarity.

There’s a lot more than what meets the eye going on in Comuna 13. But for now we’ll leave you this pictures and hope in our hearts that this community continues to rise.

Today as we walked Comuna 13,  no longer are people afraid to leave their homes and their quality of life has changed positively. We deliberately walked through some tough looking narrow alleys, kids were playing soccer, vendors were selling fruit, empanadas, and souvenirs, we felt that comfortable. However, slow and gradual, possibly spanning decades, there’s still work to be done.

 

 

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